New York Music Daily

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Tag: album review

Mighty Majestic Brilliance from Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band

Big band jazz is not the most lucrative style of music: after paying twenty guys for the gig, you’re lucky if there’s anything left over for you. But some of the most exciting composers in jazz persist in writing and recording large-ensemble pieces. Darcy James Argue is probably the most cutting-edge. Of all the purist, oldschool, blues-based big bands playing original material, pianist Orrin Evans‘ Captain Black Big Band is without a doubt the most powerful and entertaining. For those who don’t know his music, Evans is a vigorously cerebral tunesmith and one of this era’s most distinctive pianists: think of a young Kenny Barron with more stylistically diverse influences and you’re on the right track. Evans’ initial recording with this band was a roller-coaster ride through lively and often explosive, majestically blues-infused tunes. His new one, Mother’s Touch, is arguably even better, and has a broader emotional scope. Evans and this mighty crew play the album release show at Smoke jazz club uptown (Broadway between 105th and 106th) with sets at 7 and 9 PM on April 28. Get there early if you’re going (a seat a the bar is your best bet) because this will probably sell out.

The album’s slow, torchy first track, In My Soul, is amazing. It’s the most lavishly orchestrated oldschool soul song without words you’ll ever hear. Evans’ gentle, gospel-infused piano, Marcus Strickland’s searching alto sax solo, and an artfully arranged conversation between groups of horns lead up to a joyously brass-fueled peak. By contrast, Explain It to Me is an enigmatic, pinpoint, Monk-ish latin groove, guest drummer Ralph Peterson doing a good impersonation of a salsa rhythm section on his big kit.

The album’s title track is a relatively brief two-parter: it’s basically an intro, guest pianist Zaccai Curtis spiraling around majestically on the first and then leapfrogging on the second over a dense wall of sound and Anwar Marshall’s tumbling drums.The best song on the album – and maybe the best single song that’s come over the transom here this year – is Dita. Throughout its long, impressionistic crescendos, elegant solo voices peeking in through the Gil Evans-like lustre and gracefully acrobatic outro, the pianist has a great time alluding to both the rhythm and the blues.

Tickle, written by Donald Edwards, works variations on a series of big, whirling riffs echoed by Todd Bashore’s clustering alto sax solo and then some wryly energetic call-and-response among the orchestra. An Eric Revis song, Maestra builds off a trickily rhythmic, circular riff underpinning a casually funky groove and a tersely jaunty Fabio Morgera tenor trumpet solo. The band has a blast with the droll, bubbly bursts of Wayne Shorter’s Water Babies, a long trumpet solo giving voice to the most boisterous of the toddlers in the pool. The album ends with the epic Prayer for Columbine, an unexpectedly optimistic, cinematic theme grounded in unease – it has the feel of a longscale Quincy Jones soundtrack piece from the mid 60s. Pensive trombone over a similarly brooding vamp eventually gives way to a massive funk groove with a long, vividly animated conversation between aggravated baritone sax and a cooler-headed counterpart on tenor. It’s not always clear just who is soloing, but the whole thing is a sweeping, passionate performance from a big crew which also includes trumpeters Tanya Darby, Duane Eubanks, Tatum Greenblatt and Brian Kilpatrick; saxophonists Mark Allen, Doug Dehays, Stacy Dillard, Tim Green and Victor North, trombonists Dave Gibson, Conrad Herwig, Stafford Hunter, Andy Hunter and Brent White, with Luques Curtis on bass.

Boston Band Aloud Nails a Slew of Catchy Purist Rock Styles

If Boston band Aloud‘s new album It’s Got to Be Now had come out in, say, 1980, it would have been all over the radio. The same would have been true in 1970, or in 1965: their sound is that tuneful, and that timeless. The two guitars of bandleaders Henry Beguiristain and Jen de la Osa jangle and clang, the vocals soar and the rhythm section of bassist Charles Murphy and drummer Frank Hegyi is dynamic verging on explosive. Their songs are eclectic, ranging from 60s flavored garage and surf rock to classic powerpop spiced with psychedelia. And they don’t waste a note – most of the songs are done before the three minute mark (they’re streaming at Spotify). As you might imagine, Aloud are excellent live: they’re at Bowery Electric on April 28 at around 9.

The album kicks off with a triumphantly crescendoing powerpop number, Back Here with Me Again, with its guy/girl vocals, And Your Bird Can Sing bassline, and a tersely tuneful guitar panned in both  left and right channels. Don’t Let It Get You Down shifts nimbly back and forth between funky verses and the band’s signature, wickedly catchy choruses. The Wicked Kind sets a snide, politically-fueled lyric to distantly menacing, chromatically-fueled garage/psych rock, de la Osa singing coolly and imperturbably over the guitars and organ.

