New York Music Daily

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Tag: dark folk

A Haunting New Album and a Rockwood Show from Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne

Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne‘s haunting, plaintively lyrical debut album I Line My Days Along Your Weight is a masterpiece of folk noir, one of the best releases of 2014. They’re playing the album release show on Oct 14 at 6 (six) PM at the small room at the Rockwood and one of the reasons why they’re doing it that so soon after work is that you’ll probably be hungry by 7. So they’ll have pizza at the little bar next door, just to the north, where reduced drink specials are also promised. But don’t go for dinner, go for the music. Their recent impromptu show uptown at the American Folk Art Museum turned out to be one of the most enjoyably intense sets witnessed by this blog in recent months.

The two make a good and rather striking pair. Byrne is wiry and determined, with a thousand-yard stare. Rogers is big, rugged and fixated on taking his formidable guitar chops to a new level. Neither are newcomers. She cut her teeth in hypnotic, lo-fi Atlanta band Hot Young Priest, while he was part of the core of brilliant southwestern gothic band Myssouri. Their new album – recorded more-or-less live to analog tape and streaming at Athens music blog Flagpole Magazine – opens pensively with the evocatively brooding First Fall Nights. Byrne’s voice has a distinctive, unselfconsciously down-to-earth quality reminiscent of Paula Carino and this is a prime example.

Hospital keeps the grey-sky atmosphere going, a lush intertwine of fingerpicked guitars underpinning the menace implicit in Byrne’s narrative, Rogers adding one of his signature terse, rustically blues-infused resonator guitar solos. And he plays biting, catchy hooks on a hundred-year-old mandolin on When Your Elders Are Tall, something of a more hypnotic take on the Handsome Family.

With its moodily vamping minimalist ambience, A Racing Heart brings to mind Randi Russo, Rogers capping it off with a glimmering Middle Eastern-tinged solo. The even more hypnotic Green Gold Violet paints a wounded late-afternoon tableau, Rogers’ luminous dobro paired against Byrne’s tensely fingerpicked stroll. “Put a sticky there – honey,” Byrne reminds as the absolutely chilling, metaphorically searing A Gracious Host gets going: this remembrance has serious baggage.

Walk With Me pairs mandolin with more of that hypnotic, circular acoustic guitar. Cold Spring has a briskly scampering bluegrass shuffle groove: “I wanna go more north with you , where it’s more serious…where children run from dangers, only then when the wolves howl,” Byrne suggests. And then Rogers channels George Harrison.

With its torrents of doomed imagery, Sirens Call paints a haunting, indelible outer-borough New York nocturnal scenario: with Byrne’s nimble fingerpicking, it wouldn’t be out of place in the Linda Draper songbook. Rogers and Byrne revisit that milieu with the album’s closing cut, Sing a Fare Thee Well, the mandolin adding a surreal Macedonian edge. Play this with the lights out, late at night and discover two people who share your precarious world.

Two First-Rate, Contrasting Tunesmiths

It’s hard to imagine two tunesmiths or performers with less in common than Shannon Pelcher and Jessi Robertson. Each played a tantalizingly short acoustic set Friday night at the American Folk Art Museum and held the crowd rapt for very different reasons, other than that both artists’ songs are purposeful and interesting, and that neither player wastes notes, vocally or guitarwise.

Pelcher went on first. She’s very eclectic, has a great sense of melody and sings in an unaffectedly clear, nuanced soprano. She’s also a strong guitarist and uses a lot of jazz chords, but spaciously: they don’t clutter her songs. And she switches up genres: a warmly swaying waltz, a straight-up oldschool country tune, a jaunty oldtimey swing number, bucolic Americana and sophisticated jazz (which may be her ultimate destination). So choosing to do the show as a duo with a jazz bassist who added a handful of tuneful, serpentine solos made perfect sense. One of the strongest tunes in Pelcher’s set, a terse, syncopated number with a wickedly catchy chorus, is on the compilation album that the museum is selling at their gift shop for a ridiculously cheap five bucks. Pelcher is playing Barbes tomorrow night, June 25 at 7 with the droll, literarily-inspired Bushwick Book Club.

