New York Music Daily

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Tag: oldtime music

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.

The Devil Makes Three’s New Album: Darker and Funnier Than Ever

High-energy Santa Cruz, California Americana trio the Devil Makes Three‘s incendiary live shows have won them a rabid following on the road, coast to coast. Their latest album, I’m a Stranger Here picks right up where their 2009 release Do Wrong Right left off, but with a darker and more surreal, somewhat harder-rocking edge. This time around, guitarist Pete Bernhard, upright bassist Lucia Turino and guitarist/tenor banjo player Cooper McBean add jazz and bluegrass overtones by including violin and a horn section on a handful of tracks. Americana guitar legend Buddy Miller’s production artfully blends in the new textures without losing the band’s distinctively feral sound.

The title track opens the album. It’s a briskly bouncing minor-key country blues tune with a bit of a woozy stoner hip-hop tinge. It’s also a party anthem: “We’ve come to wake the dead…we get along like an alcohol fire.” Amen to that. Worse or Better puts a 21st century update on oldtime hellfire blues – it’s a shambling out-of-captivity story with a tasty guitar/violin break midway through. Likewise, Forty Days adds a wryly bluesy, dixieland-spiced, grimly humorous spin to the Noah/Ark myth.

The slow, rustic banjo waltz A Moment’s Rest contemplates the kind of moments when the pressure gets to the point where you “gotta swim to the bottom to keep from bursting into flames.” Dead Body Moving, unlike what the title might imply, picks up the pace, a morbidly bluegrass-flavored drifter’s tale: this guy’s already seen the afterlife, he claims, and it’s not pretty. Hallelu works a cynically funny faux-gospel vein: “They say Jesus is coming, he must be walking, he sure ain’t running, who can blame him, look how we done him.”

Hand Back Down takes an unexpected detour into surrealist stoner swamp rock:

Headlights burn like torches on the way to a war
Tell me what it was that we were fighting for
Who is this god to which we sacrifice
I say whatever he wants we better give it to him twice

Spinning Like a Top celebrates a lifetime of chewing shrooms, smoking weed and selling it, with a typically amusing, clever barrage of mixed metaphors from across the decades. Mr. Midnight shuffles along with a considerably more cynical view of the reality of life on the fringes. The album winds up with the slow, creepy Nashville gothic murder ballad Goodbye Old Friends. Much as these guys have a reputation as a party band, this music is awfully smart. Not bad for a bunch of stoner country guys, huh? They’re currently on west coast tour; the next stop is at the Mateel Community Center, 59 Rusk Lane in Redway, California on Feb 4; advance tix are $20.

Lushly Eclectic Oldtimey Stoner Swing from the Jitterbug Vipers

A big draw in their native Texas, the Jitterbug Vipers play songs that sound like classics from the 1930s…except that they’re originals. True to their name, the band’s songs are great for dancing, and as oldtime stoner music goes, few other groups compare: the Moonlighters, or the late, great Asylum Street Spankers come to mind. These vipers have a new album out, Phoebe’s Dream, which sets Sarah Sharp’s sultry, period-perfect vocals floating over the slinky groove of bassist Francie Meaux Jeaux and nimble drummer Masumi Jones, guitar monster Slim Richey channeling a century’s worth of classic jazz and swing tradition with a deviously eclectic, bristling attack that’s all his own.

The briskly shuffling title track recounts the story of Big Phoebe, who “tried to smoke her way into heaven, but they turned her back around” – and then she takes matters (i.e. more ganja) into her own hands. A Viper Just the Same tells a familiar tale in an oldtime vernacular: a stoner can spot another stoner from a long ways away. What’s especially cool about this song is how they switch the rhythm from a bolero to straight-up swing, and then back, fueled by Richey’s unexpectedly skronky guitar solo.

Stuff It, a co-write with Elizabeth McQueen from Asleep at the Wheel, has the sardonic wit of a classic, dismissive Mae West insult song. When You’re High is an unselfconsciously pretty, aptly balmy number that could be interpreted as a love ballad…but you know better. Dangerous stakes out some Romany jazz territory, a tribute to an irrepressible guy with fast fingers and “a bag of tricks, from mushroom soup to tortoiseshell picks.”