Jeanne, It’s Just a Ride! is a funny, catchy janglepop number about a girl who wants to make more of a one-night stand than she ought to. “The futility of existence requires not your assistance,” Beguiristain deadpans. They pick up the pace with the blistering A Little Bit Low and its burning Radio Birdman-esque garage-punk guitar hooks. Then they blend bittersweet twelve-string jangle with Lynchian 60s Nashville pop on Such a Long Time, following that with the new wave Motown of After the Plague, a surprisingly optimistic post-apocalyptic scenaro.

The album’s title track sets a devious variation on a classic garage riff to a vintage soul-clap beat: it’s like the kind of neo-garage that was coming out of the band’s hometown thirty years ago, but without the cliches. A defiant escape anthem, Complicity builds from punchy surf rock to a big roaring chorus. The Beatlesque Ballad of Emily Jane brings the album full circle. Aloud have been around for awhile and have messed with different styles: it’s good to see such an excellent band getting back to the kind of purist tunesmithing they do best.

Exhilarating, Explosive, Echoey Psychedelic Postpunk and Dreampop from Bo Ningen

Japanese postpunk band Bo Ningen, who can be noisy and assaultive one minute and hauntingly atmospheric the next, have their third album, accurately titled III , due out on May 2o and a couple of New York shows coming up. On April 25 they’ll be at the Knitting Factory at 8 for $12 – and if you can stick around the neighborhood until midnight, legendary metal spoofers Satanicide (New York’s answer to Spinal Tap) play at midnight for free. Bo Ningen are doing a free show themselves, at Rough Trade two days later on April 27 at 2 and if you’re going to that you should get there early.

They call themselves psychedelic, and if you’re in the right mood, they are. Bassist/vocalist Taigen Kawabe whoops and squawks over the jagged, acid funk and crazed, spiraling pirouettes of Kohhei Matsuda and Yuki Tsujii ‘s guitars and Monchan Monna’s eardrum-pounding drums; other times, they slow down and waft through an icily ominous 4AD ambience.

The new album’s first track, DaDaDa opens with a squall and then an insistent syncopated bass-and-drum pulse. It’s basically an unhinged one-chord jam until they hit the chorus, like the Gang of Four but with more balls. The postpunk-funk of Psychedelic Misemono Goya (Reprise) reminds of the Bush Tetras right around the time of their big late 90s comeback, the guitars cutting and slashing against each other with an abrasive, reverb-toned menace and hints of dreampop as the layers peak out. Inu is a little slower, marching along like a mashhup of the Buzzcocks and Keith Levene-era Public Image Ltd.

The band kicks off Slider – one of the few tracks with an English title – with echoey minor-key chords and a series of big reverb-tank explosions and ominous contrapuntal vocals over a brisk funk beat. Like the second track, it’s basically a one-chord jam, but there’s so much strobe-guitar savagery going on overhead that you don’t notice. They open CC as a hardcore song with screaming, fractured English lyrics before a frantic sputter of guitar signals a sludgy halfspeed chorus – and then it’s back to the headbanging. By the time they wind it up, Kawabe is slamming out chords and the rest of the band has gone down into the mud again.

The slow, gently hypnotic Mukaeni Ikenai makes quite the contrast, with its lingering, bell-like guitar and echoey 4AD atmospherics. They bring back the funky buzz and grit and mingle that with the dreampop on the suspensefully stomping, midtempo Maki-Modoshi. Mitsume opens with My Bloody Valentine-like resonance and a hypnotic, practically disco beat – again, the guitars kick up so much of a turbine-in-a-tsunami squall that it obscures the fact that they don’t even bother to change chords. The rainy-day sonics return on the gracefully swaying Ogosokana Ao, followed by another mostly one-chord number, Kaifuku, its intricate two-guitar interplay cutting in and out of a swirl of reverb. For people who like edgy, assaultive music that you can dance to most of the time, this is pretty close to heaven. And it raises an intriguing question – how many other good, noisy Japanese bands are there out there that haven’t made it across the ocean yet?

