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Tag: album review

A Catchy, Pensive, Compelling New Album and a Cake Shop Show from the Aquanettas’ Debby Schwartz

Debby Schwartz is one of the most distinctive, compelling singers in rock, with a coolly expressive alto voice that can be sultry one moment and then quirky and funny the next: Dawn Oberg comes to mind. Back in the 90s, Schwartz fronted cult favorite powerpop band the Aquanettas. Since then, she’s pursued a solo career. She’s got an excellent new album, Garden of My Own (streaming at Bandcamp), with an all-star cast of players and an album release show coming up on Sept 24 at 10 PM at Cake Shop. Cover is a reasonable $8.

The album’s dostamtly George Harrrison-tinged opening track, Hummingbird, comtemplates bitterness and regret, Kate Gentile and Claudia Chopek’s stark violins paired agianst Schwartz’ own elegant fingerpicking. “You’ve learned to play on the tolerance of those too kind to call you on the fact you’ve overturned, go if you want to you, know you’ve beeen found out if you get burned,” Schwartz warns.

The second track, Ambivalent, is much the same, elegant electric guitar accents intermingled with the acoustic – Bob Bannister. Pat Gabler and James Mastro play the electrics here, with Peter Stewart on bass. Dreaming New York City in the Middle of LA is a classic example of East Coast angst coming unraveled on the other side of the continent, set to a gorgeous paisley underground backdrop, twang and jangle and resonant washes from the electrics contrasting with Schwartz’s spiky acoustic. “The roaches on my kitchen wall hang flaccid and serene while my neighbors ram their door through with a car,” Schwartz bemoans, “Please get me out of here.”

London brings back a lingering rainy-day atmosphere: “Something vile has been haunting me for days now…flashing eyes and words that burned into your ears, did you cry?” Schwartz broods. Arise has a moody gravitas not unlike the Church, a band the Aquanettas once toured with, in folk-rock mode: on the last verse, we get funereal drums from Robert Dennis.

The album’s drollest track is the ambling Satan You Brought Me Down. The album’s longest track, Bulldozer, is also its most hypnotic: Schwartz might be addressing the evils of gentrification here. To Become Somebody keeps the hypnotic atmosphere going, Gabler’s hurdy-gurdy adding a distinct Scottish folk flavor. The next track, My Hope comes across a more soaring second part of that song.

That’s What Johnny Told Me on the Train balances a bouncy pop melody against more of that 4AD, rainswept open-tuned guitar ambience. The album ends with the bittersweetly anthemic Sitting in a Garden of My Own. Schwartz also has an ep out recently comprising several of these tracks along with the lushly luscious folk noir anthem Hills of Violent Green, a showcase for some literally breathtaking, swooping upper-register vocals.

Gorgeously Tuneful Janglerock and Psychedelic Pop from the Immigrant Union

Most New York fans of 90s rock probably have the Dandy Warhols‘ two upcoming Music Hall of Williamsburg shows somewhere on the radar. They’ll be there on Sept 19 and 20 at 9; general admission is $25, and considering that they sold out the Bell House, a larger space, last time they were there, you might want to get there early. But the Dandy Warhols’ Brent DeBoer also has an intriguing, gorgeously tuneful janglerock side project, the Immigrant Union, with Melbourne, Australia singer Bob Harrow. That unit will be in town about a month afterward from Oct 21 to 25 at venues still to be determined. Their excellent second album, Anyway, is due out shortly: there are already a couple of singles up at Bandcamp.

As you might expect from a jangly Australian band, there’s a definite resemblance to the Church. The opening track, Shameless, pairs two deliciously clangy electric guitars with a steady acoustic track in the background: when the piano comes in, the Jayhawks come to mind. Harrow’s unpretentious, clear vocals, pensive lyrics and a lusciously intermingled web of guitars on the way out completes the picture and sets the stage for the rest of the album.

