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A Long Overdue Look at the Brooklyn What’s Latest Incendiary Release

The Brooklyn What exploded out of the Freddy’s Bar scene at the tail end in the late zeros, right before the building that housed the first incarnation of that beloved Brooklyn venue was bulldozed in the wake of the illegal land grab that resulted in the construction of the notorious Barclays Center. So it’s no wonder that the band’s music has been so relevant, and so hard-hitting. Yours probably would be, too, if your home turf was seized in the name of eminent domain and then turned into a basketball stadium, to further enrich an already mega-wealthy out-of-state developer.

Since then, the band’s musicianship has grown exponentially, over the course of two full-length albums and a bunch of singles, without losing touch with their punk roots. Watching them develop has been akin to seeing how the Clash rose from their early three-chord stomps to the epic stylistic mashups of Sandinista. The Brooklyn What’s latest, characteristically intense ep, streaming at Bandcamp, is titled Minor Problem. Their next show, starting around 9 this coming January 17 at the Gutter in Williamsburg, is a Lou Reed/VU tribute and benefit for the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri with a whole slew of bands including Jeff Lewis, psychedelic folk legend Peter Stampfel, No One and the Somebodys, Ghospal, the Planes, Electric People, Old Table and possibly others.

The new record’s opening track, Sledgehammer Night, gives you a good idea of where the band is coming from these days: it’s amazing how much they can pack into a single song, even in just a couple of minutes. This one’s got an intro like an early Wire outtake and a catchy twin guitar hook from Evan O’Donnell and John-Severin Napolillo. It’s alternately skronky and propulsive – and kind of creepy in places. “I’m sick and tired of staring at screens,” frontman Jamie Frey intones, “I need a reaction, I need a release.” His voice has grown deeper, more world-weary since the early days, no surprise considering how much this city, and the world, has changed since then.

The intro to Blowin’ Up hints at the Dead Boys; the verse is hardcore, the missing link between Black Flag and Guided by Voices. Then the band swings the hell out of it, with a searing, unhinged guitar solo (guessing that’s O’Donnell putting blisters on his fingers). By contrast, Metropolitan Avenue is a four-on-the-floor backbeat anthem held together by bassist Matt Gevaza and drummer Jesse Katz as Frey makes his best pitch to a standoffish Bushwick girl while the guitarists trade jagged incisions and fullscale roar.

As good as those songs are, the masterpiece here is Too Much Worry, almost nine minutes of white-knuckle intensity, relentless angst and psychedelic guitar fury. Napolillo’s homage to early Joy Division extends to the rapidfire rhymes of No Love Lost (and echoes of Warsaw), and as the song careens forward, there’s an interlude where it evokes a tighter take on that band doing the Velvets’ Sister Ray, at least musically speaking. The guitars rise and fall and after a brief passage with Frey’s eerily distant piano rippling overhead, heat up with a volcanic duel worthy of the Dream Syndicate. That’s O’Donnell with the icepick attack in the left channel, Napolillo’s scorched-earth stampede on the right. As four-song ep’s go, there’s been nothing released in 2014 that comes close to this: watch for it on the best albums of the year page here in about a week.

Frey’s prowess as a prose writer matches his songwriting: his blog is LMFAO and just as insightful a look at what’s happening to this city.

Dark Country Crooner Mark Sinnis Puts Out His Most Haunting Album

Purists complain when their favorite style of music changes. Sometimes they have a point – drum machines and bling-bling hip-hop product placements in country music? Barf.

But consider: if a style doesn’t change, that means it’s dead. Mark Sinnis personifies the cutting edge in this era’s country music, aware of tradition and immersed in it yet taking it to genuinely exciting new places. While his new album It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter (streaming at Spotify) is his deepest immersion in hard honkytonk, he also sounds like no other artist in country music anywhere. It’s what you get from a guy who grew up on the classics – Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, most obviously – but as a musician, cut his teeth playing new wave and gothic rock. Doktor John of the Aquarian called his music”cemetery and western,” and the term stuck. It’s an apt way to describe Sinnis’s doomed vision and individualistic blend of classic C&W and Nashville gothic.