Bernie Worrell Reveals His Dark Side

When you  think about it, isn’t it astonishing how George Clinton, Eddie Hazel, Bernie Worrell and Bootsy Collins were all in the same band? Does that make P-Funk the Beatles or Stones of funk…or does it makes the Beatles and Stones the P-Funk of the rock world? Since those days, the Wizard of Woo has gone on to an eclectic career as a bandleader, playing his inimitably funky songs but also spending plenty of time on the edgier side of jazz. But Worrell also has a masters degree from New England Conservatory. His latest album, Elevation: The Upper Air is about as far from P-Funk as Air or the Cocteau Twins are. And that analogy fits, considering that on his first solo piano release, Worrell takes a spacious, lingering, minimalist approach to a mix of jazz standards, a handful of unexpected pop tunes and also a trio of originals. He’s playing a rare solo piano show, more or less an album release party, at the Stone at 8 PM on April 26; cover is $15.

He opens the album with lustrous, deep-space version of Joe Zawinul’s In a Silent Way, which makes the Miles Davis version sound positively frantic by comparison. Likewise, he takes a slow, heartfelt stroll through I’d Rather Be with You. And he slows down even further on Alabama, which he turns into equal parts Chopin, Satie and early gospel, drawing on the resonantly haunting quality of each of those idioms, down to a dirge-like rumble and then a stern, stately outro.

By slowing down Charles Mingus’ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat to the extent that he does here – it’s a little faster than the album’s first few tracks – he reveals every bit of its bittersweetly elegaic intensity. Light on Water is arguably strongest track here, both hypnotic and riveting in its focus and intensity: the way Worrell (ordinarily a guy who switches from idea to idea in a nanosecond) maintains an unwavering suspense is viscerally intense. And the way he reinvents Samba Pa Ti, slowly elevating it from a strikingly sad, elegaic reflection to a neoromantic glitter, is a clinic in how to go deep into a song and pull out a hidden meaning. He does he same in half the time later on with Wings.

The most minimalist and darkest, most Satie-esque track here is the spacious Realm of Sight: Worrell will hit a low lefthand chord and then let it ring out forever while he adds icy melody several octaves higher. He picks up the pace a little with I Wanna Go Outside, which reminds of Orrin Evans in a particularly pensive moment. And he reinvents Bob Marley’s Redemption Song as gospel. What a fascinating and unexpectedly heavy treat from one of the most entertaining keyboardists on the planet. And in case you need something to keep you awake, or a killer party playlist you can stream, head straight for Worrell’s amazing Bandcamp page.

The Split Squad Hits a Home Run Their First Time Up

During spring training, baseball teams often field two different squads on the same day against different teams, to facilitate plenty of practice time for both the stars and the scrubs. Which explains the sarcasm in the Split Squad’s name: this retro rock supergroup includes keyboardist Josh Kantor from Steve Wynn’s Baseball Project as well as Blondie drummer Clem Burke, guitarists Keith Streng of ageless garage rockers the Fleshtones and Eddie Munoz from powerpop cult legends the Plimsouls along with bassist Michael Giblin. On their debut album Now Here This, the Split Squad goes back through fifty years of rock, plundering ideas all over the place and mixing them up into a snarling, roaring, guitar-fueled blend of powerpop turbocharged with punk and oldschool garage rock. They’re at Bowery Electric on April 25 at around 10 atop a great purist guitar-fueled triplebill: Lakeside Lounge supergroup Los Dudes open the show at around 8 followed by legendary indie power trio the Figgs, still going strong after twenty years. Advance tickets are $10 and highly recommended.

The album unfortunately isn’t streaming on the web, but several of the tracks have made it to youtube (follow the link and enjoy!); there are also brief clips at the band’s music page. The title track opens the album. It’s Clash City Rockers meets Shakin’ All Over, as done by a late edition of Radio Birdman – yeah, that good. Those two paint-peeling wah guitar solos could be Chris Masuak. The steady, punchy, snide Touch & Go is the Kinks as done by Guided by Voices, more or less. With its mean, jangly guitar on the chorus, snappy bass and screaming guitar solo, She Is Everything could be a Del-Lords track from the late 80s. Then Sorry She’s Mine works the La Bamba/Hang On Sloopy riff before it goes in a janglier direction – anybody remember 18, that excellent Williamsburg garage-punk band from about six-seven years ago?

I’ve Got a Feeling has a tasty post-Stooges/Radio Birdman sway, with a deliciously swirly, all-too-brief organ solo. The vicious kiss-off anthem I Can’t Remember goes for a haphazard, 6/8 oldschool soul groove. I Feel the Same About You bookends a somewhat wry Beatles Abbey Road intro and outro around a four-on-the-floor powerpop stomp that could be Cheap Trick, right down to the Bun E. Carlos drumrolls out of the verse. Likewise, Superman Says, a look behind the mask of a stressed-out superhero: “They take it for granted that I never lose,” Clark Kent grouses.