Alison isn’t the Elvis Costello song but a bitter, Byrdsy backbeat psych-pop anthem about getting out of smalltown hell: Don’t Go Back to Rockville, Oz style. I Can’t Return slips swirly organ in between sitarlike slide guitar and glistening Rickenbacker jangle. Wake Up and Cry could be a folk-rock flavored Church cut from the mid/late 80s albeit without that band’s enveloping lushness. The album’s epic title track has plaintive harmonies and a slow psych-pop sway much in the same vein as the Allah-Las - who have a killer new album of their own. Another artist they bring to mind here is George Reisch, the multi-instrumentalist who’s done such elegantly melancholy work with Bobby Vacant and Robin O’Brien.

From there the group segues into In Time, adding light southwestern gothic touches a la Saint Maybe, then go completely into spaghetti western with the nonchalantly menacing desert rock shuffle Lake Mokoan. The Trip Ain’t Over has a wryly tiptoeing acoustic-electric Rubber Soul-era Beatlesque pulse. War Is Peace takes a snidely faux-gospel Country Joe & the Fish-style swipe at clueless conformists, and the US as well. The final cut, The End Has Come has a flickering, nocturnal C&W vibe not unlike the Church’s Don’t Open the Door to Strangers. You want the cutting edge of 2014 psychedelic pop, this is it. Is this album the catchiest, most melodically attractive release of the year? Very possibly. Hopefully it’s not the last one these guys put out. Watch this space for further info on those October shows.

Trampled by Turtles Bring Their Catchy, State-of-the-Art Americana to Terminal 5

Duluth, Minnesota’s well-regarded Trampled by Turtles personify the drift many of this era’s top tunesmiths have taken away from rock into Americana perhaps better than any band around. Imagine Andrew Bird plus Low, divided by O’Death in somber, lush mode, and you get a good picture of what their new album Wild Animals (streaming at Spotify and produced, appropriately enough, by Alan Sparkhawk of Low) sounds like. They’re at Terminal 5 at around 10 this Friday, Sept 12, with Hurray for the Riff Raff, a.k.a. torchy oldtimey Americana songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra opening the show at 9. Cover is $25, and with Trampled by Turtles as popular as they are, advance tix (available at the Mercury Lounge 5-7 PM Mon-Fri) are always a good idea.

The new album – their seventh, if you can believe – opens with the title track, a waltz, managing to be rustically bittersweet yet rousingly anthemic at once. It’s a good tablesetter for everything that follows, frontman/guitarist Dave Simonett’s gentle, unassuming vocals always just a hair below pitch – he’s sort of a male indie-era counterpart to the B-52’s Kate Pierson. White noise – ebow guitar, maybe – whooshes in and raises the lushness factor behind him.

The second track, Hollow, motors along on the graceful midtempo bluegrass groove of Dave Carroll’s banjo and Erik Berry’s mandolin as Ryan Young’s fiddle soars tersely and somewhat warily overhead. Repetition, another waltz, is where the stadium-rock-disguised-as-country really starts to take off, Berry’s mando cutting a Milky Way through a deep-blue nocturnal backdrop. Then they pick up the pace Are You Behind the Shining Star, which comes across as something akin to a vintage ELO hit with newgrass production values…or ELO doing newgrass. You might not think it would work, but it does.

One of the album’s most memorable tracks, the harmony-fueled Silver Light brings to mind another first-class Minnesota band, the Jayhawks circa 1997 or so. Come Back Home is another cross-genre mindfuck: Mexican son jarocho, chamber pop (those multi-tracked strings by Young are killer) and a brisk bluegrass romp. Ghosts aptly looks back to Orbison Nashville noir, but through the prisms of newgrass and post-Coldplay stadium rock.

“I think it’s time to go/The bartender is mean and slow,” Simonett warbles morosely midway through Lucy, an ethereal wee-hours lament. Then they blast through the lickety-split yet brooding Western World, a showcase for some searing banjo and fiddle that would fit in perfeclty on an album by The Devil Makes Three, Tim Saxhaug’s bass driving the beast forward. The most oldtimey track here is the country gospel-tinged Nobody Knows, followed closely by the closing cut, Winners, a warmly catchy Appalachian theme reinvented as a late 90s Wilco-style sway. Pretty much everything here is the kind of stuff that you find running through your mind long after the concert’s over.

