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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…

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.

Good Shows Saturday Night on the LES

Eve Lesov looks kind of punk; her music has a classical tinge to it (it seems that every Russian has classical training). She plays an original, tuneful, moody mix of noir cabaret, chamber pop and gothic rock. Her songwriting also has a Spanish side. She’s a strong pianist, a fantastic singer with a dramatic, sometimes stagy flair and the kind of sardonic humor that so many Slavs have. She also has a shtick, “Russian devotchka in New York and things are crazy, man, but everything’s gonna be ok.” And she’s got an excellent, eclectic band. Saturday night at the Rockwood, Lesov led them through a set that was occasionally haunting, sometimes pensive, sometimes kinetic and often amusing.

Lesov’s drummer kept a terse, muted thump going through her mostly slow-to-midtempo songs using just a cymbal and a conga, which he played with mallets. Her excellent bassist added the occasional guitarlike flourish into his fluid grooves. Acoustic guitar mingled with Lesov’s stately piano chords and icy arpeggios; on a handful of songs, the band added balmy jazz flute on top of the mix for an unexpectedly tasty blend of textures.

They opened with a slow minor-key instrumental, Lesov wordlessly reaching for the top of her crystalline vocal range over a brooding chromatic bassline. Then they segued into a pensive bolero. A couple of big, crescendoing anthems bookended a slinky trip-hop groove that was the poppiest number of the set, yet it had the same kind of distant menace as most of the other songs. In a typically uneasy-funny moment, Lesov alluded to being kidnapped on her way over to the US – if that’s true, good thing she got away!

A little later, Lesov switched to guitar, the guitarist taking a turn on the drums while the drummer went to the piano and turned out to have impressively nimble, jazz-influenced chops. After Lesov sang her latest single, in Russian (with more of a clenched-teeth intensity than she had on any of the English-language material), the band closed with a slowly swaying, anthemic number that was part Britfolk, part stadium rock and part early 70s Bowie. Lesov seems to be making the Rockwood her home lately; she and the band will go slumming at Sidewalk on May 2 at 9 PM.

Afterward, it was great fun to go a few blocks north to catch LJ Murphy, who was also slumming at Sidewalk in a rare duo show with his phenomenal pianist Patrick McLellan. With Botanica‘s Paul Wallfisch making Germany his home base these days, McLellan has taken over as New York’s best rock keyboardist. He was on fire throughout the set, his Bernard Herrmann-esque horror cinematics on Mad Within Reason taking that song – the title track from Murphy’s album – to new levels of creepy surrealism. Likewise, he turned the snarling East Village Hell Night scenario This Fearful Town even more nightmarish with frantic, crazed midrange clusters. And then he backed away into graceful oldschool soul and gospel on the melancholy Waiting by the Lamppost. The rest of the show was a flurry of blues and jazz licks, Murphy growling and barking in his vintage voice through a mix of upbeat, anthemic numbers like the nonchalantly menacing Long Island murder anthem Pretty for the Parlor,  the sardonic Imperfect Strangers and then the singalongs Blue Silence and Barbed Wire Playpen. Murphy has made a name for himself as a charismatic showman, bandleader and lyricist but now he’s got a guy on the keys who can match his intensity.

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.

A Wild, Otherworldly Night with Armenian Oud Virtuoso Richard Hagopian

It’s hard to think of a more likeable ambassador for the thrilling, chromatically charged sounds of Armenian music than Richard Hagopian. During his sold-out show Sunday night at Symphony Space, the virtuoso oudist took a moment to proudly reflect on how just about every household in the global Armenian diaspora had at least one of his longtime band Kef Time‘s albums. Otherwise, Hagopian’s sense of humor was more self-effacing. As he explained, he joined his first band at age nine: “We weren’t very good, but the older people thought we were,” he grinned. His next gig came at eleven, playing with a group whose members were about seven decades older, an early immersion in the kind of obscure treasures that he’d bring to a global audience over the decades to come.

A record-setting two-year run with Buddy Sarkissian’s showband on the Vegas strip led to the birth of Kef Time and endless touring: meanwhile, Hagopian ran a music venue in his native Fresno. This concert also featured his son Harold, an equally brilliant musician, doubling on kanun and violin and served as emcee, giving his dad a chance to reflect on his career and explain the songs both for the Armenian and English speakers in the audience. Ara Dinkjian played guitar, sometimes doubling the melody line, other times supplying what were essentially basslines when he wasn’t anchoring the music with brisk chordal rhythm. Percussionist Rami negotiated the songs’ tricky 9/8 and 10/8 time signatures with a hypnotically kinetic aplomb, playing both goblet and frame drums.

