New York Music Daily

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Tag: old time music

Muddy Ruckus Bring Their Darkly Inventive Americana to the Rockwood

Portland, Maine trio Muddy Ruckus call their music “stomp and swing punk.” They’re bringing their uneasy guy/girl harmonies and unique blend of string-band swing, Tom Waits-inspired circus rock and oldtimey blues to the small room at the Rockwood on Sept 27 at 9 PM. They’ve also got a stylistically diverse, carnivalesque debut album streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, Crawl on the Ceiling sets the tone, a brisk noir swing romp fueled by Brian Durkin’s steady bass pulse, Erika Stahl’s torchy vocal  harmonies enhancing the darkly phantasmagorical ambience. The band work their way up from skeletal to anthemic on Come with Us, lowlit by Marc Chillemi’s torchy muted trumpet. Ruby Red rises from a doomed, slow-burning electrified minor-key blues groove to a frantic sprint to the finish line, frontman/guitarist Ryan Flaherty channeling pure desperation with an unhinged solo.

Mother Mud blends oldschool 60s soul with a string band sound from forty years previously, driven by Phil Bloch’s violin. The scampering swing shuffle Bulldozer will resonate with anyone who can’t wait to get out of the “shitty town” where they grew up, as Flaherty puts it. “I don’t need your family money or drugs, ’cause I’m high on all the lies I told myself as I grew up,” he drawls sarcastically.

Butterfly Bullets adds a little cynical hip-hop edge to Waits-ish noir blues. Worse Things mashes up lazy indie rock and oldtime blues: it’s a kiss-off to an evil boss and dayjob drudgery in general. “There’s no romance that compares to the rug that’s pulled out from under your prayers,” Flaherty insists.

Convalescent Angel builds from creepy oldtime gospel ambience to anthemic menace. Infinite Repair returns to the noir swing, with a neat, flatpicked guitar solo that’s part Appalachian, part Romany jazz. Lightning, a slow waltz, mines an oldtime fire-and-brimstone vernacular anchored by Durkin’s stygian bowing. Stahl sings Bag of Bones, a dancing, dixieland-flavored swing tune. The album’s final track, On and On, is a loping, hypnotic rock nocturne: thematically, it’s out of place, but it’s not bad.

Another Fun Album and a Jalopy Show by the Two Man Gentlemen Band

For about the past ten years, the Two Man Gentlemen Band – tenor guitarist Andy Bean and bassist Fuller Condon – have entertained crowds with their irrepressible, toe-tapping oldtimey sounds. Their previous album Two At a Time was a collection of drinking songs and will probably go down in history as a classic of its kind, if you buy the premise that drinking songs can be classic. Their latest release, aptly titled Enthusiastic Attempts At Hot Swing and String Band Favorites (streaming at Spotify), is a bit, um, more serious. Its unifying theme is old songs about US states and specific locales. Much as the two gents’ cred as connoisseurs of early swing, blues, jazz and hillbilly sounds is well known, the album is sort of a resume that you can dance to. It’s something a booking agent can use to score a gig at a fancy sit-down jazz club, and also something you can enjoy over cocktails at home without paying fancy sit-down jazz club prices. The two gentlemen – who are likely to be joined by other gentlemen onstage- have a gig coming up on Sept 26 at 9 PM at the Jalopy; cover is $15. It’s the obvious place to see these guys, not only since they’ll probably take advantage of the venue’s penchant for using a single, central onstage mic, just as the band recorded these songs, live to analog tape.

A lot of the songs here are ones you know, like the characteristically jaunty take of My Blue Heaven that opens the album. Back Home in Indiana is much the same; These Foolish Things, as you would expect, is more low-key, in a plaintive Matt Munisteri vein. The funniest track is Beale Street Mama, capped off with dixieland-flavored clarinet and banjo; the most surreal, and surprisingly, period-perfect number here is Chinatown, My Chinatown.

Time Changes Everything features cocktail drums – as do most of the songs here – along with mandolin and accordion. Likewise, Some of These Days also has acccordion on it, adding a Romany jazz edge. The shuffling Palm Springs Jump has wry trombone-ish vocalese and a flurrying Bean guitar solo. They do On the Sunny Side of the Street and I Can’t Give You Anything But Love as droll Gatsby swing crooner tunes, while Sweet Irene from Illinois bounces along with a rustic 20s string band feel.