Where Pelcher did a lot of things, Robertson did one thing, delivering a wallop with her full-throated, angst-ridden, soul-inspired alto wail and her harrowing songs. She’ll probably be the first to admit that she’s a band person rather than a solo performer, but she reaffirmed the old aphorism that if a song sounds good solo acoustic, it’ll sound even better with a full band behind it. She opened in a nebulously early 70s Pink Floyd/Britfolk vein with a vamping lament, following with a moody reflection on aging that reminded of Kelli Rae Powell. The longing and ache in Robertson’s voice was relentless; as powerful an instrument as it is, she proved just as subtle and dynamic a singer as Pelcher, at one point disdainfully pushing the mic down and singing the rest of her set without any amplification. Not that she needed it, especially with the museum atrium’s natural reverb.

Explaining that she had a new album in the can, she told the crowd that her producer had heard her playing a brand-new song and insisted that she go back in the studio, a smart move: with its dark blues and gospel echoes, it turned out to be a characteristicaly potent portrait of pain and alienation. The characters in Robertson’s narratives deal with a lot of that, especially the girl who cuts herself in You Don’t Want to Taste My Heart, from her 2011 album Small Town Girls, arguably the high point of the show. And when she sang “You’re gonna burn, my love, ” over and over again over a haunting minor-key vamp as the last song wound out, there was no doubt she meant it. Robertson is playing LIC Bar in Long Island City at 1:30 on June 28 on an excellent multi-songwriter bill that also features Lara Ewen, the irrepressible impresario and soaring Americana singer who runs the museum’s consistently good Friday night concert series.

 

Ember Schrag Brings Her Haunting Great Plains Gothic Songs to Cake Shop

Ember Schrag writes what could be called Great Plains gothic songs. She’s a nimble guitarist, a gripping storyteller, clever lyricist and a strong, dynamic singer with a direct, clear, matter-of-fact voice. She originally hails from Nebraska and now makes New York her home. And while she’s far from unknown in the dark folk demimonde, her writing transcends that genre: she’s one of the most individualistic and interesting songwriters in any style of music. She and her excellent band are at Cake Shop on May 11 at 11 PM; cover is $8.

Her 2012 album The Sewing Room – streaming at Bandcamp – is a quiet, disarmingly intense masterpiece. Violence and death are everywhere, yet seldom seen: the way Schrag lets her images unwind, usually after the fact, makes them all the more haunting. The opening track, Jephthah’s Daughter, sets the stage, a cruelly allusive tale of frontier justice (or more accurately, an imitation of it), Schrag’s elegant fingerpicking mingling with Jonah Sirota’s viola. Sutherland is no less chilling, a murder ballad as nonchalantly disturbing as anything A.M. Homes or Joyce Carol Oates ever wrote, the viola again adding a plaintive edge.

Alex McManus’s ominously tremoloing guitar lines and Gary Foster’s misterioso brushes on the drums propel the surrealistically torchy, slowly swaying betrayal anthem My Brothers Men. La Maria works a skeletal acoustic riff up to a more country-tinged chorus fueled by Greg Talenfeld’s lapsteel, Schrag contemplating how troubled people so often draw you in, not only “Because their seeping problems overtake you like the ending of the day.”

Schrag goes back to a slow swing groove on the brooding, metaphorically loaded seaside tableau I Ain’t a Prophet: it reminds a lot of early-zeros Marissa Nadler. A mashup of Old Testament and pulp novel imagery set to a distantly menacing oldtime swing tune, In the Alley imagines Scripture not as an opiate but as something from the other side of the narcotic spectrum. Frauleh Jekketheka is as funny as it is redemptive, an escape anthem told not from the point of view of the escapee but by one of the rednecks she was running from, Amy Denio’s moody clarinet pairing off against Philip Gayle’s lithely dancing mandolin.

Schrag’s casually wounded vocals echo Rasputina‘s Melora Creager on the title track, possibly the only song ever written about being tortured by angels. Dark Lion Lover is the album’s most opaquely atmospheric, jazz-inflected number, Sirota’s acidic, resonant lines contrasting with Schrag’s distantly seductive delivery.

The austere, bitterly aphoristic Your Words begins as the most traditional song here and then picks up as Schrag and Talenfeld gnash their guitars a bit. P.G. Six’s piano and Jay Kreimer’s homemade instruments add ghostly ambience to Houston, a surreal portrait of alienation and estrangement. The album ends on an unexpectedly optimistic note with April Night, Schrag’s gently lilting vocals evoking Laura Cantrell as she snatches what could be victory from the jaws of defeat. This is one of the five or six best albums ever to appear on this page over the past thirty months or so – and the icing on the cake is that the rest of Schrag’s equally intriguing back catalog is also up at Bandcamp to sweep you off into a world that in its own strange way looks dangerously like this one.