Considering how much Turkish-language material there was on the bill, Harold Hagopian reminded that there’s no more cognitive dissonance in an Armenian listening to Turkish music – or vice versa – than there is for a Jew to listen to German music. The quartet opened with a couple of lush, windswept classical pieces, the first by blind oudist Udi Hrant Kenkulian, the group often playing the same lickety-split, spiky, microtonally-spiced phrase in unison. Being on the Silk Road and culturally diverse, the music of Armenia is something of a cross between Arabic and western sounds - while in Arabic music it’s usually the microtones that make it so haunting and otherworldly, in Armenian music it’s often the passing tones, neither major nor minor in a western scale, which enhance its enigmatic magic.

Hagopian opened a couple of later numbers with pensive improvisations – otherwise, he fired off wild flurries of tremolo-picking, flying joyously through the songs’ bracing modes. His son has a similar, wickedly fast, precise attack on the kanun, switching to violin for the later part of the show and getting to show off his command of tersely resonant, atmospheric lines. Several of the vocal numbers had an ironic humor: Hele Hele, a folk song – about “a guy who likes a girl but who can’t get to first base with her,” as the senior Hagopian put it – along with an insistent “dragon dance” inspired by Indian music, and Her Hair Was Blonde, the sadly swaying lament of a New Jersey immigrant whose first choice of fiancee has just been promised to another guy with more money.

Nane Suyu, an elegant tribute to one of the first jazz oudists, Chick Ganimian, was more subdued. After that, the band picked up the pace with Nihavent Longa, a tribute to to another legendary oudist, George Mgrditchian. They ended with Drumsalero, a vaudevillian fanfare of sorts in tribute to Sarkissian – an innovator known for employing a full kit’s worth of goblet drums onstage – which gave Rami a chance to cut loose in between jaunty riffs from the rest of the band.

The World Music Institute, who put this bill together, has a similarly enticing program coming up at Symphony Space on May 7 at 7 PM. Titled Strings of the Black Sea, it features Crimean Tatar violinist Nariman Asanov, Brooklyn accordionist Patrick Farrell, Cherven Traktor’s Bulgarian gadulka fiddler Nikolay Kolev and Christos Tiktapanidis on the pontic lyre. Tickets are $30 and available both at the box office and through the WMI. Here’s what most of this cast of characters sounded like playing this same program four years ago.

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.

The Ocular Concern: The Coen Brothers Do Twin Peaks, Sonically Speaking

Noir menace, sometimes distant, sometimes front and center and impossible to turn away from, fuels Portland, Oregon instrumentalists The Ocular Concern’s album Sister Cities (streaming at Bandcamp). The band’s music considerable resemblance to guitarist Marc Ribot‘s cinematically unfolding themes as well as multi-clarinetist Ben Goldberg‘s Unfold Ordinary Mind narratives, not to mention Ennio Morricone’s 70s work, especially the Taxi Driver score. The group’s main songwriters are guitarist Dan Duval and keyboardist Andrew Oliver, whose electric piano does double duty as bass in the same vein as what Ray Manzarek did with the Doors but with more restraint. The rest of the group includes Stephen Pancerev on drums, Lee Elderton on clarinet and Nathan Beck on vibraphone and mbira.

Surrealism is in full effect with the opening track, a wintry west African mbira theme for vibraphone, bass and drums, Duval’s loopy electric guitar kicking in to raise the ante. Violinist Erin Furbee, violist Brian Quincey and cellist Justin Kagan join the group on the Sister City Suite, which opens alternating between an uneasy calm and jarring strings, then shifts to a snide faux noir latin ambience that’s pure Bernard Herrmann spun through snarky Ribot downtown cool. Alex Krebs adds washes of bandoneon to the sarcastically blithe second segment, its suspenseful pulse evoking the Get Carter soundtrack, finally hitting a roaring punk jazz stomp where Elderton’s clarinet leaves no doubt that this is where the murder happens. From there they move to a cynical, string-driven cha-cha and then follow a fake tango groove with lushly swooping strings contrasting with more of that menacing Ribot-esque reverb guitar. This may be a Pacific Northwest band, but the sound is pure New York circa 1988.