There are also a trio of excellent instrumentals: a spiky swing through The Dallas Rag, a version of Jackson Stomp that’s so tight it ticks, and a lively take of East Tennessee Blues. All this further cements the group’s reputation as one of the most reliably fun vintage Americana acts out there.

The Howlin’ Brothers Hit the Rockwood With 100 Years of Americana

What does it say about the state of New York nightlife that this Sunday happens to be one of the most happening nights this week? Is that just luck of the draw, a lot of good bands passing through town? Or, as more and more of this city turns into a tourist trap (or a permanent-tourist trap) on the weekend, is this a a sign that venues and maybe artists as well have learned that there’s money to be made from an audience who will come out on an off-night just to get away from the fratboys and their fraturniture? You be the judge. One of the most enticing shows this weekend is at the big room at the Rockwood on Sunday night at 8 where the Howlin’ Brothers are playing for a $10 cover.

That eclectic, virtuosically fun Americana trio’s most recent New York show was out back of City Winery just before the 4th of July, on what turned out to be a rare, blisteringly hot evening (that night aside, has this summer been just about the best on record or what?) Unperturbed by the heat despite being suited up in hats and sturdy plowman’s attire, the band looked like they were the happiest guys on the planet. Then again, wouldn’t you be if you could make a living traveling all over the world playing country blues and bluegrass and getting paid for it?

And it wasn’t all good-time drinking or partying music, either. Fiddler/multi-instrumentalist Ian Craft, guitarist Jared Green and bassist Ben Plasse worked the dynamics back and forth, throughout a tuneful, dynamically and historically rich set that went on for over an hour. Plasse, as it turns out, is also an excellent guitarist: he took the night’s longest and most energetic solo on electric guitar, one of only a few songs on which the band wasn’t all-acoustic. Craft started out on fiddle and then switched to banjo – interestingly, it was when he played that antique instrument that the music sounded the least oldtimey. Then he switched to bass, singing no matter what he was playing, which isn’t exactly easy. Green strummed and flatpicked expertly and blended voices with rest of the crew, through a couple of sad waltzes from their new album Trouble and the more upbeat stuff, including a raucous take of Carl Perkins’ Dixie Fried, from the band’s ep The Sun Studio Session. That one left no doubt that it’s about getting drunk and stoned and high on whatever else – probably a lot of stuff – that the guys who were making records there were doing back in 1956. No wonder the early rockabilly artists got into so much trouble with redneck politicians on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.

Yet Another Great Album from the Old Crow Medicine Show

Is there a band anywhere in the world who are more fun than the Old Crow Medicine Show? In an age of overproduced, digitized-ad-nauseum albums, it’s amazing how the OCMS manages to capture the unhinged energy of their live shows in the studio. No wonder that they’re one of those bands that pretty much everybody loves. Giving them the front page here probably doesn’t mean anything in terms of ramping up their fan base – it just means that this blog isn’t asleep on the job! Their latest album is titled Remedy, streaming at Spotify; as usual, they’re on summer tour.

The new album’s first track is Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer: it’s a slinky, banjo-fueled, twisted killler’s tale, and it wouldn’t be fair to spoil the ending. That capsulizes OCMS’s appeal: killer oldtime Americana chops, funny lyrics, unstoppable energy. The lickety-split fiddle tune 8 Dogs 8 Banjos celebrates all the good things in life, from hot coffee and sweet tea to corn liquor and dirtweed. Although it’s one of the album’s quieter songs, the bittersweetly swaying, accordion-driven, Celtic-tinged Sweet Amarillo is also one of its best.

The band – Kevin Hayes on “guitjo;” Cory Younts on mandolin, keyboards and drums; Critter Fuqua on slide guitar, banjo and guitar; Chance McCoy on guitar, fiddle and banjo; Ketch Secor on fiddle, harmonica and banjo; Gill Landry on slide guitar and banjo; and Morgan Jahnig on bass – pick up the pace with the scampering kiss-off anthem Mean Enough World, an acoustic take on Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan. The somber graveside scenario Dearly Departed Friend has a creepy, spot-on redneck surrealism: it’s a good companion piece to Lorraine Leckie’s Don’t Giggle at the Corpse. Firewater is a midtempo drinking song with soaring pedal steel, while Brave Boys takes a rapidfire detour into Irish territory.