Chris Hickey Survives the 80s to Reissue Two Lost Gems

The 80s got a bad rap. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had a lot to do with that. So did the entertainment-industrial complex. That was the John Hughes decade. It was also the decade where the big record labels, who then dominated all but the most obscure niche markets, began targeting their marketing to very specific age and gender groups. In this rigidly stratified world, that meant teenybopper pop, new wave and hair metal for the girls and 70s elevator pop for women past college age; metal for the younger guys, 70s dinosaur rock for the older ones. But the reality is that there was a vast amount of great music from that decade that never made it past college radio, if it even got that far. That’s where Chris Hickey would have been found, if anywhere, on the pre-internet airwaves back in 1985 when he released his cassette-only debut Frames of Mind, Boundaries of Time. He followed up that dark folk album with the similar Looking for Anything two years later. Happily, both are now available digitally for the first time ever.

It’s impossible to hear Matt Keating and not think of Hickey – and vice versa. Both are nonchalantly strong singers, have a flair for a biting turn of phrase and a catchy melodic hook – and an unease that doesn‘t lift. Where Keating got his start in punk rock, Hickey came from the folk side, but with a grimly lyrical edge that in its own quiet way was just as punk. Right from the first track on the first album, June Fifth, Hickey’s vocals are low, seething, wound tight as a drum. Just voice, a couple of guitars, a string of nonchalantly doomed images, and “A ring of the phone to tell you that you were wrong…”

Sometimes Hickey lets the images paint a picture; more often than not he hits the point of the songs square on the head, with a direct, plainspoken quality akin to Jonathan Richman but with balls. Hickey also has a strong political sensibility and a snarling distrust of authority. The best song on the collection is Another War, a soaring, Byrdsy twelve-string janglerock anthem. And it’s not just a litany of pain and grotesquerie, although there’s a lot of that:

The soldier plays a bamboo flute
The song he used to sing at home
For a a fifteen-year-old prostitute
He teaches her to sing along
The song sounds like a lullaby
She sings the words of quiet love
They could sing that song all night
But a knock on the door says time is up

This is where Hickey is strongest: the song may be going on thirty years old, but it’s as relevant now as it was then. It could have been inspired by Reagan’s misadventures in Costa Rica, or Lebanon, or Grenada, but this war could be anywhere.

The tunes have held up well, too. The earlier material, understandably, has more of a a lo-fi feel, sometimes just a couple of guitar tracks and voice, sometimes with bass and simple drums. The somewhat more elaborately produced tracks have more of a distinctive 80s feel – it’s that watery chorus-box guitar! The characteristically pensive Faraway has gently fingerpicked acoustic, woozy synth and a faux cello patch; the two-chord vamp in Carol echoes the Police’s King of Pain. I Can’t Wait to See You  is half the Police, half swaying acoustic 80s rock.

Start Over Again looks back to early acoustic Dylan, a word of caution for a would-be sellout: “Your words are thin and your heart isn’t in, so why don’t you start over again?” Not You works similar lyrical territory, with just snarling electric guitar and vocals: “I know who’s telling me the truth and it’s not you.” The caustic minor-key folk-rock tune Man of Principle foreshadows Roger Waters’ The Bravery of Being Out of Range. Freedom explores existential boundaries over a bed of tasty multilayered acoustic guitars:

An attempt is not an escape
An escape assumes a frame
A frame is a boundary that exists in the mind
The mind is one of many
Many agree to a frame… 

This Is My Land makes succinct fun of people who won’t let anyone near their stuff, metaphorically speaking. Not My Place reminds of 60s Dylan, but with good vocals, a plainspoken message to a boss type to kiss off. The unspoken punchline of the mutedly pulsing, allusive courtroom scenario Five Words might be “I sentence you to death.” And Dark Cold Day assesses a gloomy Reagan-era milieu  over biting, minor-key janglerock:

Follow poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night
With your unconcerning voice
Still persuade us to rejoice
With the forming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress 

The rest of the tracks broodingly contemplate interpersonal relations, and for one reason or another this is where the Matt Keating comparison holds most true. There Was a Time, with its simple, elegant broken chords and catchy, anthemic chorus; the grimly waltzing Not Our Son and the gorgeously jangly, uncharacteristically sunny Save My Life are three prime examples. The collection ends with a droll, roughhewn spoken word piece. Hickey remains active in music, with lots more intriguing stuff up at his Bandcamp page.