Lost Syrian Musical Treasures Rescued from a War Zone

War destroys everything including the arts. One recent casualty of the civil war in Syria is nine-member choral group Nawa, a haunting ensemble dedicated to reviving hypnotic, otherworldly thousand-year-old Muslim and Sufi chants and songs. What the group sang could be characterized as Middle Eastern gospel music: it has the same rustic, ominous quality as early African-American spirituals. Sadly, the group disbanded shortly after recording their only album. According to the liner notes for the cd Nawa: Ancient Sufi Invocations and Forgotten Songs from Aleppo, the members – Mouhammed Ammo, Fawaz Baker, Khaled Al Hafez, Mouhammed Hlouhi, Ibrahim Jaber, Ibrahim and Mouhammed Muslimani, Bashar Al Sayed and Tarek Al Sayed Yehya – have been dispersed across the Middle East and Europe.

The album – streaming at Spotify – has an unusual backstory. Musicologist Jason Hamacher wanted to record centuries-old Jewish devotional songs for a planned anthology, Sacred Voices of Syria, to be captured live in the few remaining Jewish historical sites in Aleppo. Returning to the country four years ago, Hamacher was hounded by government authorities, who barred him from continuing with any further research or recording for the project. Undeterred, he discovered Nawa through a friend and seized the opportunity to record them on the fly. It would be the group’s only release.

One of the its many striking features is how diverse it is, with influences from Iranian, Egyptian and Lebanese folk, classical and religious music. It’s best enjoyed as a suite rather than a series of songs, considering that it’s hard to tell where one ends and another begins. One singer will often sing a verse or two, in classical Arabic, and then hand off to another ensemble member. The mens’ voices are steady and stern much of the time, but cut loose on the more lively tunes with dancing, microtonal inflections. Often the choir will build a dusky ambience behind a single, repeating, bitingly chromatic riff. Other times they anchor the music with a practically feral, shamanic, low bass pulse: it’s amazing to hear a human voice go down that low.

The slow, funereal diptych that ends this brief, barely half-hour album has an instantly identifiable Egyptian trance music groove, boomy drums paired off against agile, lithely intertwining oud. It’s music to get lost in. Stream this and consider the casualties.

JD Wilkes Brings One of His Great Bands to the Knitting Factory

Isn’t it cool when a band lives up to the name they have the balls to call themselves? From the early zeros through about the turn of the past decade, high-voltage Nashville gothic band the Legendary Shack Shakers became a cult favorite and a popular draw on the midsize club circuit. Lately frontman JD Wilkes, one of the real mavens of punk blues and Americana, has concentrated on his other, more blues-oriented project the Dirt Daubers. Wilkes’ latest Cheetah Chrome-produced recording, Wild Moon, features that appropriately named band (a dirt dauber is a particularly vicious wasp native to the Bible Belt), but most recently he’s been back with the Legendary Shack Shakers for a couple of tours, with an upcoming show on 9/11 at around 10 at the Knitting Factory. Tix are $14.

The new Dirt Daubers album – which other than a single Youtube clip of the title track, isn’t due out til Sept 24 – opens with a brief, brisk instrumental, Rod Hamdallah’s frenetic guitar intertwining with Wilkes’ Little Walter-style chromatic harp. Wilkes’ wife Jessica sings the swinging, snarling, noir gutter blues Apples & Oranges, with its Iggy Pop references and vernacular lyrics:

You can follow me down, hold my feet to the fire
Turn my pockets inside out
You know I’m in for a penny, down for a pound …
I’m taking my debts to the afterlife

With its screaming, bent-note Hamdallah guitar and twisted fire-and-brimstone imagery, the album’s title track continues in a careening noir blues vein. Drive brings to mind New York gutter blues band Knoxville Girls, but with better production values, another droll Iggy quote and a brief, gritty Wurlitzer solo from the frontman. His wife sings the shuffling No Rest for the Wicked, her seductive lyric contrasting with all the creepy guitar chromatics.