It’s a long album, well over an hour’s worth of music, almost unthinkable in today’s world. Themes of drinking to kill the pain, death and life beyond the grave recur throughout it. Sinnis’ resonant baritone, always a strength, has never been more soulful or expressive, or more highly nuanced. He was good fifteen years ago fronting ferocious dark rockers Ninth House – who’ve been through a million lineup changes, and are still more or less active – but he’s great now.

Lee Compton’s trumpet and Brian Aspinwall’s pedal steel team up to give the album’s Texas shuffle of a title track an ominous southwestern gothic touch. Sinnis sings Wine and Whiskey and the Devil Makes Three with George Jones inflections without making it blatantly derivative. Interestingly, Aspinwall’s mellow steel work gives a cover of the Ernest Tubb honkytonk hit Driving Nails in My Coffin an almost Hawaiian feel.

Six Feet from Eternity opens with the story of Mary Ann Slouson, who died at age thirty on August 25, 1854 – Sinnis’ birthday. A World with No Tomorrow, unlike what the title would suggest, is optimistic – with its slow Memphis soul groove, jaunty trumpet and unexpectedly biting garage rock guitar from virtuoso Smokey Chipotle (who colors the rest of the album with classic honkytonk licks straight out of 1962), it seems Sinnis got the visitation from his pal on the other side that he was hoping for.

Sitting at the Heartbreak Saloon has a Tex-Mex sway and the feel of a Conway Twitty hit fromthe 70s with better production values and a more boozy milieu. Sunday Mourning Train works a period-perfect grim 1968-style Johnny Cash chunk-ka-chunk shuffle. Cemeteries and Centuries broodinglyand hypnotically contemplates “Sobering realities,” as Sinnis puts it, “Like waiting for a train, one by one we go.” A lingering, slow cover of the George Jones classic He Stopped Loving Her Today revisits that ambience a little later on, fueled by Zach Ingram’s funeral parlor organ.

On a Cold Night in December sets a haunting overnight train narrative to a loping southwestern gothic beat. Open Road of Memories has a bittersweet, nocturnal bounce, a mid 60’s-style Nashville September song. Down Old Route Number Nine makes a dirge out of Merle Travis Sixteen Tons-style country blues, swaying along with Stephen Gara’s resolute banjo. And Sinnis puts an update on Johnny Cash spoken-word pieces from the 60s with The Angel of Death. The album winds up with another Cash soundalike, In Harmony, a catchy if utterly morbid coda that makes uneasy peace with the inevitability of the grave. There are also a couple of remakes of older Sinnis songs here: a surprisingly gentle take of the corrosive kiss-off anthem Mistaken for Love, and a lustrous version of the Ninth House classic Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me. You’ll see this here again in a few days on the Best Albums of 2014 page.

A Historically Vital, Epically Sweeping Film Music Album from Daniel Hope

Violinist Daniel Hope‘s latest release, Escape to Paradise: The Hollywood Album (streaming at Spotify), isn’t just a fascinating and rewarding listen: it’s a important historical document. Film preservationists race against the ravages of time to salvage rare celluloid; likewise, Hope’s new recordings of film music by Jewish expatriates, mostly from pre-and post-WWII Hollywood, have historical value for that reason alone. What’s just as important is how vividly Hope underscores how Jewish composers’ contributions were as vital in defining an era in filmmaking as their colleagues on the theatrical side were. What’s more, this new recording, made with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic under the baton of Alexander Shelley, is much cleaner and higher quality than any old, mono celluloid version could possibly be. Many of these pieces are not heard all the way through in the films, and while there were stand-alone soundtrack albums for some of the movies whose music is featured here, others had none, all the more reason to savor this.

As you would imagine from the filmography chronicled here, it’s a lavish, Romantic ride. The album opens with Miklós Rózsa’s ripe, vibrato-fueled 1959 love theme from William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, Hope leading the way with a crystalline, guardedly hopeful, soaring tone. Likewise, his highwire lines light up Rózsa’s lush, flamenco-inflected 1961 Love Theme from El Cid. And yet another romantic theme – this one from Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, from sixteen years earlier – shows that Hungarian-born composer had his ecstatically crescendoing formula well-refined by then.