Two New York Shows and a Killer New Album from the Handsome Family

The Handsome Family have influenced so many harmony-folk and dark Americana acts over the years, yet they’re impossible to imitate. The husband/wife team of Brett and Rennie Sparks’ resonant, unaffectedly moody vocals and brooding, surrealistic imagery have put them at the front of the noir folk caravan for the past couple of decades. They’ve got a show tonight, June 27 at 8:30 at the Slipper Room (Orchard and Stanton) and then on June 29 at 9 at the Knitting Factory; tickets are $20 and still available as of this moment. They’ve also got a characteristically excellent, thematic new album, Wilderness, just out,  also available as a deluxe edition from Carrot Top Records along with a book featuring both Rennie’s inimitable animal imagery and prose stylings – plus a poster and postcards.

Each of the dozen tracks on the album – their ninth – takes its name from a different animal, although in many instances those animals are only minor characters in the narrative. And Rennie’s tales are often as funny as they are surreal and creepy. The song ostensibly about a lizard chronicles a witch’s curse that gets an entire village dancing, and then they can’t stop, as the song’s ominous major/minor changes go on and on. The one titled Glowworm is a dead ringer for the Strawbs in their trippiest early 70s incarnation, soaring bassline and all, Brett soberly tracing the Jules Verne-like steampunk steps of an inner-earth explorer. The most oldtimey one is Woodpecker, the second song released this year about Mary Sweeney, the Wisconsin Window Smasher of 1896. In contrast to the jaunty tribute by A Brief View of the Hudson, the Handsome Family allude that her delusions might just have to do with a couple of the era’s most popular, legal substances.

There’s a spider’s tale set to a wry country waltz that’s straight out of Kafka. Flies, a high plains gothic mini-epic, begins with the death of General Custer and connects the dots between wars among both humans and ants. Frogs rocks as hard as this band ever has, a snarling electric Tonight’s the Night-era Neil Young evocation fueled by Brett’s searing leads. Stephen Foster is eulogized, dead and penniless in a Bowery flophouse, with a dreamy waltz lit up by Rennie’s twinkling bass ukulele. Myths – real or imagined – about where birds go in the winter, and the hypnotic effects of the octopus – are explored in wryly minute detail over gracefully waltzing or swaying changes. Giant caterpillars in Belize come to the rescue  – or do they? – when a woman is struck by lightning and “can’t escape the static or the 60 cycle hum” afterward. The funniest song here is Owls, an acerbically droll Edward Gorey-ish folk tune about an old guy losing it in his McMansion with “the clawfooted tubs, the room of rare orchids, the glass hall for my guns, statues of pharaohs twenty feet tall, crystal chandeliers, rare paintings of clowns.” The scariest, and most enigmatic one, is Gulls, which is not the only one here about a magic spell going drastically awry. Funeral parlor organ swells and ripples, glockenspiel tinkles eerily, accordion and fiddle resonate and gentle layers of guitar mingle over steady, minimalist drums. Yet another fantastic album, in every sense of the word.

Sunday Salons 9, 10 and 11: Going Full Throttle Now

Some of you might see the weekly calendar for New York Music Daily’s Sunday Salon  at Zirzamin here week after week and wonder what’s up with it. Obviously, some of you have been in the house, either performing or watching, so this is a shout-out to you for being there and supporting, as well as to the musicians who make it so much fun. Case in point: cellist Serena Jost, whose own music is elegant and nuanced to the nth degree, wailing and thrashing her way through a long improvised solo on an even longer Rick Snyder country blues ballad. Rachelle Garniez graced the stage with her wickedly subtle, edgy, occasionally gospel-flavored retro rock and soul; Martin Bisi brought his pedalboard and haunted the room with casually menacing, slowly unwinding Lynchian art-rock songs. Jon Ladeau brought his original, soulful oldtime Americana; Carol Lipnik wowed everybody with her four-octave vocal range and mysterious, mystical, phanstasmagorical material. LJ Murphy ,with his thousand-yard stare and withering, politically-fueled lyrics, and  Walter Ego, with his nimble basslines and tough stance on gun control have also made frequent appearances.