Wilkes’ low, haphazard minor-key piano adds to the doomed ambience on the suicide ballad No More My Love. Angel Crown brings to mind early Jon Spencer in simmering, low-key mode, with a creepy lyric about a dead baby underscored by echoey chromatic harp and Hamdallah’s broodingly rustic series of chords. Let It Fly is much the same but faster, followed by the torchy, lurid Clairy Browne-ish shuffle You Know I Love You, with more of that red-neon piano and smoky baritone sax from Tom Waits sideman Ralph Carney.

The macabre stomp Hidey Hole is the album’s creepiest track – what’s down in that hidey hole, anyway? – an appropriate place for Hamdallah to fire off his most memorable, menacing guitar solo. Throughout the album, there’s more than a hint of hypnotically unwinding Mississippi hill country blues, especially on Don’t Thrill Me No More, which is basically a long, moody one-chord jam.

River Song brings back a punk blues bounce, like a more lo-fi take on what Dylan did on Love & Theft. The album winds up with God Fearing People, which sounds like Smokestack Lightning at triplespeed. Dark, offhandedly savage, lo-fi electric blues doesn’t get any better than this. It wouldn’t be out of the question to hope for some of this stuff at Wilkes’ show at the Knit with his old band.

Alice Boman Brings Her Creepy Music to a Creepy Neighborhood

Alice Boman comes across as sort of a Nordic Julee Cruise, the Lynch girl at the bottom of the well. She’s got a new ep, her second, streaming at her Tumblr and a New York show coming up on Sept 14 at Baby’s All Right in Bed-Stuy sometime after 10, where catchy Seattle retro 60s psychedelic sunshine-pop band Tomten are opening the night at 8.

The new record’s first cut, simply titled What, sets the stage. There’s reverb on literally everything, lots of it – the piano, the ghostly vocals and the low-string guitar that hits on the beat, Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack style. All that reverb gives an orchestral lushness to what’s an otherwise very crystallized, simple tune.

“You know I need the darkness just as much as I need the light,” Boman intones as Over gets underway, funeral parlor organ swirling eerily over a simple, scratchy percussion track that sounds like an early 1970s drum machine. Burns is an airy, hypnotically minimalist piano-based lament, while Be Mine sets more of that funeral organ and electric piano over white-noise drum brushing and a similarly atmospheric, red-neon horn arrangement.

“Don’t know where I’m going, but I’m not alone,” Boman half-whispers on Lead Me, a diversion into folk noir. The last song on the ep is All Eyes on You, a portrait of longing and the most Julee Cruise-influenced song here. Boman also has a previous ep that’s even more lo-fi and minimalist. It’ll be interesting to see how much of this ambience Boman can replicate in a lo-fi ghetto space – this may take on the even more skeletal, minimalist feel of Boman’s debut ep.

Bombay Rickey Put Out a Hauntingly Twangy, Exhilarating Debut Album

Brooklyn band Bombay Rickey‘s new album Cinefonia – streaming at Bandcamp - has got to be the best debut release of 2014, hands down. With twangy guitars, hypnotic grooves and frontwoman/accordionist Kamala Sankaram’s shattering five-octave vocals, the band blends surf music, psychedelic cumbias, Bollywood and southwestern gothic into a lusciously tuneful, darkly bristling mix. Bollywood is usually the root source lurking somewhere in each of the album’s ten surprise-packed, shapeshifting songs, but cumbia, spaghetti western soundtracks, and the Ventures in their border-rock moments are more-or-less constant reference points as well. Imagine a more south Asian-influenced Chicha Libre fronted by one of the most exhilarating voices in any style of music, a picture that becomes clearer considering that Sankaram got the inspiration for this project the night she teamed up with Chicha Libre for one-off Yma Sumac cover show. Bombay Rickey are venturing north from their Barbes home base to play a Manhattan album release show on Sept 8 at 8 PM at Joe’s Pub; advance tix are $12, which is the closest thing to a bargain as you’ll ever get at this shi-shi venue.