The band’s eponymous track parses coldly glimmering. wistful pastoral jazz, Elderton using its hypnotic rhythm as a launching pad for a slowly crescendoing solo until the piano and drums push it out of the picture. Lafayette, another wintry mbira groove, sounds like the Claudia Quintet without the busy drums, Eldterton’s trilling and eventually thrilling solo being the highlight. They follow that with The Eclectic Piano, essentially a suspiciously blithe variation on the same theme. The album ends with the warmly consonant, narcotic William S. Burroughs, Let’s Go!, Elderton’s alto sax taking a slowly resonant lead over Oliver’s twinkling. echoing electric piano lines. If the Coen Brothers ever did an episode of Twin Peaks, this would be the soundtrack.

Creepy and Lively Americana Tunesmithing from the Annie Ford Band

Seattle-based fiddler Annie Ford made a name for herself on the road with Gill Landry, who went on to the Old Crow Medicine Show. These days, she’s got a killer debut album that juxtaposes her own broodingly lyrical, purist Americana songwriting with her drummer Matt Manges’ more upbeat but similarly oldschool C&W tunes. The whole thing is streaming at her Bandcamp page.

The production is as vintage-sounding as the songs. Everything sounds like it was recorded through old tube amps onto analog tape: Olie Elshleman’s gorgeously otherworldly pedal steel, Tim Sargent’s jaggedly noir guitar, Ivan Molton’s terse bass. and Robert Mitchell’s jaunty saloon piano and soul organ.

The best song on the album is Buick 1966, a cinematically noir mini-epic that shifts from a creepy bolero to a waltz to scampering bluegrass and then back, fueled by Sargent’s knee-buckling, Marc Ribot-like reverb guitar lines. All Hours is another haunting gem: Ford’s aphoristic portrait of drinking to remember rather than forget, set to vintage honkytonk spiced with stark fiddle and resonant, plaintive pedal steel, could be a classic from the late 50s – or an LJ Murphy song.

Mitchell takes centerstage on Frankie, a more upbeat,Fats Domino-esque murder ballad by Manges. Likewise, Shake on That works a late 50s style swamp rock groove that blends hints of both boogie-woogie and the Grateful Dead. Another romp by Manges, Lovesick has a carefree, early Wanda Jackson-style rockabilly energy.

Elshleman’s bittersweetly soaring steel makes a vivid contrast with Ford’s morose, subdued vocals on the forlornly shuffling Two Sides. Dirty Hearts & Broken Dishes explores similar emotional terrain over an elegant oldtime banjo waltz tune. Calloused Hands, another gently powerful number by Ford, has a narrator scrambling to hold onto memories of a comfortable childhood gone forever. The way Ford strings together her striking images: a woodsy, rural scene bulldozed into dust and a “tree struck open by a lightning storm that you could hide in to keep you safe and warm,” will resonate with anyone who’s seen their childhood neighborhoods replaced by McMansions.

Ford also examines family unease in My Brother, a reflection on someone dear to her heart who could obviously be dearer. Driven by more of that delicious, distantly menacing tremolo guitar, the midtempo shuffle Northern Rain has an understated vengefulness. The album ends up with the joyously vicious, metaphorically-charged noir bluegrass tune Gotta Kill a Rooster, capped off by a triumphantly diabolical, Romany-tinged Ford fiddle solo. There’s something for everyone here, country charm and menace in equal supply along with plenty of vintage soul sounds – it’s one of the best albums to come over the transom here in recent months.

The Sound of the Fab Four Inspires Andrew Collberg’s New Album

Swedish-born, New Zealand-raised and now based in Tucson, Andrew Collberg is a connoisseur of many retro rock styles. He has a background in southwestern gothic, and a couple of years ago put out a killer single, Dirty Wind b/w Back on the Shore, a rich evocation of classic paisley underground rock in the same vein as True West or the Dream Syndicate. These days he’s mining sounds that evoke ELO and the Beatles, adding layers of the blippy faux-vintage keyboard textures that are all the rage in the Bushwick indie scene on his latest album, Minds Hits. The whole thing is streaming at Spotify.

The opening track, Rich, is totally ELO, a soul-tinged update on the sound Jeff Lynne achieved with Evil Woman, then morphing into something of a glamrock song with a fuzztone guitar solo before coming back to the wickedly catchy, funk-tinged verse. From there Collberg segues into Hole and its Penny Lane bounce, followed by Take a Look Around, a retro 60s soul tune with Abbey Road touches: la-la-la backing vocals, elegant broken-chord guitar lines, organ and a terse faux electric harpsichord solo. After that, the long, hypnotically vamping Pepper Peter keeps the Abbey Road vibe going, this time on the Lennon side of the street.

