New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: November, 2011

Two Drummers Make a Difference

Drummers do all the heavy lifting and usually get none of the credit, so this is to give credit where it’s due. As dynamic as Jenifer Jackson and LJ Murphy are, each got to take their shows this past weekend to the next level because of who was behind the drum kit. Each show was intense, in a completely different way: Jackson dreamy and hypnotic, Murphy careening through one catchy, blues-infused rock song after another. At Rockwood Music Hall Friday night, Jackson was unselfconsciously blissed out to be playing with most of the New York crew she’d made her 2007 Outskirts of a Giant Town album with: Matt Kanelos on piano, Elysian Fields’ Oren Bloedow on guitar, Jason Mercer on bass and Greg Wieczorek behind the kit. The original Rockwood space is small, and some drummers just don’t get it, hammering away like John Bonham. From his first suspenseful brushstroke, Wieczorek set a mood and never wavered, sometimes pushing Jackson’s often inscrutable grooves with just a shaker and a muted kick beat. And when a chorus would rise to a swell, he’d let the band take it. He was just there enough to swing the beat, almost imperceptibly shifting it into bossa nova, or adding quiet, counterintuitive cymbal splashes or hi-hat accents: had he not been there, it wouldn’t have been the same.

The rest of the band seemed to be just as blissed out to be playing with Jackson. Mercer’s moody, sepulchral solo on the night’s opening song, Maybe, set the tone right off the bat; Kanelos’ tersely majestic chords gave a mesmerizing glimmer to I Remember – done here as part Beatles, part countrypolitan – and a long, psychedelic take of The War Is Done. Jackson has been a great rock singer for a long time: she’s a great jazz singer now. The way she suddenly leaped off the page impatiently as the chorus rose on the brisk bossa shuffle Suddenly Unexpectedly, and the way she spun clever little circles around the ridiculously catchy chorus of Bring on the Night was impossible to turn away from. She ended the show with a mostly solo acoustic version of The Beauty in the Emptying, a wistful country ballad on the surface, underneath a characteristically resilient, tenacious resolution not to concede defeat. From a bon vivant like Jackson, it was a logical way to end this particular reunion with a crowd of longtime fans who were just as psyched to see her as she seemed to be to see them.

Saturday at Otto’s, Murphy went in a completely diffferent direction: this time it was drummer Andrew Guterman who kept the machine from jumping the rails. It’s not like Murphy had been freed from being behind a guitar – it’s an important part of his stage act – but on account of a recent hand injury, he had to stick to just vocals at this show. But instead of doing the crooner set, Murphy pulled out all the stops and all his big rockers, seizing the opportunity to unleash some of his inner James Brown, scatting along with outros, bringing the band almost to a stop in a split second and then back up again. And for what amounted to a pickup band, these guys – Patrick McLellan on piano, Tommy Hoscheid on Les Paul and Nils Sorensen on bass – were amazingly on top of their game. And Guterman kept the energy level going through the roof without drowning out his bandmates, whether elevating the bitter Same Trick beyond mere Stax/Volt homage, or giving the inscrutably caustic Nowhere Now a drive that went over the edge into punk.

Murphy is a 99 percenter to the core, and his lyrics resonated more than ever considering what was happening in Foley Square. Whether snarling about how “crosses and pistols are slung at our hips,” ridiculing the one percenter – an “elegant tormentor stripped of all his polyester” – getting his freak on in a dungeon just a stone’s throw from Wall Street, or warning of the day when “a sermon blares all night from the roof of a radio car,” there was a defiant I-told-you-so in his carnivalesque, blues-drenched vocal assault. The band careened through the afterwork nightmare scenario of Happy Hour with a deliciously sarcastic, blissed-out attack, only to follow with the tense apprehension of Bovine Brothers, a look at the kind of future that the Occupy protestors are also warning us about, where “the hand that you’ve been pumping turns into a handsome snake, with only one regret because he’s running out of bones to break.” After winding up the set with a punishing version of the surreal late-night psychology session Blue Silence and then encoring with an equally raucous Barbed Wire Playpen (the one about the S&M hedge fund guy), the crowd still wanted more. But the excellent Highway Gimps – sort of a cross between Motorhead and My Bloody Valentine – were next on the bill.

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Smart, Socially Aware Americana from 2/3 Goat

Like every other style, country music is evolving. In the case of 2/3 Goat, this is a good thing. What they play is basically catchy rock with acoustic instrumentation and oldtime country flair: they call it metrobilly. Much of their new ep, Stream of Conscience addresses the destruction of rural areas caused by mountaintop mining. As Rev. Billy and scores of activists have documented, mining companies rain debris and toxic metals down on rural communities – including families who’ve been there for decades – in a mad race to extract every chunk of coal out of the earth. And while you’d think that those corporations would also make a nice profit from all the timber they have to cut in order to get into the ground, that’s not how they usually do it. Instead, they typically dispose of it as waste. Not exactly a recipe for sustainability.

And in the spirit of great socially aware performers from Phil Ochs to Johnny Cash, 2/3 Goat don’t preach: instead, they paint vivid pictures with their songs. The opening track, Band of Gold (an original, not the soul hit from the 70s) could be a kiss-off anthem, or it could be a slap upside the head of anyone who’s being disrespectful. Frontwoman Annalyse McCoy unleashes a potent, vitrolic, high lonesome wail: “You see this fire in my eyes, is it a fire you defy? That’s not my fault…I call a stone a stone, I don’t care how it’s thrown.” The album’s title track kicks off with a nice minor-key mandolin/violin intro and eventually builds to a gallop, a bitter chronicle of the collision between “two dying cultures” – the locals, and the one percenters who’re trying to enrich themselves there. “Your runoff is not fit for me to drain,” McCoy sings caustically. The next track, sung by guitarist Ryan Dunn, is essentially an acoustic grunge song.