Put It Down keeps the catchy powerpop going over a soul-clap beat that slows down to make way for the organ. Tinker Taylor hints at a Dolls glam vibe, while Hey Hey Baby, the most trad garage rock tune here, blends fuzz guitar into a biting minor-key riff-rock tune. You’ll Never Change is a brooding Vegas tango done as oldschool soul, Spooky by the Classics IV but genuinely spooky. The album winds up with Messin’ Around , which is basically Gloria, right down to the half-assed harmonica. They take it out with a nasty exchange of bars from the guitars. Recycling has seldom been so much fun.

Good Cop and Bad Cop Review the Hi Grade Ganja Anthems 4 Compilation

Good Cop: You’re on your own with this. I don’t like this album.

Bad Cop: Whoah, you’re the one always accusing me of breaking character and now you’re doing that right off the bat. That’s supposed to be my line.

Good Cop: I don’t care. I think this album is amateurish and panders to a certain demographic, know what I mean? Pot should be legal, sure, but do we have to sing about it?

Bad Cop: [in a fake Jamaican accent] Yeah mon! Greetings in the name of His Imperial Majesty, Haile I Selassie I, JAH!!!! Rastafari, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Igziabeher, Nagus a Nagas, the healing of the nation, the only cure for glaucoma, found on the grave of King Solomon…

Good Cop: You’re mixing your metaphors. And this isn’t a religious album. It’s about getting stoned. And it’s about as interesting as getting stoned.

Bad Cop: How do you know? You’ve never been high.

Good Cop: I don’t think I’m missing anything.

Bad Cop: Fine, more for me.

Good Cop: I’ll bet you’re high right now.

Bad Cop: Hahahahaha. Um, I lost my train of thought. Say, you don’t have any Ring Dings on you, do you?

Good Cop: Seriously, you look pretty stoned.

Bad Cop: I think that comes from listening to this album. I guess we should go through the tracks. Um, the first one is by Snoop Lion. The point of this one seems to be that we can fight global warming by planting more weed.

Good Cop: The vocals are autotuned. Yuck. You have to be stoned to like this.

Bad Cop: OK, the second track is about drinking ganja tea, and that’s the title of the song. It’s by Keida. I like this one. It’s oldschool, kinda oldschool at least. You know, a real band.

Good Cop: Too top 40 for me.

Bad Cop: Here’s another rootsy track, Cali Green by Mighty Mystic. This one’s a little more of a dub. Good song, huh?

Good Cop: More R&B masquerading as reggae. At least this isn’t autotuned.

Bad Cop: You’re in a bad mood. Here, have some of this [reaches into his pocket].

Good Cop [waves him away] No thanks, I don’t need your saliva.

Bad Cop: You’re no fun. But this album is. The next track is titled simply Marijuana. It’s by Linval Thompson – I think this is an old song, but I can’t remember if I’ve ever heard it before.

Good Cop: That figures. This is obviously an old song: you can tell that this is an overcompressed digital mix of an old analog recording. You know, this one actually isn’t bad.

Bad Cop: Glad you agree. Now where were we? Here’s track four, Marijuana, by Linval Thompson.

Good Cop: We just heard that.

Bad Cop: Oh yeah, duh. OK, here’s track six, another old roots number, I Man a Grasshopper by Pablo Moses.

Good Cop: You skipped a track.

Bad Cop: Huh?

Good Cop: We just heard track four. Now you’re saying we should listen to track six.

Bad Cop: No, this is track five.

Good Cop: No it’s not.

Bad Cop: Oh yeah, you’re right. But we might as well listen to I Man a Grasshopper. It’s got a clavinova and distorted guitar through a cheap amp. It sounds so Jamaica, 1980. I love it! Yeah mon!

Good Cop: You know, if we were around back then, we’d be listening to something more substantial.

Bad Cop: I was around back then

Gooc Cop: But you weren’t listening to this.

Bad Cop: I didn’t know this existed. Not many people outside Jamaica knew this existed and I wasn’t in Jamaica. [aside] I was deprived as a child.

Good Cop: Good thing you were deprived or you wouldn’t have any brain cells left.

Bad Cop: You’re just jealous. OK, we’re now going to hear track seven, Oh Mr. DC by Sugar Minott with Fantan Mojah and Military Man.

Good Cop: You forgot track five.