Taken out of context, Thomas Newman’s interlude from the immortal plastic bag scene in American Beauty is remarkably plaintive, a quality enhanced by this performance. The swing-era standard As Time Goes By, popularized in Casablanca, wasn’t written by Max Steiner, the composer of that film’s score, but by Tin Pan Alley song merchant Herman Hupfeld: Hope chooses it to end the album, in a stark solo rendition. A sad Henry Waxman waltz from the 1962 weepie Come Back, Little Sheba foreshadows it

The source material here reaches beyond mainstrean Hollywood. There’s also a majestic, string-driven version of a Walter Jurmann Weimar ragtime piece; Eric Zeisl’s striking overture Menuhim’s Song; and a surprisingly Celtic-tinged instrumental ballad by Werner Richard Heymann.

Not all the composers here are Jewish, either. John Williams’ theme from Schindler’s List adds context, along with an achingly lush 1988 Ennio Morricone set piece from Cinema Paradiso that draws a straight line back to his predecessors here.

And the album isn’t just film scores. German crooner Max Raabe sings a marvelously deadpan version of Kurt Weill’s Speak Low. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, best known for his work with Andres Segovia, gets a shout via a rippling take of Sea Murmurs, from his Shakespeare Songs suite. Erich Korngold – whose Hollywood success springboarded a career in serious concert music – is represented first by a dynamic version of his Violin Concerto in D. Hope dances and weaves over an alternately sweeping and gusty backdrop as a dramatic melody with all the hallmarks of a movie title theme rise to the forefront. The Serenade from his ballet suite Der Schneeman (The Snowman) is more low key, with a similarly heart-on-sleeve ambience. Virtually everything here will sweep you away to a land that time happily hasn’t forgotten – if you tend to find yourself immersed in something on Turner Classics at three in the morning, do yourself a favor and get this album.

Kristin Hoffmann Plays an Intimate West Village New Year’s Eve Show

If you like art-rock with elegant, baroque-tinged melodies, precisely nuanced piano, hypnotic rhythms and out-of-this-world gorgeous, dynamic vocals, Kristin Hoffmann is playing a New Year’s Eve show starting at around quarter to midnight at her longtime West Village haunt, Caffe Vivaldi at 32 Jones St. just off Bleecker. There are two dinner seatings (VERY EXPENSIVE) before then. The club calendar says “open house 1-3 AM” which can be interpreted any number of ways: assuming open bar might not be the safest bet.

In addition to her sweeping, often achingly intense work as a solo artist, Hoffmann is the singer in NASA’s Bella Gaia multimedia extravaganza, with whom she tours the globe. The Juilliard-trained singer is also in demand in the contemporary classical world: her latest album in that field is her Unfolding Secrets collaboration with cinematic Italian composer Marco Missinato. At her most recent Saturday night Caffe Vivaldi gig, Hoffmann sang one of those warmly neoromantic, colorful themes with a soaring, operatically-tinged intensity, adding just a hint of vibrato at the end of phrase when the music called for a little extra voltage. A little later, she brought the crowd to their feet with an even more high-octane, arioso rendition of Ave Maria.

But it’s her originals that people come out for here, and she played to the crowd. As precise and catchy as Hoffmann’s hooks are, there’s an angst-ridden undercurrent throughout her music. Hoffmann is a Libra: balance is a major theme with her, something she seems to grapple with and manages to achieve through her music’s gusty swells and majestic tectonic shifts. This was an electroacoustic performance, Hoffmann at the piano playing along to orchestration and beats on her tablet, Premik Russell Tubbs serving as a one-man band behnd her on – take a deep breath – lapsteel, alto sax, bass flute and wind synth.

The lingering, resonant washes from his lapsteel grounded several of the songs, notably the suspensefully brooding art-trip-hop of the opening number, The Magic and a later anthem, Falling, about jumping off a cliff – metaphorically speaking. On another song, Hoffmann worked an insistent piano riff that brought to mind Carol Lipnik‘s more minimalist work. As the show went on, Hoffmann aired out her many voices : an impassioned, confident alto, a stratospheric, spine-tingling soprano as many of the songs would hit a peak, and a no-nonsense soul approach on a rousing Aretha Franklin-influenced ballad. She kept that vibe going with a plaintive, similarly soulful take of Joni Mitchell’s River. Meanwhile, Tubbs, who’d been adding judicious textures via his many wind instruments – and a jaunty sax solo on River – went back to lapsteel for his most adrenalizing, crescendoing solo of the night on another big anthem. Hoffmann wound up her first set with a stately lullaby of sorts, a spaciously syncopated mood piece and a similarly nocturnal number that brought to mind the old Cindy Lauper hit Time After Time.