Richey kicks off Viper Moon as a lullaby that recalls Les Paul, then they take it in a bossa nova direction – it’s another stoner love song. Sharp saves her most pillowy vocal for the ethereally bluesy ballad Trouble; they follow that with the instrumental Django’s Birthday, a showcase for Richey’s agile Romany-style fretwork.

Along with all the weed-smoking numbers, the band also includes one for the drinkers, the tongue-in-cheek stroll That Was Just the Sauce Talking. There are also a couple of covers. They reinvent the 1939 Ella Fitzgerald hit Undecided as western swing – with what sounds like a quote from the Simpsons theme? And they give Billie’s Blues an expansive Stormy Monday treatment, with some wickedly cool, boomy brushwork from Jones. The Vipers’ next hometown gig is on Jan 29 at Lambert’s, 401 W 2nd St. in Austin.

A Deliciously Creepy Free Download from Orphan Jane

Orphan Jane have what they call “demos” of their upcoming album available as a free download at their Soundcloud page. These “demos” are sonically superior to what most other bands release as a final album. And this circus rock band’s songs are creepy! Their sound is rustic noir cabaret with jaunty but sinister vaudevillian overtones, and theatrics that can be silly one moment and disquieting the next.

They mine the inner desperation in Alabama Song for all it’s worth with Bob Desjardin’s pulsing bass, Tim Cluff’s swirly accordion, Dave Zydalis’ biting, skronk-tinged guitar and Jess Underwood’s dramatic, stagy vocals: by the end, she’s gone from whiskey bars to pretty boys to simply scrounging for cash. Likewise, they take Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere and max out the surrealism: Underwood sells the absurdist intrigue of lines like “Buy me a flute and a gun that shoots, tailgates and substitutes, drop yourself at a tree with roots” as perfectly natural.

But the originals here are the best. Lost Mind, a menacing minor-key tune, builds from a sarcastically whiny, Broadwayesque verse to an explosive choir of voices on the chorus – it reminds a bit of Brooklyn circus rockers Not Waving But Drowning. Mansion Song is a vividly scampering Roaring 20s noir cabaret song with uneasy Hawaiian-tinged steel guitar and a strange tale of wrongdoing and karmic payback among the idle classes. Underwood sings the sad, pretty waltz Still Life with a bitterly nostalgic edge: it ramps up the klezmer influence even more than the previous tune.

The most vaudevillian number is Hole in the Head, a bizarre duet between Underwood and Zydalis: he seems to be a quack doctor, she likes a smoke and a pill and some wine as a chaser, you think you can guess the rest but you really can’t. The indignantly strutting murder ballad that ends the playlist is the only song here that sounds more like a demo than a finished take, but it’s still an entertaining story, and it’s reason to look forward to hearing the genuine article when it’s a wrap.

A Killer Live Album from Kelli Rae Powell

More artists should make live albums, and it’s a good thing that Kelli Rae Powell’s latest one is a concert recording. Immortalizing her show in the late winter of 2012 at the Jalopy – Powell’s and every other New Yorker’s favorite oldtime Americana hangout – it’s the devious, ukulele-wielding firecracker singer and retro songwriter at the top of her game. Interestingly, the tracks don’t follow the sequence of songs in the set, at least the second set, from which at least some of these numbers were taken (trying to guess which ones is part of the fun – the place was sold out, but if you weren’t there, you missed a hell of a show). It was fun seeing how much pure sonics could be generated by a simple lineup of Powell on either uke or acoustic guitar, plus her purist bassist husband Jim McNamara, M Shanghai String Band harmonica sorcerer Shaky Dave Pollack, and Matthew Brookshire guesting on vocals on a couple of tracks.