The featured sets after the salon give some of New York’s best invited performers an opportunity to take some chances and do some unexpected things in Zirzamin’s intimate space. For Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons, that meant pulling back a little on the Canadian gothic ferocity, putting her excellent drummer on cajon, letting guitar genius Hugh Pool work his quieter side (it’s true – such a thing exists) and exploring the secret corners of some of her louder, more glam or punk-inspired songs.

For Mark Sinnis, longtime leader of artsy, dark Americana rockers Ninth House, justifiably acclaimed for his solo “cemetery and western” Nashville gothic stylings, that meant a rare Manhattan performance with James Brown (one of the living James Browns) playing gorgoeusly retro rockabilly and country lines on his big Gretsch guitar, mingling with the virtuoso banjo intensity of Stephen Gara. With his big baritone voice, Sinnis often evokes Johnny Cash, with this project now more than ever. And this past Sunday, Tracy Island a.k.a. Liza Roure and Ian Roure from the Larch (and the late, great WonderWheels) romped through a hypnotically jangly, psychedelically edgy mix of old favorites and darker new material. Ian brought out his new pedalboard, chock full of old effects for fiery 80s-influenced solos and fills while Liza channeled her classical training into a rapturous take of Leonard Cohen’s Stories of the Street as well as cynical versions of originals like Where’s My Robot Maid, Land of Opportunity and a warmly evocative new song inviting everybody down to Freddy’s Bar in South Brooklyn for the Mermaid Parade afterparty.

Every Sunday at 5 PM, New York Music Daily presents the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin, where some of New York’s edgiest songwriters and musicians trade songs and cross-pollinate in the old Zinc Bar space at Houston and LaGuardia. There’s never a cover charge; the club has cheap beer, good Tex-Mex food, and the public is welcome to attend. Participation is by invitation only. The featured set at 7 PM this Sunday, Jan 27 is by charismatic, ferociously intense acoustic punk-blues songwriter Molly Ruth.

Tom Shaner’s Long-Overdue Solo Debut: Worth the Wait

For those who’ve followed Tom Shaner’s career since his days in the early zeros fronting Industrial Tepee – the great southwestern gothic rock band that should have been as famous as Calexico or Giant Sand but never was – his new album Ghost Songs, Waltzes and Rock n Roll is long overdue. Ironically, though billed to Shaner solo, it’s far more lush and richly arranged than anything he did with that band, in fact, the best thing he’s ever done. The music blends layers of jangly, twangy, spiky, occasionally searing electric and acoustic guitars over a nimble rhythm section, ornamented with deviously flickering keyboards, mandolin, banjo and the occasional wry electronic effect. Songwise, there are echoes of Steve Wynn, the Byrds, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave in its most pensive moments.

Shaner’s nonchalant, laid-back vocals are sort of a cross between Lou Reed and the Wallflowers’ Jakob Dylan. The songs’ lyrics are terse, cynical and clever: they’ll resonate especially with anyone who’s weathered the same storms as Shaner has during these past few years as the New York he came up in slid closer and closer to New Jersey. Although many of the songs have a dusky desert feel, a familiar urban milieu recurs throughout the album. That factors in heavily on the funniest song here, the deadpan, early Elvis Costello-ish Unstoppable Hipster, as well as the considerably more spare, haunting Downtown Has Done Damage, which reminds of the Church around 1986 or so.

Sinner’s Highway sets a surreal, sordidly Lynchian scene to snarling minor-key rock: a late-period Industrial Tepee tune, it reminds a lot of Steve Wynn, with a wry quote in the solo guitar outro. Another one from that era, Sister Satellite manages to be dreamy yet bracing as its layers of guitar mingle and then surge.Then Shaner evokes another well-known late 90s/early zeros band, White Hassle, with Forever Drug, spiced with tongue-in-cheek samples and hip-hop turntablism.

She Will Shine is crushingly caustic: over punchy, syncopated, Jayhawks-flavored rock, Shaner relates how a girl who couldn’t hack it in the big city is ostensibly leaving for better things in the country, but “when the lid is lifted, everything is shifted…her time is complete, the future is a one-way street.” Rosa Lee, a big concert favorite, works a more pensive, regretful vein.