Sankaram’s voice could shatter a black hole, never mind glass. Much as she’s built a very versatile career (everybody from Philip Glass, to free jazz icon Anthony Braxton, to opera companies, keep her busy), this band seems to be a defiant attempt to resist all attempts at being pigeonholed. Then again, defiance is a familiar trait with her: when she’s not fronting other groups, she’s writing and performing her own politically transgressive operas.

Guitarist/keyboardist Drew Fleming is a connoisseur of 60s surf and psychedelic sounds. Saxophonist/clarinetist Jeff Hudgins has a fondness for Mediterranean and Balkan tonalities; bassist Gil Smuskowitz shifts effortlessly between idioms, as do drummer Sam Merrick, percussionists Timothy Quigley and Brian Adler. The album opens with a Sumac tune, Taki Rari – it sounds like Los Mirlos‘ surf-cumbia classic Sonido Amazonico going down the Ganges. The interchange of accordion, strings, a sizzling sax solo and Sankaram’s electrifying shriek at the end are a visceral thrill, and do justice to the woman who sang it first.

Bombay 5-0, by Sankaram, transcends an awkward venture into takadimi drum language, Hudgins’ uneasy sax setting the stage for a big, dramatic, arioso vocal crescendo. Promontory Summit, a Fleming tune, explores dusky, hallucinatory desert rock vistas, bookended by balmy jazz-tinged ambience. The version of the Bollywood classic Dum Maro Dum (meaning “take another toke”) here is a lot more subtle and creepily suspenseful than either the boisterous, horn-fueled original or the many covers other bands have done over the years.

Pondicherry Surf Goddess, by Hudgins, starts out as an ambling shout-out to the Ventures, then winds its way through blistering newshchool Romany funk and art-rock. Another Hudgins tune, the somewhat menacing El Final Del Pachanga evokes Peruvian psychedelic legends Los Destellos, Hudgins’ sax intertwining with Sankaram’s supersonic vocal flights, Fleming following with a deliciously spiraling surf guitar solo.

Fleming sings the Johnny Horton-ish Coyote in the Land of the Dead, which sounds suspiciously like a parody. Likewise, Sankaram’s similarly deadpan rhumba-ish arrangement of a popular Mozart theme, which might have taken its cue from Chicha Libre covering Wagner. The high point among many on this album is a Sankaram composition, Pilgram, her wickedly precise, loopy accordion winding through a misterioso, lingering, surfy stroll with ominous bass and alto sax solos, the latter building to a spine-tingling coda. The album winds up with another darkly cinematic Sankaram number, Toco’s Last Stand, blending Balkan-flavored sax, dancing accordion and terse surf guitar underneath the singer’s unearthly wail. It’s a teens counterpart to the Ventures’ classic Besame Mucho Twist. This might not just be the best debut album of the year: it might be the best album of 2014, period.

The Clear Plastic Masks Return to Brooklyn With a Killer New Album

Nashville-based soul-punk band the Clear Plastic Masks have a wryly tuneful, guitarishly slashing new album, Being There – streaming here – and a couple of shows at the Music Hall of Williamsburg at 9 PM on Sept 10 and 11. They’re opening for the similar White Denim; it’s a bill where the opener is bound to upstage the headliner. General admission is $20; there’s also a 9/12 show but it’s sold out. It’s a homecoming of sorts from CPM, who first came together in Brooklyn before heading south.

The two bands share influences – classic 60s soul, garage rock and psychedelia –  but CPM do all those styles consistently better. White Denim is one of those bands that will hit one out of the park once in awhile and as a result can be frustrating while you wait for them to pull it together: maybe they should take a listen to their tourmates’ latest release. In the spirit of 60s vinyl singles, CPM like short songs: most of everything here clocks in at around three minutes.