The album, understatedly but meticulously produced by Terry Radigan, opens with Grace, a steadfast tribute to a cigarette-smoking, cocktail-drinking Iowa lady: Powell keeps one of those traditions very much alive. The track titled Summertime here is not the jazz standard but a happily dizzy original, Powell’s narrator stunned and smitten and unselfconsciously touched to find that not everything in the world is grim and dreary. Powell keeps the opiated, dreamy mood going with Sweet Dorina, a “drinkaby” (cross between a drinking song and a lullaby) dedicated to her longtime Jalopy bartendress pal.

The hokum blues-inspired Give Me a Man works on many levels, mostly as a sideways tribute to an honest guy with rocks in his mouth who may not be the world’s biggest charmer, but at least he calls ‘em like he sees ‘em.  Selfish as Fire, a duet with Brookshire, works a ferocious booze-drenched atmosphere much in the same vein as the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York. The band brings it down with the subdued but seductive December and then a tribute to Powell’s Iowa home, The Flood, a wryly aphoristic, pensive ballad.

Piece of You is the last of the sweet ones: from here on, the album grows fangs and won’t let go. The Cowboy Song, a big audience hit, sways along defiantly: the girl in the bar won’t settle for not being taken seriously, and the jokes have as much snarl and bite as chuckles. Bury Me in Iowa City, another pretty somber midwestern nocturne, is followed by Grateful, which seems like a semi-former hellraiser trying to come to terms with her checkered past and possibly less checkered future with mixed results.

The band takes it all the way up at the end. The studio version of Midnight Sleeper Train is the drinkaby to end all drinkabys, but this one is more aggressive and plays up the underlying unease of a woman hellbent on putting a lot of space between her and some bigtime disappointment. Likewise, the album version of Don’t Slow Down, Zachary is all harrowing undercurrent, a band-on-the-road narrative that the girl in the story never wants to see end because she can’t bear to go back to the unnameable place she ostensibly calls home. Here, Powell works the double entendres and puns, and the crowd loves it. She and the band end it with Some Bridges Are Good to Burn, which ends her previous studio album New Words for Old Lullabies on a smoldering note; here, she wrings out every ounce of vengefulness and sings the hell out of it. Powell’s next show is on Sept 21 at 9ish at the Jalopy, of course, opening for Lara Ewen.

Alluringly Torchy Retro Sounds from Miss Tess and the Talkbacks

So many singers in retro music mimic their influences, but Miss Tess has her own nonchalantly warm voice. She’s got a little grit and she bends the blue notes, but not too hard. You can tell she’s listened to Billie Holiday, but she’s not trying to be anyone other than herself. Miss Tess doesn’t sound like anybody else; in fact, maybe someday other singers will be imitating her. And she’s an excellent guitarist, too. Likewise, she writes songs that sound like classics from the 1930s through the 1950s. Her latest album, Sweet Talk, with her killer backing band, the Talkbacks – Will Graefe (also of the brilliant dub reggae band Super Hi-Fi) on lead guitar, Larry Cook on upright bass (with Danny Weller on the album tracks), and Matt Meyer on drums – also might be her darkest yet. She’s gone on record as saying that she wanted to record the album “slow and strange” and a lot of that comes through.

To her further credit, all but one of the songs – other than the Ink Spots’ Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire, redone as a fetching ballad that reminds of Daria Grace - are originals. Don’t Tell Mama starts out on a sultry tone with just guitar and vocals: “I see your glass is empty, hows about another round, what a sentimental feeling we have found,” Miss Tess cajoles, Graefe following with a searing bent-note solo, taking the song forty years forward into 1970 or so. The band follows that with the pedal steel-driven honkytonk of Never Thought I’d Be Lonely and then the haunting suicide bolero shuffle Adeline, Graefe once again taking the spotlight with his creepily surreal solos over blippy funeral organ.

If You Wanna Be My Man, a midtempo swing blues, brings back the low-key, sultry, jazzy vibe. It could could be Rachelle Garniez at her most nonchalantly upbeat: hokum blues humor, urban sophistication. People Come Here for Gold swings along on a brisk backbeat swamp rock groove – it might be a subtle anti-gentrification polemic couched in an oldtime vernacular. This Affair kicks off with a long bass solo and then morphs into a noir bossa nova tune with yet another brilliant, spiraling, Jerry Miller-esque guitar solo.