Tear has Collberg playing precise soul chords that rise to a swaying, ba-BUMP late-Beatles groove that grows more majestic as he adds layers of guitars and keys. Stars takes the sound about a dozen years forward into ornately catchy Jeff Lynne space-pop territory, while Snide Creepy Soul takes an insistent, similarly hooky ELO-style pop tune thirty more years into the future with a mix of vintage and fake-vintage keyboard voicings.

Easy Lazy Dome speeds up a Hey Jude ambience doublespeed and then takes a turn into unexpectedly ominous psychedelia, fueled by shivery lead guitar. Cantaloupe looks back to Sergeant Pepper, complete with tumbling Ringo-esque drums. The album winds up with Hit the Gas, which sets a classic Lennon-style tune over boomy lo-fi drums before it picks up with increasingly ornate layers of guitar/keyboard orchestration. Isn’t it amazing that fifty years after the Beatles first hit, artists and audiences alike continue to be obsessed with them? Fans of Elliott Smith, Abby Travis, and of course ELO and the Fab Four will have a good time with this.

Hauntingly Intense Americana Tunesmithing from Ernest Troost

Ernest Troost is a brilliant Americana songwriter. Doesn’t he have the perfect name for one? Consider: Ernest Troost in skintight leather and spike bracelets, raising his Flying V guitar to the sky with a foot up on the monitor in the haze of the smoke machine? Nope. Ernest Troost remixed by celebrity DJ eUnUcH? Uh uh. But Ernest Troost making pensive, sometimes snarling, Steve Earle-ish, lyrically-driven Americana rock with inspired playing and smartly judicious arrangements? That’s the ticket. Troost’s latest album, prosaically titled O Love, is streaming at his Soundcloud page. He doesn’t have any New York shows coming up, but folks outside the area can catch him in Ridgefield, Connecticut on April 27 at Temple Shearith Israel, 46 Peaceable St.

Troost sets his aphoristic wordsmithing to a tightly orchestrated interweave of acoustic and electric guitars over a purist, understated rhythm section. The opening track, Pray Real Hard evokes Dylan’s Buckets of Rain, but with better guitar, a hard-times anthem where “you got to sleep on the floor ’cause that’s the only bed you made.” The ballad All I Ever Wanted adds psychedelic imagery over its country sway. Close, with its nimble acoustic fingerpicking and Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era sonics, has as much truth about why some relationships actually manage to work as it does an element of caution for clingy people. “All this room you give me makes us close,” Troost drawls: he could be talking to a woman, or to the Texas sky, but either way it makes an awful lot of sense.

The album’s shuffling, delta blues-tinged title track has a visceral ache: “Oh love left me a broken hollow frame, I do not feel a thing but I cannot bear the pain,” Troost intones. With its circling mandolin and intricate acoustic guitar interplay, Harlan County Boys builds a gloomy noir mining country folk tableau. Bitter Wind broodingly weighs the possibility of being able to escape the past, and also the danger of getting what you wished for. The Last Lullaby is a gently nocturnal elegy, while Storm Coming has a bluesy intensity and paranoid wrath to match anything Pink Floyd ever recorded, even if it doesn’t sound the slightest thing like that band.

Troost’s snaky, ever-present acoustic lead guitar line on the stark, oldschool folk-flavored When It’s Gone is the kindof device more artists should use. The Last to Leave waltzes from an oldtime C&W intro to lush countrypolitan sonics, a vividly sardonic, metaphorically-charged after-the-party scenario. The album’s best song is the wailing, electrifying murder ballad Old Screen Door: Troost’s genius with this one is that the only images he lets you see are incidental to what was obviously a grisly crime, “lightning bugs floating through a haze of gasoline” and so forth. It’s one of the best songs in any style released in recent months, a sort of teens update on the Walkabouts’ Pacific Northwest gothic classic Firetrap. Slide guitar fuels the upbeat, anthemically triumphant Weary Traveler, while I’ll Be Home Soon ends the album on an unexpectedly balmy, optimistic note. Fans of Steve Earle, James McMurtry, Jeffrey Foucault and the rest of that crew will find an awful lot to like in Troost’s brooding, intense songcraft.

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