The opening track, In Case You Forgot winds haphazardly through an oldschool 60s soul tune, Matt Menold and Andrew Katz’s guitars bending and tremolopicking as the rhythm section – bassist Eddy DuQuesne and drummer Charlie Garmendia – veers all over the place, bringing to mind mid-80s post-Velvets bands like That Petrol Emotion. The second track, Outcast looks back to what the mid-60s Stones did with Bobby Womack, a period-perfect take on what enthusiastically ambitious British hippies could springboard from a vintage Memphis soul tune. The coy Baby Come On veers back and forth between a shimmery, summery soul ballad and anguished clusters of guitar: it brings to mind two late 90s/early zeros New York bands with an aptitude for classic soul, White Hassle and Douce Gimlet.

Pegasus in Glue wraps dancing Syd Barrett-influenced fuzztone garage psych around a woozy interlude kicked off with a droll Hendrix quote. The slowly swaying Aliens is a grimly funny number set to a slow, catchy gospel-rock tune: the creepy ending caps off the storyline perfectly. A parable about the lure and dangers of religion, maybe?

So Real kicks off as a stomping fuzztone strut, then the band makes half-baked Link Wray out of it, then picks it up again: again, Katz’s tongue-in-cheek, surrealist lyrics and deadpan cat-ate-the-canary vocals draw comparisons to White Hassle’s Marcellus Hall. Interestingly, the album’s best and darkest song, Dos Cobras turns out to be an instrumental, a mashup of Steve Wynn southwestern gothic, organ surf and the early Zombies.

Hungry Cup, a piano-and-vocal ballad, is the album’s weirdest moment, told from the point of view of a girl about to throw up her hands and give up on a guy who can’t pull his act together. It might be a very thinly veiled broadside directed at posers new to Notbrooklyn (i.e. gentrified white areas of formerly ethnically and economically diverse Brooklyn), a mashup of late 60s Stones, Vanilla Fudge and lo-fi swamp-rockers like Knoxville Girls. The album winds up with a couple of slow 6/8 numbers: When the Nightmare Comes, which sounds like the Libertines taking a stab at a Hendrix-style take on soul music, and Working Girl, which could be a shout-out to whores in general, to girls on the train during rush hour, or both. That’s one of this band’s strongest suits: you never really know where they’re coming from, and they have a lot of fun keeping you guessing.

Moody, Goth-Tinged Duo the Smoke Fairies Play a Rare Free Show in Williamsburg

British duo the Smoke Fairies set unpretentious vocals with low-key harmonies to attractive, tersely constructed, subtly orchestrated keyboard melodies with a typically shadowy, nocturnal ambience. A lot of Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire’s songs bring to mind Blonde Redhead at their most darkly shoegazy. The Smoke Fairies have a new self-titled album, their third, streaming at Spotify and a free, full-band show coming up on Sept 1 at Rough Trade in Williamsburg at 7 PM.

It’s a change of pace – is the heavy use of synths and piano this time around an attempt to replicate a mannered, campy Lana Del Rey faux-noir vibe? Happily, no. What most of these songs are is 90s-style trip-hop pop, very cleverly disguised and arranged. There’s more than a hint of classic 70s Britfolk in the vocals, and a nod to 80s goth-pop and darkwave in the background. The opening track, We’ve Seen Birds has the synth imitating a guitar tremolo – “Did you think we could exist like this?” the duo ask enigmatically. Eclipse Them All reaches toward a funeral parlor organ sound with the occasional lingering cry from the guitar – it’s a shot at seductively anthemic, Goldfrapp-style atmospherics.

Shadow Inversions works a more anthemically ghostly ambience, swirling over a simple, rising bassline with distorted, echoey guitars and drums. The slowly vamping Hope Is Religion builds to a hypnotic, Indian-flavored string ambience. Waiting for Something to Begin, a pulsing, angst-ridden escape anthem, blends distant Beatlisms into its nocturnal downtempo groove.