The slow, pretty country waltz Save Me, St. Peter has fun with Biblical metaphors, a dark song with playful imagery. Likewise, Everybody’s Darling contrasts Meyer’s vaudeville rimshots and Graefe’s lively, Matt Munisteri-ish solo with a brooding, bittersweet lyric and vocals. And New Orleans, upbeat as it is, keeps the bittersweet saloon jazz feel going. Miss Tess and the Talkbacks are at the big room at the Rockwood this Tuesday, July 16 at 8 PM; the similarly torchy but more pop-oriented Sophie Auster (Paul’s kid) plays afterward.

Rachelle Garniez Plays a Hell of a Birthday Show at Barbes

Birthday concerts are usually good, whether you buy into the astrological theory that it’s the performer’s power day, or the simple logic that being surrounded by good friends and good cheer makes for lively entertainment. That was the case last night at Rachelle Garniez‘ show at Barbes. She’s not known as a guitarist, but she’s a good one: she started and ended her long, practically two-hour set playing six-string, snaking her way through a handful of nimble solos, hitting her bottom strings hard, oldschool blues style. She also played solos on piano, accordion and bells that were even more edgy and interesting. Lately she’s become a charter member of wild New Orleans/klezmer/reggae/jamband Hazmat Modine, so she brought along her guitarist bandmate Michael Gomez as well as her longtime bassist Dave Hofstra. Her duo shows at Barbes with Hofstra can be pretty hilarious, with as much surreal storytelling and free-association as music. With Gomez fleshing out the sound, this show gave her the chance to do as much playing as singing and flex her instrumental chops.

She did Luckyday (title track to her classic 2003 album) on piano, giving it a resonant Debussy-meets-Steely Dan gleam, along with a moody, expansively minimalist soul/gospel take of God’s Little Acre, cruelly exploring the dilemma of whether or not to reconnect with someone from the distant, distant past on Facebook. Playing accordion, she indulged a couple in the crowd with a sweet, torchy take of Broken Nose, from her first album, and later encored with Silly Me (from her 1999 Crazy Blood album), playing up its warm latin sway rather than the wary ambiguity of the lyrics. The jaunty Pre-Post Apocalypse had a narrator “maxin’ and relaxin’ on this morphine drip” while the water and the thermometer kept rising, while Jean-Claude Van Damme, which may or may not be a tribute to the action film personality (actor might be a stretch) and antidepressant pitchman, was a showcase for Garniez to air out her immense range with some joyous (or semi-joyous) operatics.

A couple of times she dropped the double entendres and the jokes and went straight for the jugular, which makes sense considering her teenage roots in punk rock. People Like You had less of its usual sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek bounce than raw uncut hostility, Garniez lashing out at the type of New York newbie who’s always looking over your shoulder to see if he/she should be talking to someone more popular. And After the Afterparty, as Garniez explained, took its inspiration from a high school classmate who went on from spending his wee hours at Danceteria to become some alternative kind of sex therapist (Garniez wasn’t clear on this, and maybe he isn’t either). Her sotto vocce “I can’t remember a thing, Captain” refrain is a Star Trek reference, a line that this time out made for a fleeting respite from the song’s terse, sullen, wounded beauty. Garniez will be back at Barbes on April 4, which is usually where she plays when she’s not recording with Jack White, playing with Hazmat Modine, or serving as the music director of the Citizens Band, among other projects.

An Auspicious Kickoff to Daphne Lee Martin’s Late Winter Tour

Midway through a rather ominous minor-key reggae song, Daphne Lee Martin’s keyboardist played most of a verse from Besame Mucho, using a glockenspiel setting to max out the menace. That was one of the high points of her show last night at the Way Station in Fort Greene, the unlikely setting for the first stop on her current tour which winds its way down to South by Southwest. Once word of her new album Moxie gets out, it’s not likely she’ll be playing places like the Way Station. She and her fantastic band Raise the Rent did most of that album, in sequence, with an exuberant expertise to match its eclectic style. Martin’s down-to-earth, uncluttered but finely nuanced alto voice might remind you of June Christy or Erica Smith, which makes sense since she and Smith were bandmates around the turn of the past century.