A Dynamic, Tuneful, Mysterious New Album and Two NYC Shows by the Yiddish Art Trio

At their most somber, the Yiddish Art Trio take otherworldly cantorial and Jewish folk themes and add a jolt of 21st century energy. Their quieter songs come across as sort of a less deliberately obscure take on the kind of material on the legendary Darkcho album. Their more upbeat repertoire reaches toward Ichka‘s energetic klezmer jazz, although this trio stick more closely to the songs’ folk roots. And unlike the mystery crew on the Darkcho album, you can actually see the members of the Yiddish Art Trio on tour this coming January. The three – clarinetist Michael Winograd, bassist/frontman Benjy Fox-Rosen and accordionist Patrick Farrell – rank among the world’s elite players in the thriving Jewish music demimonde, and also have a pair of NYC shows coming up. For those who’d prefer a lively small club atmosphere, they’re at Cornelia St. Cafe on Dec 17 at 6 (six) PM; cover is $8 and includes a drink! For those who prefer a more rapturous sonic experience, the group are playing the album release show for their new one – streaming at Bandcamp – at the gorgeously restored Eldridge Street Synagogue Museum (just north of Division; B/D to Grand St.) on Dec 21 at 7 PM; cover is $20/$15 stud/srs.

The album’s opening track is a diptych, Fox-Rosen’s spacious bass and low-key, heartfelt vocals giving way to Farrell’s balmy, lingering atmospherics, then it morphs into a wistful ballad. Farrell’s long, trilling crescendo fuels the second track’s upward flight, followed by another Farrell original, a brisky, bouncy sher dance with a long, sailing Winograd solo.

Track four reverts to pensive, spacious, distantly angst-fueled ballad mode; the group follows that with a lively, catchy, jazz-infused waltz by Winograd, Zhok’s on Me. Guilt, another Winograd composition, pairs his wary, airy lines with dark, full-throttle washes from Farrell’s accordion, evoking the majesty of a classical organ prelude. Fox-Rosen follows that with another terse, uneasy, suspensefully paced vocal number.

The triptych Seven Months Away from My Home begins as a lushly moody waltz, transforms into a deliciously vertiginous, swaying terkisher dance with a rippling Winograd solo and winds out as a biting freylekh romp written by Farrell. The album’s most epic track, Aza Freyd begins with atmospheric washes over Fox-Rosen’s minimalistically plucked bass and rises to a joyous waltz theme on the wings of Winograd’s elegantly trilling clarinet. The album winds up with a slow, bucolic number that grows unexpectedly somber, and then a whimsical hasidic tune. You don’t have to speak Yiddish, or for that matter, to be Jewish to enjoy these colorful and intriguing songs – although it helps.

Southern Gothic Tourmates Play Two Killer Shows on December 19

Folk noir songwriters Lorraine Leckie and Kelley Swindall wound up their third annual Southern Gothic Tour, making their way back from New Orleans to their home turf with a sold-out gig at the Mercury on the thirteenth of the month, an appropriate date for the two haunting, haunted, relentlessly intense bandleaders. The crowd squeezed around the video tripod set up in the middle of the floor: if the crew who were meticulously working it got their levels right, both performers got a great live album out of it. Swindall is playing what’s rumored to be her farewell NYC gig on Dec 19 at 9 at the Bitter End, of all places, for $10; Leckie plays two hours later that same night at 11 at Sidewalk for free, so if you’re adventurous, you can catch what crowds south of the Mason-Dixon line got to enjoy on a doublebill this past fall.

It’s impossible to imagine a better straight-up rock band than Leckie’s group the Demons (Huffington Post has a funny, insightful piece on them here). Lead guitar monster Hugh Pool channeled Hendrix in sideswiping, lighter-fluid-on-the-frets mode over the deep, in-the-pocket groove of bassist Charles DeChants and drummer Paul Triff. Pool unleashed a sunbaked, blistering Stoogoid attack on the album’s title track Rebel Devil Devil Rebel, a surrealistically joyous shout-out to New Orleans. At the end of the show, the band cut loose with a viciously ecstatic version of Ontario, a wickedly catchy Crazy Horse style stomp, Leckie’s explosive yet bittersweet shout-out to her Canadian roots. In between, the band snarled their way through the Warren-Zevon-on-acid glam of Rainbow, the distant menace of Watch Your Step and a lingering version of The Everywhere Man, a serial killer narrative fueled by Pool’s vertigo-inducing, echoing slide work. Out in front of the band, playing Telecaster (and keys on one plaintively brief number), Leckie’s steely vocals were undiminished over the maelstrom.