Shaner pairs Foreverland, a creepy reggae song, with the nebulous, only slightly less creepy psych-folk anthem Silent Parade. Where Grief Becomes Grace, an echoey desert rock dirge, is as broodingly evocative as anything Giant Sand ever did. A cover of Tom Waits’ Cold Water picks up the pace with a gospel-fueled menace, black humor in full effect.

Only slightly less dark colors close the album. Everything Is Silver returns to a romping Elvis Costello vibe: it’s the opposite of what it seems. And My House is Green builds a moody acoustic Velvets ambience. But not everything here is as dark: there’s Sun Girl #2, with its lushly gentle Sunday Morning sway, and Streets of Galway, a lively Irish tune. One of the best albums of 2012, no question. Shaner plays the release show – assuming the subways are back up and running – at the Knitting Factory on Nov 7 at 8:30 PM.

Sassparilla: Fewer Bubbles, More Bite

Portland, Oregon band Sassparilla’s previous album The Darnedest Thing, from late last year, mined familiar Tom Waits down-and-out territory but with a surprisingly potent guitar-fueled edge. Their latest one, Magpie, is different to the point that it practically sounds like it was made by an entirely different band (hey, you guys didn’t just pull a fast one, did you?).. If some of the songs on this one had come out fifteen years ago on a major label, they would have been produced as tepid G-Love white funk or even trip-hop. This band happens to do it with terse vintage soul and blues arrangements. It’s a cool, original touch, managing to be retro and in the moment at the same time.

The opening track is Threadbare – no, actually, it’s not, it’s a Beatlesque bounce that laments getting dumped by a girl who broke “my heart of Chinese plastic.” ??? The second track, Star, has a hip-hop lyrical vibe juxtaposed against dark banjo, slide guitar and a growling electric guitar solo. The Mary Celeste mixes Penny Lane pop with a bit of glam and a surreal torrent of lyrics that have little to do with a famous shipwreck, while Two Black Hearts works a romping late 60s Little Milton blues groove with a more rocking edge.

Buick sounds like Waits done as trip-hop, with trumpet flourishes and some unexpectedly funny lyrics despite the gloom: “She loved how he fucked on that methamphetamine.” By contrast, You Took It All sets a warm, wistful soul tune atop a swaying country beat: it could be the Jayhawks circa 1997 with a tasty horn chart in place of all the vocal harmonies. They keep the country-soul vibe going with the Memphis-tinged, laid-back Broke Down Engine, which gets unexpectedly dark and loud: it’s the most memorable moment on the album. It ends with the creepy, scampering Britfolk-flavored All the Way In and then The Man Who Howled Wolf, the hardest-rocking thing here with its lingering early 70s stoner blues-rock riffage. If smart oldschool tunesmithing is your thing, Sassparilla will quench your thirst. Their next gig is Oct 19 at the Laurelthirst Public House in Portland at 6 PM.

More Excellent Dark Americana from Frankenpine

Dark Americana/bluegrass band Frankenpine’s 2011 debut The Crooked Mountain ranked in the top thirty albums of the year here last year, which doesn’t do justice to its creepy diversity. Their new one, In That Black Sky – streaming online in its entirety – is just as solid and just as eclectic. Like Bobtownjust reviewed here – this band has several good songwriters who’re fluent in vintage Americana: oldtime Appalachian folk, bluegrass, swing and country blues, to name a few. And Frankenpine likes mysteries.

One of the best tracks is Iron Road, co-written by banjo player Matthew Chase and frontwoman/guitarist Kim Chase. She delivers this brisk, biting, minor-key bluegrass tune with a wary, apprehensive edge in her voice and lush harmonies from the rest of the band. It’s a Nashville gothic train ballad, with a surprise ending that makes more sense with repeated listening: it’s obvious that this story isn’t going to end well. Phantom Limb, another dark bluegrass romp has Kim’s vocals plaintively longing for someone who disappeared into the woods, set to a stark backdrop of spiky textures, mandolin hammering home the punch line at the end of a brooding banjo solo. Fine and Fair, written by resonator guitarist/mandolinist Ned P. Rauch, bounces along through the woods with things falling and catching fire. Once again, it’s not clear exactly what happened, but it isn’t good. It builds to a witchy dance and then comes back to a suspenseful interlude held together by violinist Liz B. Rauch.