Martin and her five-piece band opened with Sweet & Low Down, a pulsing noir blues fueled by creepy funeral organ and then a fiery Strat solo from the lead guitarist that exploded in a frenzy of tremolo-picking as he went up the scale. The minor-key noir mood lingered through their second number, Whiskey & Sin, a luridly grim waltz, sort of a House of the Setting Sun: some girl in the crowd let out a scream timed perfectly to the end of the first verse as it reached a peak. Belly, a strutting vintage 70s-style soul groove, first fueled by echoey Rhodes piano and then woozily hilarious Dr. Dre-style synth, was next. Martin and band picked up the pace from there with the uneasily swinging House That Built Itself, lit up by some more bitingly bluesy lead guitar, then went scampering through Molotov with a torchy gypsy jazz-inflected intensity. Most of the night, Martin’s vocals were too low in the mix to reveal the level of detail that she typically brings to a song, but this one was a showcase for some unselfconsciously spine-tingling blue notes and melismas.

The next number, a duet with the keyboardist, had a planitive flamenco-rock feel, like the skeleton frame of an early Firewater song; then the bass and drums agilely transformed it into roots reggae in a split second. New London, Connecticut, where Martin and band have made their home for the last few years, has had a fertile music scene since the recently, tragically reduced Reducers first came up in the 80s: it’s good to see such a fantastic band representing that city on the road.

Kelli Rae Powell: Surreal and Intense and Funny As Hell at the Jalopy

Kelli Rae Powell is a woman of many voices: there’s literally nothing that she can’t sing. Last night at the Jalopy she was a gospel mama, an unstoppable bon vivant, a slink, a vamp and from time to time, a wayfaring stranger traveling through this world completely alone. This was the album release show for her new one Live at Jalopy, recorded here almost a year ago in front of a packed house. That show was a lot of fun (you can read about it here) and this one was even more so. Sleep-deprived (she’s a new mom) and laughing at her own jokes, she settled quickly into surreal storyteller mode as she voiced a million different personalities, switched between ukulele and guitar and held the crowd in the palm of her hand, backed by her husband Jim McNamara on bass and M Shanghai String Band’s Shaky Dave Pollack on harmonica.

She nonchalantly brought the intensity to redline immediately with a new song dedicated to her daughter Donna Lillian, channeling a rapt gospel intensity over McNamara’s darkly rich bowed basslines. Powell is the inventor of the drinkaby – a lullaby and drinking song – and she did a couple of her best ones. Sweet Dorina – the drinkaby to end all drinkabies – gave off a blissed-out early evening buzz, dedicated to a longtime Jalopy bartendress. Pollack hung close to the lyrics, sometimes adding an extra layer of blues-infused poignancy but just as often having fun with them. As usual, he and Powell had a lot of unspoken banter going on, to the point where she asked him for a couple of extra trainwhistle intros for Midnight Sleeper Train, a dissociative passenger’s reverie with a dark undercurrent – we never know where she’s going, or why, only that she’s finished with the person she’s dreaming about. McNamara did three jobs simultaneously: anchoring the lows, holding the rhythm and coloring the songs with snaking lead lines and made it look easy.

Some of the songs were sweet – Summertime, a deliriously happy account of an unexpected romantic reprieve, and Grace, a pensive reflection on a family member now gone off to where she can drink rum and Coke and smoke all the Camels she wants. Powell put down her uke and raised the roof on Cowboy, wry and irrepressible over a sultry bass-and-harmonica groove. She duetted jauntily with Matthew Brookshire on a twistedly funny, Pogues-ish Irish ballad about a total communication mixup with potentially disastrous results. The trio closed with a defiantly resolute cover by Terry Radigan (who produced the new album) and encored with one of Powell’s best songs, the band-on-the-road narrative Don’t Slow Down, Zachary, playing up the laughs and the lust in the lyrics rather than its hauntedly understated desire to escape and never return. All of these songs and more are on the live record which was great fun to experience as it was being made and which you will hear more about here later.