Bad Cop: Oh yeah, We’ll get back to that. This is more of a dancehall song. Very in the moment. Roots riddim, but it’s all hi-tech.

Good Cop: And those R&B vocals. Not my favorite.

Bad Cop: Me neither. Now here’s, um, what track were we just listening to?

Goood Cop: That was Oh Mr. DC. But you forgot track five.

Bad Cop: Aw, wow, ok, let’s hear that one, Weed Fields, by Desi Roots. Now this is a great song! I don’t know this one. Obviously from the golden age. Good band, good singer, a real crooner. Good lyrics too.

Good Cop: This sounds like a reggae remake of a Vegas pop song from the sixties. I don’t know which one. Any idea?

Bad Cop: You know what, you’re probably right. This is my favorite track so far.

Good Cop: Yeah, not bad. Now let’s hear track six, I Man a Grasshopper, by Pablo Moses.

Bad Cop: I think I’ve heard this before. An old roots tune.

Good Cop: You have heard it before. About ten minutes ago.

Bad Cop [sheepishly grinning]: OK, you got me. Got me good. Here’s track seven, Oh Mr. DC – wait, didn’t we hear this one?

Good Cop: Yes, if you weren’t so high you would realize that we’re on, um…where are we? What’s next?

Bad Cop [unwrapping a stick of Roll-O's]: Um, that’s why I brought you along. For the heavy lifting.

Good Cop: If this is heavy lifting then you’re a lightweight.

Bad Cop: Who’s calling who a lightweight? You didn’t even smoke.

Good Cop: Enough already. Um, the next song is track eight, One Draw, by Rita Marley. Speaking of lightweight, I never understood why this song was so popular.

Bad Cop: This isn’t Rita Marley. It’s some dancehall guy.

Good Cop: Oh yeah, you’re right. This is Alborosie featuring Camilla. I actually think this is better than the original. Which doesn’t mean that I liked the original.

Bad Cop: Don’t be such a sourpuss. Here, have a Roll-O.

Good Cop: OK, thanks. Now we’re on, what, track nine? This is Collie Herb Man. Do these songs really need titles? Aren’t they all pretty much the same anyway?

Bad Cop: I hate it when people say all reggae sounds the same. On this album so far we’ve heard some classic roots, some dancehall and some of whatever you call what they’re doing these days in Jamaica, it’s kind of hip-hop. And you remember that Jamaicans invented hip-hop.

Good Cop: Yeah, back in the 1950s. Anyway, this is Katchafire doing Collie Herb Man. This is bizarre. Is that a vibraphone or just a synthesizer?

Bad Cop: Whoah! This is a Steel Pulse cover. This is a fair approximation, but the original was better.

Good Cop: I learn something new every day. OK, next track. How many damn songs are on this album, anyway?

Bad Cop [grinning] Lots! This is High Grade by Jamelody featuring Natural Black. You know, the crooner-plus-toaster routine. Chaka Demus and Pliers, that sort of thing.

Good Cop: Wow, that’s a name I never thought I’d ever hear again.

Bad Cop: Who?

Good Cop: Chaka Demus. What was his big hit?

Bad Cop: Murder She Wrote [sings] “Murder she wrote, murder she wrote…”

Good Cop: OK, that’s enough, you’re no Chaka Demus. Pliers, maybe.

Bad Cop: That song didn’t set me on fire. Track eleven is Puff It, by I-Octane.

Good Cop: This is awful. Autotune, yuck. How long is this album? I don’t have all day to sit around and listen to Jamaicans rap about how much they like to smoke weed.

Bad Cop: It’s a long one! The next song is Hi Grade, by Busy Signal.

Good Cop: We already heard this.

Bad Cop: No we didn’t. It’s spelled differently. Now this one I like. Oldschool 80s style dancehall except that it’s new.

Good Cop: This is a ripoff of Murder She Wrote!

Bad Cop: Wow. If you hadn’t mentioned it, I never would have noticed.

Good Cop: Let’s make this a wrap. The next song is Collie Weed, by Shinehead.

Bad Cop: I LOVE this song! This is right from around the time the original came out. They took one of the worst songs ever written, Summer Breeze, by Seals & Crofts, and turned it into a ganja-smoking anthem. You know, I saw Shinehead do this live on Rockers TV with Earl Chin.

Good Cop: You know what, this is better than the original. Which isn’t saying much. How many more songs do we have to hear?

Bad Cop: Not done yet. Next one is Sensi Addict by Horace Ferguson. Wait, this sounds like a girl singing. Who is this?