Opening with ominous harmonium and bells, Tell Me Where You Are, by the Rauches, tells a metaphorically loaded tale of a shipwreck victim searching in vain for her fellow lost soul. Widow Paris, sung by bassist Colin DeHond, is a creepy noir blues about a bereaved bride using voodoo to bring her dead husband back from the grave, Ned’s sonorous resonator solo handing off to Liz’s lively, bracing violin. Another Ned/Liz number, Flood Line, has a bitter oldtime folk feel as a very possibly doomed woman watches the water rise.

DeHond contributes two tracks: Place to Lay My Head, with a couple of surprisingly ornate, artsy, classically-tinged crescendos, and the jaunty, vengeful 99-percenter anthem Mr. Crook: “Nothing, that’s the best we can offer you, unless you want empty packs of cigarettes, hospital bills and credit debts,” the unemployed man tells the rich guy.

There’s also Appaloosa, a stark escape anthem; a surprisingly mellow, airy banjo-and-violin instrumental; and a couple of aphoristic, rustic, Appalachian-flavored Ned Rauch tracks that have the feel of classic hard-times ballads from the 1800s. One of the best albums of the year – just like last year. Oh yeah – just so you know, the Matt & Kim in this band are no relation to any other group by that name. Frankenpine’s next gig is at the Jalopy on Oct 12 at 9:30 PM.

Creepy Intensity from Thee Shambels at Zirzamin

Most bands open a show with a bright, catchy song. Friday night at Zirzamin, Thee Shambels did just the opposite, with a LONG, morose, Irish-flavored ballad about the death of a relationship…or maybe a dead girlfriend. It could have been both. Frontman/guitarist Neville Elder sang it uneasily with a break in his voice over the rich, amber washes of Melissa Elledge’s accordion, Sarah Mischner’s harmony vocals adding another level of bitterness over the slinky, subtle groove of Scott Kitchen’s bass and JJ Murphy’s drums. Elder has a theatrical side and a knack for dramatic imagery, sometimes completely in your face, sometimes much less so. “We lie together like fish on a dock, gasping for breath,” he sang as the song wound up: it was a typical moment for this dark, frequently morbid “folk noir” band, ending in an unexpected blaze of chord-chopping.

This band loves slow 6/8 time, and they work it for all the suspense they can pull out of it. Awash in more lush, chocolatey accordion, Baby’s Bones told the tale of a guy who goes crazy after his girlfriend dies and and stashes his her body in the barn “way up high, where the rats won’t get her;” on the next song, Caroline, Elder pondered how to cut an absolutely crazy girlfriend loose, evoking a young, hungover but pre-delirium tremens Shane MacGowan taking a pensive take on Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan. When Will We Be Lovers, an understatedly creepy narrative told from the point of view of a frustrated stalker, opened with a suspenseful Chris Isaak-esque sway and then went into mournful Pogues ballad territory before hitting a big, clanging crescendo midway through.

“If I have to be this lonely, I might as well be alone,” Elder wailed on a briskly shuffling new song that blended Celtic and gypsy motifs. The big hit of the evening was Jenny Come Back, a completely twisted noir cabaret waltz set in an imaginary San Francisco “suicide bar.” Much as the story was obviously fiction, Elder sold it. “Lemme tell you about Jenny…she had long red dirty dreadlocks hanging down her back… not the sort of tidy little salon dreadlocks, you know the little type of cornrows that are sort of a bit fluffy, and that pretty little girls at parties at SVA…FIT…NYU wear..no, these were homeless dreadlocks, like a big fucking fist. And that was just one of them. They were supporting whole ecosystems.” He went on to paint a scenario as grotesquely entertaining as anything MacGowan, or Nick Cave for that matter, has ever written. That song, along with a bunch of other intriguing stuff, is up at the band’s Soundcloud page. They went back to Irish balladry for their new single Lost Gun (a free download at the band’s site) channeling misery and abandonment over a steady shuffling beat and aching torrents of accordion, closing the set with a surprising detour into Buddy Holly-style Americana.

Ferociously entertaining gypsy punks Amour Obscur were scheduled to play afterward; much as the idea of seeing such a high-voltage act in such an intimate space was intriguing, when it’s the dead of August, the subway card runs out at midnight and the air conditioner is waiting patiently to be turned on again, there’s only one place to go and that’s home. Catch you next time around, guys.

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