The 50 Best Albums of 2012

About five years ago, people were saying that the album was a thing of the past. How wrong that turned out to be! This year’s crop of albums was so absurdly good that it felt criminal to whittle it down to a hundred, let alone fifty. And the only way of getting it down to that number was to cut out all the “world music,” including reggae and Afrobeat and most of the gypsy sounds, because there was so much of that and it was all so good.

Bookmark this page and return often. Virtually all of these albums are streaming (click the links) or are available as free downloads: consider this your place to discover some amazing sounds that were too smart for the Bushwick and Wicker Park blogs, and too dangerous for corporate radio and tv.

1.  Ulrich Ziegler – their debut album
Dating back to the 90s,  guitarist Stephen Ulrich has been New York’s most distinguished noir composer. When he wasn’t writing film and tv music, he was leading the ferociously creepy instrumental trio Big Lazy. When that band broke up (the drummer left to join Gogol Bordello), Ulrich eventually teamed up with Itamar Ziegler from Pink Noise, and then released this haunting, reverb-drenched, surf/skronk/jazz/soundscape masterpiece. Stream it

2.  Chicha Libre – Canibalismo
Chicha Libre’s 2008 debut album Sonido Amazonico landed in the top ten and this one is arguably even better, a trippy, wickedly dub-influenced mix of Peruvian surf rock, slinky Andean and latin grooves, and surrealistic psychedelic rock. There is no more fun, or more danceable, band in New York than Chicha Libre. Band info and audio/video

3.  Raya Brass Band – Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders
This fiery Brooklyn crew distinguish themselves from the hundreds of other excellent Balkan brass units by virtue of their long, scorching jams: nobody does that better. Stream it

4.  Botanica – What Do You Believe In
This era’s pre-eminent art-rock band’s most brooding, haunted album, a rich blend of gypsy-tinged melody, raw, roaring guitar, edgy piano and spooky organ. Stream it

5.  The Universal Thump – their full-length debut
The final and concluding installment of the most massive, richly orchestrated album on this list, a lushly symphonic double-cd mix of chamber pop, art-rock, psychedelia and quirky, theatrical indie pop. Stream it

6.  Rachelle Garniez – Sad Dead Alive Happy
The iconic, eclectic accordionist/chanteuse – who has sort of become the Dorothy Parker of underground rock – took a deep dive into soul and gospel sounds, with richly soaring results. Stream it

7.  The Japonize Elephants – Melodie Fantastique
One of the original gypsy bands, this enormous, theatrical circus rock crew took their game to the next level with this one. Stream it

8.  Lianne Smith – Two Sides of a River
An iconic presence in the New York Americana and rock scene since the late 90s, Smith’s debut album was legendary before it was finally released – and it’s as eclectic, psychedelic, haunting and funny as anything else on this list. And her amazing voice is better than ever. Stream it 

9.  Bobtown – Trouble I Wrought
Nobody writes more cleverly creepy acoustic Nashville gothic and bluegrass than Bobtown. With four first-rate songwriters, their sound is as diverse as it is dark. Stream it

10.  Jan Bell – Dream of the Miner’s Child
One of the great voices in Americana music, Bell made this into a concept album that linked British folk with the American country and bluegrass sounds that grew out of it  with a vivid sense of history and a tantalizing mix of classics and originals that sound like Appalachian standards. Stream it/free downloads

11. M Shanghai String Band – Two Thousand Pennies
The mighty eleven-piece Brooklyn acoustic Americana crew’s most lush, haunting, diverse and ultimately best album, ranging from gypsy and chamber pop to brooding Appalachian ballads and the rousing singalong songs they’re best known for. Stream it

12.. Love Camp 7 – Love Camp VII
An expertly wry, tuneful, catchy janglerock concept album looking at recent history through the prism of the Beatles, with a jaundiced eye and expertly labyrinthine polyrhythms. Given up for dead after the tragic loss of brilliant drummer Dave Campbell, the band has recently regrouped and is as playful and fun as ever. Stream it