Good Cop: Your guess as good as mine.

Bad Cop: This sounds like it was made with a Casio and a cheap mic, in 1985.

Good Cop: Probably was. That happens a lot in the third world.

Bad Cop: True. OK, next song. Strong Sensi, by Little John. Another really good one I never heard of. Obviously about thirty years old, maybe older. Out-of-tune piano, string synth, a real band.

Good Cop: Actually it’s not anywhere near that old. But it’s a clever imitation. Are we done yet?

Bad Cop: Nope. Next song is Better Collie, by Horace Andy.

Good Cop: If you just tuned in, we’re listening to, what is the name of this album?

Bad Cop: The Hi Grade Ganja Anthems 4 compilation. In honor of 4/20.

Good Cop: Horace Andy, now this guy I know. From my brother during his ska phase in high school. This is more of a reggae song.

Bad Cop: Guy from the golden age of ska, skanking about di herb! I love it!

Good Cop: Moving right along, the next song is, oh god, Sensimania, what a title. By Welton Irie. Never heard of the guy.

Bad Cop: Guessing it’s from the 80s. The last gasp of roots before dancehall took over. You know, the “murderah” chorus. Come to think of it, I know this song. I think I actually have it on a mixtape somewhere.

Good Cop: Wouldn’t surprise me. Is that it?

Bad Cop: Nope. Last song is Bring the Kouchie Come, by Mystic Eyes. Wow, I’m really impressed by this one. The production is really good and oldschool. And there’s a dub at the end, very cool.

Good Cop: Whew, I never though we’d ever get through this thing. To me this is just a random playlist. Is there such a thing as a reggae song that doesn’t mention getting stoned, anyway?

Bad Cop: I love this album. I know there are a few weak tracks but the good stuff is priceless.

Good Cop: So where can we stream this tedious thing online?

Bad Cop: Um, I forgot to plug in my phone and it’s dead. Can you google it? The album, I mean.

Good Cop [after half an hour of nonstop googling]: Answer is that you can’t. But you can hear everything here except for the Welton Irie song on youtube – you can use the links above in each of the song titles. The Welton Irie tune seems to be very obscure. You’re gonna have to digitize that track you have on that mixtape and upload it somewhere.

Bad Cop: Ha, if I can find it. Sure is fun being a grouch and ragging on random bands, isn’t it? You’ve been breaking character all day and I haven’t busted you once.

Good Cop: You’re right, I’m sick of the goody two-shoes routine. We should switch roles more often. Especially if blog boss gives us another one of these. I thought we were on a roll with this blog for awhile, but after this, you gotta wonder…

Bad Cop: Blog boss would never sink to the level of seriously reviewing an album of weedhead reggae songs. Strictly for the B team. That’s us.

Good Cop: You know what, blog boss doesn’t like grunt work like researching individual songs. How much you wanna bet we end up with the next compilation album this blog does?

Bad Cop: Bring it on. Hey, do you have my Roll-O’s?

Good Cop: Oh yeah, here, I was sitting on them. Hey, wait a minute, these smell like weed!

Bad Cop: Heh heh heh…

Intense Guitarist Phil Gammage Puts His Original Stamp on Classic Sounds

Phil Gammage may be best known as the fiery lead guitarist in long-running, gritty downtown New York rockers Certain General, but he’s also a strong singer and an eclectic songwriter. He has a thing for noir, and also a thing for blues. His latest album is Adventures in Bluesland, which is aptly titled since it’s both adventurous and bluesy. It’s a mix of originals and covers from across the ages and the blues spectrum, streaming at Spotify.

Gammage opens with his best Elvis vocal  impersonation on Trying to Get to You, against a slightly Stonesy, slide-fueled backdrop. The first of the originals, What Tomorrow Brings works a slow-burning ba-BUMP groove, Gammage’s tersely bitter blues harp mingling with Don Fiorino’s lapsteel lines. Ain’t That Something sets Gammage’s spiky but liquid broken chords over moody spaciousness – it could be a creepy Yardbirds ballad, but with better production values (drummer Kevin Tooley, who also produced, does a fantastic, purist job with this). Next, Lay Me Down Low makes a hypnotically psychedelic but angst-driven nocturne out of what’s mostly a one-chord jam.

Gammage’s steel-driven take of the old folk song In the Pines has a lot more in common with the gothic minimalism of the Parkington Sisters‘ cover than the shrill version that Nirvana made famous. Likewise, his version of Help Me reaches toward lurid red-neon Otis Rush resonance, but with a restraint that makes it all the more uneasy. So when he and the band – which also includes Richard Demmler on bass and Joe Nieves on backing vocals – launch into the ZZ Top cheeseball classic La Grange, there’s some comic relief, but also a surprisingly purist, Stonesy approach that actually works.