Swindall cut her teeth playing music with a long-running residency at Stefan Lutak’s legendary East Village dive bar the Holiday Lounge. If you could play there, you could play anywhere, so Swindall took the stage at the Mercury like she owned the place. She’s sort of a musical counterpart to Flannery O’Connor or Carson McCullers, a southern gothic intellectual giving voice to the restless and the outcasts among us, with an indelible wistfulness. This time out, playing acoustic guitar and harmonica and backed by a three-piece band, she opened with a brooding, Waits-ish blues set in a vivid Lower East side milieu. She revisited that hauntingly later in the set with a creepy, noir tableau where “every high becomes its low” and then a cheating song set to an oldtimey shuffle groove.

Bassist Stephanie Allen (also of the Third Wheel Band) propelled a brisk mashup of an oldtime talking blues and a country patter song, followed by a triumphant version of the weed-smuggling anthem California and a little later, Swindall’s own original, full-throttle version of Minglewood Blues. She wound up her set with the kiss-off anthem to end all kiss-off anthems, I Never Loved You Anyway, and then the Murder Song, a vindictive ending for a clueless chick who spends her nights getting trashed at honkytonk karaoke. If New York ends up losing Swindall, it’ll be our loss and someone else’s gain.

Garage Punk Madness at Don Pedro’s in Bushwick This Saturday

Marauding garage-punk trio Sun Voyager have a split ep out with Greasy Hearts (streaming at Bandcamp, and also available on cassette, yay). The opening track, Desert Dweller, is the best one, a truly gorgeous feast of multitracked, distorted Fender Twin guitar amp sonics. It’s like a slightly less noisy version of what the Skull Practitioners do. Mind Maze, Sun Voyager’s second track, sounds like something from the Boomtown Rats’ first album if that band had switched out the punk for stoner garage production values. The last one, Let It Ride has trickier rhythms and a searing, tone-bending guitar solo out. Greasy Hearts’ three contributions to the ep include one with a Coney Island High-style late 80s/early 90s punk-metal swagger, a more trad garage tune and then a surprisingly eclectic number with echoes of both oldschool soul and vintage Sabbath.

Another heavily Sabbath-influenced track is Sun Voyager’s latest single, God Is Dead (also up at Bandcamp). Both bands are playing the King Pizza Records mini-festival which starts at 4 PM this Saturday, Dec 13 at Don Pedro’s. Sorry for the short notice, but the show never made it onto the radar here: the venue’s calendar hasn’t been updated in a couple of months.

Intense, Slyly Shapeshifting Middle Eastern Jamband Shtreiml Hits the Upper West Side

Shtreiml are one of the world’s most darkly exhilarating and distinctive jambands. There is no group anywhere who sound anything like them. Their signature sound – a psychedelic, funky, sometimes phantasmagorical circus rock mashup that updates traditional Jewish and Turkish melodies from across the centuries – is highlighted by Jason Rosenblatt’s spiraling harmonica and Ismail Fencioglu’s rippling, often savagely incisive oud. Rosenblatt is famous for being being one of the few harmonica virtuosos who can play the standard diatonic blues harp like a chromatic harp – think the rustic, otherworldly overtones of Little Walter or Howlin’ Wolf rather than Dave Matthews. Fencioglu is just as adrenalizing, and provides a more somber, often haunting counterpart to Rosenblatt’s sizzling riffage. They’re playing a rare New York show on Dec 16 at 7:30 PM in the basement at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, 30 W. 68th St. (Columbus/CPW). Cover is $15 and if serious jams or killer Middle Eastern music is your thing, you would be crazy to miss this.

Their amazing latest album, Eastern Hora, is just out: the whole thing isn’t streaming at any single spot, but what’s up at the band’s Sonicbids, Soundcloud and Youtube channels will give you a good idea of what’s on it. It kicks off with Grand Theft Stutinki, a deliriously dancing mashup of Acadian and possibly Macedonian themes that sounds like a more rhythmically tricky take on Hazmat Modine, with a more Middle Eastern intensity. Chassidl pour les Bâtards hits a swaying groove – what a trip it is to hear a slithery harmonica play a creepy, slinky Turkish melody, the horns doubling the oud perfectly, Avi Fox-Rosen adding resonant, growling electric guitar.