Doc’s Day is a good-natured, harmonica-fueled country blues tune, setting the stage for the darkly rustic Cumberland River, spiced by some fiery fiddle from McCoy. The band goes back to a brisk Appalachian bounce for Tennessee Bound and then hits a peak on Shit Creek, a punkgrass take on an oldtimey high-water-rising theme. The hobo swing tune Sweet Home could be the Wiyos or for that matter, the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The album ends on an unexpectedly brooding note with The Warden, which challenges the guy running the prison to look in the mirror and see if he’s really human after all. Brilliant musicianship and tunesmithing, clever wordsmithing, traditionalist chops, and everybody sings. What more could you possibly want on a hot summer night?

 

A Great New Album and a Free Summer Concert by the Wiyos

The Wiyos were one of the best of the first wave of oldtimey Americana bands. Then they took an unexpected turn into psychedelic rock: their previous album, Twist, followed the plotline from the Wizard of Oz to places even trippier than the original. They’re back with a new album, One More for the Road (at Spotify - didn’t Lynyrd Skynyrd use that title at some point?) which reverts to the sound the Wiyos had mined so energetically in the beginning, but spiced with a harder-rocking edge. You could call it oldtimey stoner swing: some jump blues, some hillbilly boogie, some oldtime C&W as well as proto-rock sounds from around 1953, with funny and often very clever lyrics. Teddy Weber’s jaunty jazz-tinged guitar is the main instrument, although frontman/harmonica player Michael Farkas and bassist “Sauerkraut” Seth Travins (who has a side gig making that stuff) get plenty of space to contribute too. They’ve got a free concert coming up on July 17 at 7 PM at Wagner Park, just north and west of Battery Park: take the train to the Battery and just walk up the west side along the water and you can’t miss it.

The album’s opening track, Ride the Rails sets the tone with an upbeat, summery sway, purposeful trumpet mingling with laid-back accordion. Milwaukee Blues is another hobo song. “One wonderful day, MTA said you have to pay…I’m heading west,” Farkas asserts. “Way up in Jersey they’re talking smack, don’t look at your brother pissing on your back.” Milwaukee, here we come!

They follow that with a fingerpicked tribute to John Hartford that starts out serious but gets really, really funny with some droll muted trumpet and harmonica as the song hits a stomping peak. Seventeen Cars, with its torrential, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and elegant, jazzy guitar, goes for a pre-rockabilly vibe. The album’s most acerbic song, 1982, takes a spot-on swipe at the first wave of trendoids whose obsession with kitsch came to a limp climax with Portlandia and gentrifier twee-topias like Bushwick and Williamsburg, ad nauseum.

Radio Flyer could be an outtake from the psychedelic record: with its neat series of tradeoffs at the end and biting low-register guitar, it’s the album’s most musically edgy and interesting number. They wind up with Sauerkraut, another gut-bustingly funny tune about a girl who just can’t get enough of that salty stuff: the jokes fly fast and furious and they’re too good to spoil. And is that a muted trumpet, or a kazoo? Little instrumental touches like that make the songs even funnier. You can expect some smoke on the water just north of the Battery on the 17th.

Marah Reinvents an Amazing Collection of Obscure Pennsylvania Folk Songs

There’s a serious imbalance of folk music in this country: so much of what we hear is from the southern states. But there’s tons of great old songs from the northeast as well, which so often get overlooked. Credit Marah for rediscovering a whole slew of them and presenting them in a ramshackle, aptly high-energy package titled Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania, streaming at Spotify. All these songs were originally collected over one hundred years ago by musicologist Henry Shoemaker; this is the first full-length recording based exclusively on the lyrics he collected throughout the region. Marah do here what Wilco did with Woody Guthrie, setting (and sometimes rearranging) the words to a mix of period-perfect folk melodies livened with harder-rocking and sometimes more modern arrangements. The band are going to air them out at Bowery Electric on July 12 at around 10:30; edgy, lyrically-driven, 90s-style alt-country band Butchers Blind open at 9:30 or so.