Kills Me When You’re Gone reaches for a Sean Kershaw-style ghoulabilly menace. The searing Hanging Onto You, arguably the strongest track here, offers a nod to both Rush and Elvis (Otis and Presley, in case you weren’t paying attention earlier): Gammage’s savage tremolo-picking and careening lead lines are darkly delicious.

Fiorino switches to banjo for an unexpectedly brisk but resonantly low-key take of Wayfaring Stranger. Then he lights up the echoey, menacing See How We Roll with his flights on lapsteel: it’s sort of a cross between David Lynch and Jimmy Reed. The version of Baby Let Me Follow You Down picks up where Dylan’s excellent “Royal Albert Hall” version left off, another showcase for Fiorino’s blue-flame lapsteel work. The album winds up with the wry Big Daddy Reefer and its proto-rockabilly swing, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. catalog.

These New Puritans Bring Their Brooding Art-Rock Themes to Bowery Ballroom

 

This blog didn’t exist when These New Puritans recorded their landmark debut, Beat Pyramid, in 2008. It was a big deal then, and the moody British art-rock band’s initial release remains one of the most indelibly original recordings of the past several years. Their latest album Field of Reeds is streaming at Spotify, and they’ve got a long-awaited NYC gig coming up on April 30 at 9 PM at Bowery Ballroom. Advance tickets are $20 and very highly recommended. If you like the idea of Radiohead but find the reality unapproachably cold and mechanical, you will find These New Puritans far more chillingly alive.

The latest album’s opening instrumental The Way That I Do gives you a good idea of their game plan. An icy, minimalistic piano dirge with disembodied vocals – Mum without the synthesizers – gives a way to a broodingly sustained orchestral arangement, then the piano comes back in and they take it out with emphatic trumpet against swirly upper-register organ. It could be a detective film theme, from the kind of movie where the sleuth solves the case and then moves on to the next grisly scene.

Fragment Two opens with frontman Jack Barnett’s simple circular piano theme juxtaposed against atmospheric strings and echoey backing vocals, like a more tuneful take on what the Blue Nile were doing in the late 80s. There’s a gothic aspect to these slowly unwinding, wounded melodies, as well as elements of trippy 90s chillout music, but drummer George Barnett maintains a counterintuitive pulse that livens the hypnotic layers of keys, strings and woodwinds.

A cinematic sweep develops methodically out of another minimamalist dirge in The Light in Your Name. It’s practically a tone poem, echoing Radiohead but rooted in a peat bog rather than drifting through deep space. The epic V (Island Song) opens with a similarly downcast, Smog-like ambience and then alternates between an insistent, piano-driven march and a slinkier, more trancey trip-hop groove. Spiral sets guest chanteuse Elisa Rodrigues’ creepily processed vocals against the bandleader’s wintry baritone over ominously shifting cumulo-nimbus washes of sound that eventually give way to a slow, elegant, baroque-inflected woodwind theme.

Organ Eternal balances Smog moroseness with a circular keyboard riff and lush orchestration that evokes composer Missy Mazzoli‘s art-rock band Victoire. Nothing Else, the album’s longest track, is also its most anthemic and cinematic: it figures that the central instrument would be a carefully modulated, resonant bass clarinet. Dream, sung airily by Rodrigues, could be Stereolab with vibraphone and orchestra in place of the synthesizers. The album ends with the title track, a Twin Peaks choir of men’s voices contrasting with dancing vibraphone and an anthemic vocal interlude. This is troubled and troubling but also unexpectedly comforting music, not what you typically hear at a Bowery Ballroom gig but perfect for the room’s enveloping sonics.

Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs Tour Their Best Album with a Couple of NYC Shows

Well-liked retro rock duo Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs have a new album, It’s Her Fault, arguably the best one they’ve ever made (it’ s not on Spotify yet, but most of the rest of their albums are). They’ve also got a couple of New York shows: in Williamsburg for free on 4/20 at 2 PM at Rough Trade (get there early if you’re going), and the following night, April 21 they’ll be at the Mercury at 10:30 for $12 in advance.