13. Hannah vs. the Many – All Our Heroes Drank Here
Ferociously literate, white knuckle intense female-fronted punk and powerpop, with some noir cabaret and Jarvis Cocker-style art-rock thrown in for good measure. Stream it

14. The Larch– Days to the West
The follow-up to their 2010 masterpiece Larix Americana finds the Brooklyn retro new wavers sounding more psychedelic and more savagely lyrical than ever. Stream it

15. Lorraine Leckie and Anthony Haden-Guest – Rudely Interrupted
A blackly amusing, gorgeously orchestrated chamber-pop collaboration between the caustic social critic and the Canadian gothic rock siren.  Band info and a/v

16. Black Fortress of Opium – Stratospherical
Lush, roaring, darkly psychedelic Middle Eastern-tinged art-rock from this powerful, female-fronted Boston band. Stream it

17. Matt Keating – Wrong Way Home
The respected Americana rocker’s best single-disc album, a brooding, offhandedly menacing blend of classic soul, country and elegant chamber pop. Stream it

18. Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores  – Sister Death
Not to have this album in the #1 spot is pretty absurd: the Rhode Island band’s swirling, psychedelic, gypsy-tinged art-rock masterpiece is the most downright macabre collection on this list. Stream it

19.. The Sometime Boys – Ice & Blood
The second album from cabaret siren Sarah Mucho and art-rocker Kurt Leege’s sharply lyrical acoustic Americana project finds them funkier, more lush and more intense than ever. Stream it

20. Animation – Transparent Heart
As historically important as it is richly arrranged, saxophonist Bob Belden’s collection of cinematic instrumental themes traces the decline of New York over the past couple of decades, centered around 9/11 and the fascism that ensued. Band info and a/v

21. Tift Merritt – Traveling Alone
Marc Ribot’s guitar is amazing beyond belief, and Merrritt’s pensive Americana songs and nuanced vocals are as vivid as always.  Band info and a/v

22. Out of Order – Hey Pussycat
The loudest album on this list is by this assaultive all-female Long Island noiserock/punk trio, raw but richly produced by John Sharples. Stream it

23. Changing Modes – In Flight
With three keyboards and edgy lead guitar, these women and guys play biting, lyrical art-rock and new wave-influenced sounds. Stream it

24. Chris Erikson & the Wayward Puritans – Lost Track of the Time
Erikson has been one of the great guitarists in Americana for years, in other peoples’ bands. This is his long-overdue debut as a leader, a careening, gorgeously twangy mix of Americana, paisley underground psychedelia and riff-rock. Stream it

25. Marissa Nadler – The Sister
The Nashville gothic/noir cabaret chanteuse/songwriter’s most haunting and atmospheric album since her debut, a darkly nebulous, allusive gem. Stream it/free downloads

26. Spanking Charlene – Where Are the Freaks
Female-fronted Americana punk band with  powerful, intense lead vocals, hooks that run the gamut from the Stooges to X and a potently snide, sarcastic, spot-on worldview. Stream it

27. Frankenpine – In That Black Sky
Creepy original bluegrass, Appalachian ballads and elegantly dark acoustic sounds from this diverse Brooklyn band. Stream it/free dowloads

28. Choban Elektrik – their debut album
A side project by members of Zappa cover band Project/Object, they take classic Balkan and gypsy themes and make trippy psychedelic rock out of them. Stream it

29. Slavic Soul Party – New York Underground Tapes
The wildly popular Brooklyn Balkan brass band at the top of their funky, surprisingly eclectic, intensely danceable game. Stream it

30. Saint Maybe – Things As They Are
A throwback to the paisley underground bands of the 80s like True West and the Dream Syndicate, this project by a Patti Smith guitarist and Bob Dylan’s drummer mixes surreal, apocalyptic imagery and raw, surreal, psychedelic Americana rock. Stream it 

31. Mike Rimbaud – Can’t Judge a Song By Its Cover
The New York underground rocker – who also put out an excellent album of originals last year, and constantly releases video singles – puts his indelibly New York spin on politically charged classics by Phil Ochs, Dylan, the Stones and others. Stream it