Marah have earned plenty of props for their meat-and-potatoes, four-on-the-floor rock anthems, but as it turns out they’re just as good at roots music from their home state. There are no sizzling solos or virtuoso moments in these songs: instead, the band seems to be shooting for the sound of a raw, celebratory family band, employing the usual Americana string band instrumentation in addition to dulcimer, glockenspiel, tuba, simple drums and piano along with occasional electric guitar that adds an offcenter psychedelic edge.

The album opens with a joyously swaying one-chord timber-cutting jam of sorts with fiddle, harmonica, banjo and jaw harp: “Prepare for the shanty life before your health declines,” singer David Bielanko insists. A Melody of Rain shuffles along witha brisk 60s pop feel – it’s the least archaic of all the songs here. The album’s hardest-rocking number, An Old Times Plaint offers more than a hint of circus rock, bringing to mind recent adventures in that style by M Shanghai String Band.

With its unabashedly romantic strings, insistent piano and harmonica, the most lushly orchestrated number is Luliana, a wistful love ballad: “If I could be anyone but myself, I would be the one who stands beside her,” the narrator affirms. By contrast, Sing O Muse of the Mountain is another mostly one-chord jam, akin to the White Light White Heat-era Velvets doing a Pennsylvania folk tune.

Glockenspiel and pump organ double each other, a la Springsteen, on Ten Cents at the Gate, which veers unexpectedly from country gospel to eerily phantasmagorical rock. Mountain Minstrelsy has the album’s most regionally-specific lyric set to a warmly catchy midtempo sway. A sad, vividly resigned waltz, The Old Riverman’s Regret looks back nostalgically on 19th century commercial river rafting. The album winds up with a raggedly rustic dance instrumental. There’s also a shambling, punk blues-inflected track and a brief, skeletal stab at a Celtic-tinged anthem. The way the album was recorded – live, in a Millheim, Pennsylvania church with lots of natural reverb – more than suggests that Marah has a great time onstage with these songs.

A Free Show and Two Contrasting Americana Albums by the Howlin’ Brothers

It’s hard to keep up with the Howlin’ Brothers. The trio of bassist Ben Plasse, fiddler/multi-instrumentalist Ian Craft and guitarist Jared Green are one of those well-loved Americana acts who make a living on the road, but they also make excellent albums. They’ve got a brand-new one out, Trouble, streaming at Spotify and a free outdoor show on July 1 starting around 5 in the parking lot out back of City Winery.

A quick listen to the new one reveals it as both more electric, more intense and darker than the band’s previous material. The album before that is an acoustic ep, the Sun Studio Session, where the band went into the legendary room where Elvis and Johnny Cash and so many other legends recorded and put down four originals, a remake of an earlier tune and a cover of a Sun classic, Carl Perkins’ 1956 single Dixie Fried.

What’s coolest about that tune is that you can hear as much Chuck Berry in it as you can bluegrass – and Craft’s banjo solo is as wild and fun as anything Brandon Seabrook could wail through. There’s also a spare, brooding, piano-driven, Tom Waits-ish version of Tennessee Blues, which originally appeared on the band’s Howl album.

The first of the new tracks, Til I Find You sets lickety-split banjo over a steady bass pulse, with that rich Sun Studios natural reverb on the vocals. True to its title, the slow Troubled Waltz, another banjo tune, has an oldtime Appalachian feel. Take Me Down, fueled by Green’s dobro, works a swaying, dead-of-summer delta blues groove. Charleston Chew, a slightly more modern (if you consider 1954 modern) take on a 1920-style one-chord blues, is the lone electric track here, the slow-burn tone of Green’s guitar contrasting with Craft’s energetic fiddle. Taken as a whole, the ep is a smartly lower-key counterpart to the band’s raucous live show. It’s gonna get hot in the parking lot on Tuesday evening.