The new album is a lot darker than anything they’ve done so far: much as a lot of the punk blues in their catalog isn’t exactly happy-go-lucky stuff, this can get unexpectedly intense. It’s also a lot more fleshed out than their earlier material, with bass, piano and all kinds of tasty but purist, spare guitar multitracking. SLC, the first number, is a duet, and it kicks ass: “You can turn around an oxcart in Salt Lake City, and they think that’s a really good time…but you ain’t gonna have a good time.” This amped-up oldtimey folk tune will resonate with aybody who’s ever been there. For All That Ails You, with its mournful train-whistle guitar and stalking, noir blues sway, is uncommonly dark for this band, and it’s excellent. Likewise, Pistol Pete, a creepy noir cabaret waltz.

They go back to the haphazard kind of hillbilly boogie they’re known for on Can’t Pretend and then do the same, adding uneasily quavering funeral organ, on 1 2 3 4. They hit a lurching honkytonk groove with the unexpectely hilarious Bless Your Heart, a reality check for any Brooklyn poser with phony C&W affectations.

Holly and Lawyer Dave reinvent Trouble in Mind as a lo-fi, punked-out oldtime slide guitar shuffle and go deep into echoey, eerily twinkling Nashville gothic with the sad waltz The Best – Holly pulls out all the stops in channeling a seriously damaged woman.

Don’t Shed Your Light offers a lo-fi take on the kind of nocturnal glimmer the Stones were going for circa Exile on Main Street, with more of that deliciously swirly funeral organ. They do the same with honkytonk on the vengeful No Business and then go straight for a Stones vibe with Perfect Mess, which would be a standout track on, say, Let It Bleed. The closing cut, King Lee, brings back the unhinged punk blues vibe. Not a single second-rate track here: one of the best dozen or so albums of 2014 by this reckoning.

Dave Douglas Brings the Riverside to the Jazz Standard

What’s become clear from the past decade’s Americana explosion is that whether people admit it or not, pretty much everybody likes country music. And more and more musicians, whether they genuinely enjoy it or not, seem hell-bent on trying to capitalize on that. Groups that would have been stone cold top 40 or Warped Tour punk-pop back in day have traded in the drum machines and Strats for banjos and mandolins. And a lot of jazz people are following suit. Some of it’s good to hear – and some of it’s pretty dubious.

When you consider an artist from a previous era like Bob Wills, it’s a reminder of how much less of a divide between jazz and country there used to be. What trumpeter Dave Douglas and reedman Chet Doxas are doing on Riverside, their turn in an Americana direction, is as much a toe-tapping good time as it is sophisticated. But it’s 2014 jazz, not western swing. They take their inspiration from reedman Jimmy Giuffre, who was jazzing up riffs from country and folk music fifty years ago. And they’re not afraid to be funny: there’s only one aw-shucks cornpone number on the new album, but there’s plenty of subtle, tongue-in-cheek drollery throughout the other tracks. The group, which also includes Doxas’ brother Jim on drums and former Giuffre sideman Steve Swallow on bass, kick off their North American tour for the album at the Jazz Standard Tuesday and Wednesday, April 15 and 16 with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is 25 and worth it.

Although the grooves on the album are more straight-up than you might expect from your typical current-day jazz outfit, the band doesn’t always stick to a 4/4 beat and Jim Doxas finds plenty of wiggle room when they do. The two-horn frontline will typically harmonize and then diverge, both Douglas and Chet Doxas approaching their solos with judicious flair: as is the case with every Douglas project, this is about tunes rather than chops. Swallow is the midpoint, sometimes playing chords like a rhythm guitarist, other times grounding the melodies as the drums or horns will go off on a tangent. And he opens the warmly wistful, aptly titled jazz waltz Old Church New Paint with a solo that begins as swing and then segues into the old folk song Wild Mountain Thyme.

A handful of tracks, like the shuffling, ragtime-tinged Thrush and the joyous song without words Handwritten Letter, blend New Orleans and C&W into contemporary themes. The lone Giuffre cover here, The Train and the River mashes up bluegrass, gospel and jazz, while Big Shorty is a swinging platform for high-energy soloing from the horns. Front Yard and Back Yard are a diptych, the initial warmly summery tableau giving way to a devious party scenario with all kinds of lively interplay among the band. There’s also a tiptoeing blues number, Travellin’ Light, Douglas playing with a mute to raise the vintage ambience. The album closes with a brooding, hauntingly bluesy, shapeshifting tone poem of sorts. In its own quiet way, it’s the album’s strongest track and most evocative of the clarity and directness that Douglas typically brings to a tune, and Doxas’ sax is right there with him. The whole album isn’t up at Douglas’ music page yet but should be as soon as the album releases tomorrow.

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