A take of the traditional Turkish tune Ciftetelli gets more of a Frankensteinian lope than other bands typically give it, with a surpisingly balmy midsection before the intertwining harmonica and oud join with the rest of the band – Rachel Lemisch’s pinpoint-precise trombone, Joel Kerr’s bass and Thierry Arsenault’s drums. After Party Freilach makes swaying, chromatically charged wah funk out of an apprehensive klezmer theme, with bluesy lowrider trombone.

A Saturday Evening Blues turns out to be a slow, slinky, suspenseful minor-key oud theme lowlit by Kerr’s misterioso bass and Lemisch’s forlorn trombone. Abou Khalil’s sets lively upbeat trombone and harmonica over a bubbly, rhythmically shapeshifting undercurrent. Raurys Spielt works a tongue-in-cheek, minor-key vaudevillian pulse, a feature for marching trombone and Rosenblat’s ragtime-infused piano.

Rosenblatt plays the sad waltz The Old Mill solo on piano – it might or might not be a requiem for rust belt Quebec. Then Fencioglu and Rosenblatt’s enigmatic lines harmonize on the brooding, wintry Waltz Azoi. The album hits a noir peak with the fiery, swaying title track, Fox-Rosen’s eerrie, twangy guitar anchoring a blazing, horn-fueled funeral march. By contrast, Rosenblatt’s solo piano piece Lullaby for Halleli blends Erik Satie and klezmer tonalities into a starlit, Lynchian waltz. What a darkly gorgeous mix of songs – you’ll see this on the Best Albums of 2014 page here in a couple of weeks.

Needle Points Bring Their Danceable Psychedelic Grooves to Bushwick

Wow, are Needle Points fun or what! And it’s all because of the basslines. Their opening set at Palisades in Bushwick last night on a bill staged by Christiana of Indie Shuffle would have had a crowd anywhere but in this neighborhood dancing up a storm. OK, maybe not in Williamsburg either, but that’s another story. Within seconds of taking the stage, their guitarist broke a string as he launched into the opening instrumental. But no worries – he’d brought a gorgeous Les Paul as a backup, and blended bits and pieces of echoey surf, sunshiney Memphis soul, lowdown garage rock and hints of southern boogie into the band’s expansive groove. Their burly, bearded bassist rocked a Hofner, a surefire sign that he meant business. “I’m gonna play the fuck out of this bass,” he told the audience and he did. He’s a friendly guy, chatting up the crowd betweeen songs as the band tuned, which was actually a good idea as their frontman – who with the band behind him veered between blue-eyed soul and a garage rock shout – kept quiet. Bass is also the band’s not-so-secret weapon, anchoring the songs with wickedly catchy, vamping grooves that went on for minutes at a clip, punctuated by some neat slides and bends when least expected.

Their first number had the kind of infectuously funky sway that the MC5 were shooting for in their more soul-oriented moments but could never nail. Their second number motored along with a guitar-fueled shuffle that drew a line back to Chuck Berry, via the Stones or the Dead. Their even catchier next one had some heavy ba-BUMP-ba-BUMP low end courtesy of their percussionist, a petite brunette with an ear-to-ear grin who jumped around as she hammered out nimble leapfrog beats with her mallets on a single snare and a kickdrum. From there they made their way through an eerily reverberating Tobacco Road bounce, to a rousingly successful detour into Motown and then back to more side-to-side, swaying grooves. Bands like this make a trek on the J train on a nasty, raw night worth the hassle.

Mr. Kid & the Suicide Policemen are pretty new and have a brand-new name that’s better than their old one. It’s a good guess that they’ll probably have another by next month, which might explain why they don’t have a web presence – although they’ve got a little stuff at soundcloud. Their frontguy doesn’t sing as much as he rasps or does the soul-shout thing – but that’s cool because it fits the music. Right now their twin-guitar attack – roaring, reverb-drenched Fender Jazzmaster and riff-rocking Danelectro Rick copy – is more sonically interesting than their songs, but that will probably change. Like Needle Points, they have a thing for simple, catchy, incisive basslines. They kept things hard and direct, from their best song, a slowly unwinding paisley underground number with echoes of the Dream Syndicate, through louder, more garage-riff oriented material punctuated by the Fender player’s ferociously noisy attack.