Willie Watson Brings His Colorful Oldtime Songs to the Mercury

It’s easy to see why David Rawlings would want to produce Willie Watson‘s debut album, Folk Singer Vol. 1. Watson has a terse, economical, low-key fluidity on both the guitar and banjo and is a connoisseur of dark folk music from across the decades and for that matter, the centuries. The album is a solo acoustic project with a colorful choice of songs. In the same vein as his approach to the fretboard, Watson lets the stories tell themselves, singing in an understated twang with a little shivery vibrato that tails off at the end in a 1920s blue style. He’s at the Mercury on May 21 at 8 PM; advance tix are $10 and recommended (the box office is open Monday-Friday, 5-7 PM).

Watson’s version of Midnight Special sets the stage: it’s got the feel of an old blues record from the 20s without the pops and scratches. At the end, Watson leaves no doubt that this is no party anthem: it’s a cautionary tale. He follows that with a briskly swaying, one-chord banjo version of the bankrobber ballad Long John Dean and then the similar, slightly slower banjo tune Stewball, a nonchalantly grim horseracing narrative. As the race kicks off, “Old Stewball was trembling like a criminal to be hung.”

The delta blues tune Mother Earth is sort of a slightly more upbeat take on Death Don’t Have No Mercy. The fastest number here, Mexican Cowboy, has a bitter end you can see coming a mile away, but it’s still a fun ride. Watson follows a slow, steady pace on James Alley Blues up to a vicious payoff at the end, then gets even more murderous on Rock Salt & Nails, an old song that’s as alienated and angry as anything Hank Williams ever wrote. It’s the high point of the album.

After that, Watson picks up the pace with the upbeat blues Bring It with You When You Come, an oldtimey weed-smoking anthem and then switches back to banjo for a muted take of Kitty Puss, a dance number. He ends the album with Keep It Clean, which sounds like a prototype for John Prine at his weirdest. This one gets Watson’s best guitar work here, spare and uncluttered but sprinkled with all sorts of crisp, nimble accents.

Catherine Russell Brings Back the Blues and Jazz Roots of Classic Soul

The first time anybody at this blog saw Catherine Russell, it was about three in the morning and she was belting her heart out over a tight funk band called the Pleasure Unit, who would later become somewhat better known as TV on the Radio. In the fourteen years since then, she’s become one of the biggest names in oldtime swing jazz. Her previous album, Strictly Romancin’, was a Louis Armstrong tribute (Russell’s multi-instrumentalist dad Luis played in Armstrong’s band: the apple didn’t fall far). Her latest album, Bring It Back, goes deeper into the blues, in a Duke Ellington way. Harmonia Mundi gets credit for releasing the album, which is up at Spotify.

The band lineup is pretty much the same as the previous album: musical director Matt Munisteri on guitar and other fretted instruments; Mark Shane on piano; Lee Hudson on bass; Mark McClean on drums; Glenn Patscha on organ; Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Mark Lopeman on baritone sax; John Allred on trombone; and Dan Block and Andy Farber on reeds. Other than just the pure chops they bring to the songs, the way the both Russell and the band shift direction depending on the underlying emotional content is what distinguishes them from the legions of shi-shi restaurant bands and cruise ship combos who try to make a go of this oldtime stuff. The arrangements may be refined to the nth degree, but the group’s approach to the songs’ heartbreak and intensity (and sometimes just plain good fun) is disarmingly direct.

The album opens with the catchy midtempo title track, Russell’s urbane sophistication balanced way out on a limb by Munisteri’s unexpectedly feral, wildly string-bending guitar, confronting the angst that the vocals refuse to give in to. “High” is the operative word in Shooting High, with its elegant handoffs from one instrument to the next. The steady, shady I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart matches muted trumpet and somewhat furtive sax to the wistfulness and resignation in Russell’s understatedly torchy delivery. Then they pick up the pace with the jaunty, dixieland-flavored You Got to Swing and Sway.

The band does Aged and Mellow as an oldschool soul ballad in the same vein as Willie Nelson’s Night Life – Russell doesn’t let on how the story’s actually being told by a gold-digger. They keep the high spirits going with the nonchalantly triumphant, shuffling Darktown Strutters’ Ball and then hit a peak with a big, brassy arrangement of Lucille (not the B.B. King song but a previously unreleased, exuberant number by Russell’s dad).