Your Own Silent Movie is another slow, angst-fueled anthem, sort of a mashup of 80s goth-pop and teens chamber pop, the dynamics rising and falling: “Each room of your house a drama you’ve been staging, but I will never let the curtains unfold,” the two insist.

Guest Andy Newmark’s tumbling, artsy drums raise the energy of Misty Versions above by-the-numbers folk noir, building to an icily seductive mix of crackling guitar noise and dreampop vocalese. Drinks and Dancing is hardly the bubbly pop song the title would suggest – instead, it’s a more hi-tech take on torchy, wounded Amanda Thorpe-style balladry. Likewise, Koto is not a Japanese folk song but a simple, tersely crescendoing two-chord trip-hop vamp.

Want It Forever takes an unexpected detour into garage rock, souped up with layers of keys and guitars. The Very Last Time ponders a torrid but impossible relationship that sounds like it was doomed from the start, set to what’s become an expectedly echoey, minor-key, hallucinatory backdrop. The album ends with the haunted, bitter, defeated Are You Crazy,opening as a regretful piano ballad and growing to a swaying, deep-space pulsar ambience. It’ll be interesting to see how much of all this orchestration and atmospheric hocus-pocus the band can replicate onstage.

Brown Sabbath Reinvents Some Iconic Metal Tracks

What could be more crazy than funky latin soul versions of Black Sabbath songs, right? Much as Sabbath are the prototypical stoner metal group, they could easily be the world’s least funky band. That’s where Brown Sabbath come in. The latest project from Texas band Brownout – a spinoff of latin rockers Grupo Fantasma – Brown Sabbath’s new album of reimagined Sabbath classics (streaming at youtube) is eye-opening, not a little iconoclastic, and fun as hell. They’ve got a Brooklyn Bowl show on Sept 5 at 9 PM. Cover is $15; you might want to get there a little early since this one might actually sell out.

The opening track, The Wizard, is the B-side of the album’s debut multicolor vinyl single. Kinda cool to open an album with a B-side rather than the A-side, isn’t it? At first, it’s surprisingly close to the original other than the clattering, machinegunning rhythm – that’s John Speice on drums and Sweet Lou on congas. Almost imperceptibly, they push it toward a lowrider groove with punchy horns – Gilbert Elorreaga on trumpet, Josh Levy on baritone sax and Mark Gonzales on trombone – the latter taking a surprisingly low-key solo.

The A-side, Hand of Doom features an ominously brittle lead vocal from the Black Angels‘ Alex Maas, and is the album’s longest song. Guitarists Adrian Quesada and Beto Martinez pair off crunch and wah – and some offhandedly delicious tremolopicking – over bassist Greg Gonzalez’s impressively purist, slightly trebly lines. Once again, the blasts from the horns and the clatter of the percussion are where the song strays from the original.

Iron Man gets reinvented as a whirling vortex of blaxploitation instrumental funk, a strong, anthemic groove that’s barely recognizable as Sabbath. N.I.B. gets a slinkier treatment, with fuzz bass and droll wah guitar, singer Alex Marrero channeling Lucifer as would-be loverman rather than doing an over-the-top Ozzy impression, Quesada employing some wry stoner effects rather than trying to out-multitrack Tony Iommi.

Believe it or not, the song that opens Sabbath’s debut album is actually creepier than the original: it’s all about dynamics and suspense, and leaving out the vocals doesn’t hurt. The outro is a hoot.

Into the Void starts out pretty straight-up, then also gets a blustery horn chart and that clip-clop sway – and an interlude straight out of Jethro Tull. The vocals aren’t missed here either. The album ends with a dreamy take of Planet Caravan, Marrero singing into the fan (or through a chorus pedal) just like Ozzy. The point of playing covers is not to reinvent the wheel but to put an individual spin on them, and that’s exactly what Brown Sabbath’s point seems to be. That, and to lift the psychedelic factor a few notches. Raise your forefinger and pinky to that.

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