As for the third group, Washington, DC’s Paperhaus…they’re the kind of band you really want to try to like. One of their guitarists linechecked with a verse of the Beatles’ Rain, always a good sign. But what they do just doesn’t gel. There were some tasty dreampop swells, some catchy basslines, and everyone in the band is a competent musician. They all probably have a future, just not together. It was too bad that the dreampop swirl so soon gave way to so many grandiosely empty Coldplay/Phoenix stadium gestures. And there were some distractingly dorky, mathrocky moments, and halfhearted attempts at something approximating humor.

A word about the venue: NICE PLACE. Asshole-free, laid-back, the sound isn’t Carnegie Hall but it isn’t ass either and the soundguy was very attentive to all the bands throughout their sets. In case you think that’s de rigeur at every venue, you haven’t been to Arlene’s lately. Now all they need is a website.

An Exhilarating Live Album and a Lower East Side Release Show by Metropolitan Klezmer

It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since high-voltage, time-warping Jewish jamband Metropolitan Klezmer played their first gig at CB’s Gallery, next door to its big sister club, CBGB. In the years that passed, there’s been some turnover in the band, but no relenting in the intensity or the fun department. Their latest release, Mazel Means Good Luck, is a live album – something more bands ought to be making – which comprises material from concerts at several venues from 2009 through 2013. The album is streaming at Bandcamp, and the band are playing the album release show on Dec 15 at 7 PM at the gorgeously restored, sonically rich Eldridge Street Synagogue Museum (just north of Division; B/D to Grand St.); cover is $20/$15 for students.

Much as the band dedicate themselves to original material, drummer/leader Eve Sicular is also a serious musicologist, with a love for resurrecting obscure treasures from across the decades. One particularly noteworthy cover here is the version of the slow, sad lament Die Fire Korbunes – a 1911 requiem for the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire – which by all accounts seems to be the first-ever recording of that song. The band also reach to the Soviet Union in 1956 for their update on an Anna Guzik recording of incendiary, iconic songwriter Mordechai Gebirtig’s subtext-drenched Yankele, sung in shiveringly nuanced Yiddish by Melissa Fogarty, accordionist Ismail Butera and violist Karen Waltuch supplying a stark backdrop.

A medley of Romanian-inflected tunes opens with a suspenseful, whirlwind acccordion improvisation, then the band segue into a stately but edgy processional. A clarinet-fueled take of Mikhail Ziv’s 1969 title theme from the Soviet tv cartoon Cheburashka portrays its furry, enigmatic central character as a rather forlorn soul. Fogarty pulls out all the stops for a mischievously sultry take of the album’s title track, originally recorded by Louis Prima’s big band in 1947. There’s also a mashup of a couple of pensive traditional themes with a jaunty, vaudevillian, klezmerized version of Frank Loesser’s Luck Be a Lady Tonight, fueled by clarinetist Debra Kreisberg and trumpeter Pam Fleming.

A similar outside-the-box sensibility informs the band’s originals, which is what distinguishes this group from others in their field: their repertoire is vibrant and in the here and now, and often irreverent. Kreisberg contributes Baltic Blue, which begins as a haunting, slow cumbia, then mashes up the blues and Hava Nagila with soulful solos for alto sax, muted trumpet and Reut Regev’s trombone – it may be an elegy for Brooklyn neighborhoods lost to the blitzkrieg of gentrification. A diptych by the group’s former trombonist Rick Faulkner goes in the opposite direction. And the band waste no time kicking the album off on an explosive note with a trio of party dances.

Sicular also has a thing for subversive humor, which is front and center on the closing number, When Israel Met Jenny, from her multimedia piece J. Edgar Klezmer. It’s a sort of klezmer-chamber-pop reminiscence of how Sicular’s psychiatrist grandmother dealt with FBI surveillance during the cold war, a bitingly funny over-the-shoulder glimpse of the kind of conversation many of New York’s intelligentsia could have had around the table at a Passover seder. Keep an eye out for this one on the best albums of 2014 page here at the end of the year.

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