Russell’s most pillowy vocal here is You’ve Got Me Under Your Thumb, set to a ragtime-tinged piano-and-guitar backdrop. After the Lights Go Down, a gorgeous blend of oldschool soul and blues, sets Russell’s confidently conspiratorial vocals against wickedly shivery guitar and organ. I’m Sticking With You Baby, a litany of prewar aphorisms, has more invigorating, bluesy organ, Russell trading bars with the band as they take it all the way up at the end.

The minor-key, irony-drenched, ragtime-inflected Strange As It Seems makes a stark contrast. The jump blues Public Melody Number One picks up the pace again, with an absolutely surreal lyric:

Frankenstein, a bundle of joy
Jesse James is a teacher’s pet
A gatling gun compared to
Shots from a hot corvette

The album ends with an absolutely riveting, unexpectedly energetic version of the old Billie Holiday standard I Cover the Waterfront, rising and falling with an angst that dignifies the neighborhood hooker and her ache for the guy who’s gone away across the ocean, no doubt for good. On one level, this is a trip back in time; on another, a lot of the playing here is more eclectic than what your typical studio band would try to pull off in, say, 1934.

The Hot Club of Cowtown: Sizzling Chops, Soulful Playing

The Hot Club of Cowtown‘s name pretty much says it all. Over the years, they’ve put a jaunty Djangoesque jolt into western swing. Their latest album, Rendezvous in Rhythm finds the trio going deeper into the Romany side of their music than ever before, with rewarding results. Otherwise, the interplay between Whit Smith’s guitar and Elana James’ violin is as lively and bracing as always, and the personalities haven’t changed:  Smith the suave crooner and James the coy and often devious jazzkitten, with Jake Erwin providing a resolute, rock-solid foundation on bass. They’re at Subculture on April 2 at 8 PM; $20 advance tix are recommended.

The songs are equal part sizzle and soul, perfectly encapsulized by the album’s opening track, a version of the old Russian folk song Dark Eyes that nonchalantly speeds up until the band essentially comes full circle, guitar eventually giving way to shivery violin.The rest of the songs are a mix of mostly familiar hot jazz standards along with a handful of lesser-known tunes, all rearranged with the band’s edgy panache. A low-key take of I’m in the Mood for Love is the most traditional of those numbers. Melancholy Baby gets a slow, comfortable intro and then some snazzily ornamented violin phrasing. James sings Crazy Rhythm with a Prohibition-era sass, Smith’s guitar taking the song forward about thirty years before another goosebump-inducing violin solo.

Which came first: Til There Was You, or If I Had You? That’s the question raised by the band’s version of the latter, James’ precise, breathy delivery bringing to mind Meg Reichardt of Les Chauds Lapins. The Continental, a tune for all the cutters on the dancefloor, contrasts soaring violin with the guitar’s mutedly flurrying, swinging pulse.

Sweet Sue Just You gets a bouncy swing treatment where Smith sounds like he’s about to jump out of his shoes before James introduces a comforting calm on the second verse. A midtempo take of I’m Confessin has the guitar artfully mimicking the violin’s eerily shimmery, insistently staccato lines. James sings Slow Boat to China with the sly determination of a woman hell-bent on a hookup, the guitar and then the vocals really picking it up as it winds out – she distinguishes herself not only as an imaginative, counterintuitive violinist but also as a singer here. Sunshine of Your Smile is the closest thing here to the Texas/Oklahoma swing that the band made a name themselves with.

There are a couple of Al Jolson songs here: Avalon, a Romany jazz take on roaring 20s vaudeville pop, with a characteristically spiraling guitar solo as the high point, and Back in Your Backyard, with its tight violin/guitar harmonies. And the two strongest tracks might be the Django covers. Lots of bands do Minor Swing, or for that matter, a lot of familiar Django Reinhardt songs with a frantic, uptight beat, but these folks swing the hell out of the song, the swirls and restlessness of the violin handing off elegantly to Smith’s snarling, spiky chordal attack. And the minor blues Douce Ambiance is more like more Ambiance Amère, James’ violin bringing in a welcome, raw, chromatically-fueled intensity as the band races through to an abrupt, cold ending. Who is the audience for this? It’s more straight-up jazz-oriented than the rest of the band’s catalog, but it’s just as accessible and tuneful. This band has come a long way since the days back in the 90s and early zeros when their usual stop in Manhattan was Rodeo Bar.

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