32. When the Broken Bow – We, the Dangerous Weapons
A surreal, fearlessly political, apocalyptic concept album by this Oregon band  that runs the gamut from soul-pop to careening art-rock to goth and gypsy sounds. Stream it

33. Tim Foljahn – Songs for an Age of Extinction
Grimly lyrical, pensively psychedelic noir chamber pop and Americana-influenced songwriting. Stream it

34. Demolition String Band – Gracious Days
The well-loved New York Americana/bluegrass/rock twanglers’ best electric album, an intoxicating blend of guitars, mandolins, banjo and Elena Skye’s velvet vocals. Stream it

35. The Brixton Riot – Palace Amusements
Sort of the missing link between the Jam and Guided by Voices, this New Jersey band blast their way through a series of hard-hitting, swirling, lyrically biting three-minute songs. Stream it

36. L’il Mo & the  Monicats – Whole Lotta Lovin
Americana chanteuse Monica Passin’s most intimate and eclectic album to date, with soaring harmonies from fellow Americana siren Drina Seay. Song samples

37. Leigh Marble – Where the Knives Meet Between the Rows
Brooding, bitterly lyrical songwriting with a mix of hypnotically psychedelic and Americana-flavored tunes from the Portland, Oregon bandleader. Stream it

38. Eilen Jewell – Queen of the Minor Key
Truth in advertising – Jewel excels at noir Americana, ghoulabilly, garage rock and oldschool psychedelic sounds. Band info and a/v

39. Mucca Pazza – Safety Fifth
A characteristically high-voltage mix of short but sonically titanic gypsy punk and gypsy rock songs from the brass-heavy Chicago dance orchestra. Stream it

40. Chicago Stone Lightning Band – their debut album
With a raw, guitar-fueled edge, their twin-Gibson assault covers classic 60s style Chicago blues, riff-driven stoner rock, original soul and funk. Stream it

41. Emily Jane White – Ode to Sentience
Intense, broodingly lyrical, intricately orchestrated Nashville gothic and art-rock sounds. Band info and a/v 

42. My Education – A Drink for All My Friends
The Austin postrock/instrumental band have never sounded more lush or guitarishly intense on this mix of desert rock and cinematic themes. Stream it

43. Tom Shaner – Ghost Songs, Waltzes and Rock n Roll
That such a great album would be this low on the list attests to how amazing this past year was for music. The former Industrial Tepee frontman has never written more richly or lyrically than he does on this southwestern gothic gem. Band info and video

44. Jon DeRosa – A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes
The Brooklyn crooner comes across as sort of a cross between Jarvis Cocker and Leonard Cohen, with a mix of lush chamber pop, Americana and 80s-influenced gothic art-rock. Band info and a/v

45. The Sweetback Sisters – Lookin’ for a Fight
This amazing two-frontwoman honkytonk band not in the top ten? How can that be possible? Take a look at the rest of the list. Stream it

46. Band of Outsiders – Sound Beach Quartet
The 80s psychedelic punk legends are still going strong, with a richly jangly, snaky new ep that evokes Television as well as the Jesus & Mary Chain, both groups whose careers they’ve now eclipsed. Stream it 

47. Mighty High – Legalize Tre Bags
The funniest album of the year blends roaring Motorhead-style biker rock with woozy stoner riffage and some of the best weed jokes ever put on vinyl. Stream it

48. The Weal and Woe – The One to Blame
Gorgeously harmony-driven oldschool honkytonk and 1950s style proto-rockabilly sounds from this wonderfully retro Brooklyn band. Stream it

49. Guided by Voices – The Bears for Lunch
Agelessly energetic, prolific indie surrealist Robert Pollard hasn’t lost a thing: this is the third and best release in the band’s incredibly productive 2012, not including Pollard’s own solo releases. Band info and a/v

50. Ian Hunter – When I’m President
Last but hardly least on this list, another ageless rocker from an even earlier era put out an album that could be the great lost Stones classic from 30 years ago. Band info/free downloads 

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