The best track on the album is Green Paper Mountains, a quietly scorching indictment. As McCoy tells it, the clearcutter’s tombstone will be his only friend: “Nothing grows in these miles of weeds but green paper mountains.” The album’s last track, Lay It on the Line is a showcase for Ryan Guerra’s spiraling violin and Dunn’s agile dobro work. 2/3 Goat play the album release show for this one on Nov 20 at 9ish at Bowery Electric.

Don Piper and Edward Rogers vs. the Sound

The Cutting Room’s new Curry Hill space isn’t officially open yet, which is a good thing: at this point in the renovations, the sonics at that unfinished industrial basement at Kent and South First in Williamsburg are better than they are here. Last night Don Piper and his band, and then Edward Rogers (playing the cd release for his new one, Porcelain) battled those sonics. Both played magnificently; both lost the battle. Piper has never written better than he’s writing now, equal parts smart Neil Finn purist pop, thoughtful Mumford & Sons Americana and blue-eyed soul. His superb seven-piece band included Gary Langol on organ, Ray Sapirstein on cornet, Konrad Meissner on drums and Briana Winter on vocal harmonies. After the show, Sapirstein likened this group to a chamber music ensemble, a spot-on comparison: they have the easy camaraderie and expert chops you’d expect from a string quartet. And Piper’s slow-to-midtempo songs leave plenty of space for those virtuoso players to add their own inimitably terse, thoughtful ideas. In just under an hour onstage, they swung casually and methodically from artsy pop songs, to a little further out into the country and back again, with a couple of Bill Withers-ish numbers to turn the heat up a little. Piper’s an excellent singer, especially when he uses the top of his range: too frequently, those frequencies got lost.

‘”We start out at about 1972 and end around 1976,” Rogers told the crowd as he took the stage with his band: Piper, Pete Kennedy and James Mastro on guitars, Joe McGinty on keys, Sal Maida on bass and Meissner on drums again plus a parade of singers. The new album pays homage to the glam era, especially the opening track, The Biba Crowd, a look back at a boutique that served as a focal point for British musicians of that era much as Malcolm McLaren’s Sex did in punk’s earliest days. The band gave it a Celtic-fueled stomp, Mastro’s blazing Mick Ronson-esque lines mostly lost to the sound mix. At the end of a careening, intense version of the apocalyptic Topping the World, Rogers backed off, intoning the song’s mantra, “Chaos rules your destiny” just a couple of times before letting the music fall away. Whether this was intentional, or only an indication that Rogers was sick of trying to holler over the band, the effect was powerful. They wrestled with a handful of big Bowie-esque rockers, as well as the plaintive drunkard’s lament No More Tears Left in the Bottle and then a real showstopper, Commodore Hotel, a poignant, unselfconsciously beautiful ballad sung by its author, George Usher over McGinty’s ornate yet judicious keyboards.

Passing the Sunshine, a catchy 60s psychedelic pop gem from Rogers’ previous album Sparkle Lane, was especially biting, a metaphorically-charged amble through a neighborhood in the process of being priced out of itself. When Rogers brought up Don Fleming to play lead guitar on Separate Walls, it was as if the ghost of Ron Asheton had taken over the stage – to say that Fleming raised the energy level was an understatement, but there was only so much he could do to cut through the mix. After a deliciously raw version of the album’s title track, a song that would have fit perfectly on a late 80s Church album, they ended the show with drony, Syd Barrett-influenced, Black Angels-style murk-rock, which might have been a brave move at another venue; here, it simply seemed that they’d finally found something that made sense in the room. McGinty worked a harmonium furiously as the guitars howled and shrieked and Rogers railed against posers in newly gentrified neighborhoods everywhere.

Morricone Youth, who are always a treat, were next on the bill. But as it turned out, there was one single bathroom serving at least a few hundred people, a prospect discouraging enough to make it an early night.

It’s Open Season in the Larch Vaults

What if Squeeze, or Elvis Costello, or for that matter, Robyn Hitchcock opened up his vaults and started to give away stuff? That’s what Brooklyn band the Larch – who evoke a lot of all three of those acts – have started doing. There’s a free download of The Larch by the Book ep of songs influenced by literature (Free Kick, on the Bat Boy Signs Up album; Chimera and Red Planet, from the 2008 sci-fi extravaganza Gravity Rocks; and The Long Tail, which is even funnier now than it was when it came out last year on Larix Americana).

There’s more free stuff: the cleverly twisted single Bat Boy Signs Up and its even better b-side, The Fall; The Larch a la Strings, a collection of the band’s adventures in chamber pop; and best of all, the Larix ep, which is three of the best tracks from Larix Americana (With Love from Region One, Strawberry Coast, and Tracking Tina, the Orwellian masterpiece that made at least one top ten list last year.

Red Molly’s Light in the Sky – Their Best Album?

The three women of Red MollyAbbie Gardner, Laurie McAllister and Molly Venter – blend their voices magically throughout a mix of seemingly every style of of Americana roots music from the past century and before then. To call their latest album Light in the Sky their best does an injustice to their others: they’re all good. The first question that springs to mind about this band is, why aren’t they playing Madison Square Garden? While it’s not like they usually play small rooms – the big room at Rockwood Music Hall, where they are this Thursday the 17th at 7:30, is as small as they get, and that’s probably only because it’s a hometown show in the midst of a big tour – Red Molly would resonate with a worldwide audience. Sure, Light in the Sky was the #1 most added album by radio “folk dj’s” during the past month – but how many of those are there? A few hundred? A thousand? The Dixie Chicks had their run; it’s Red Molly’s turn.

As with their previous release, they’ve got a band behind them here – which doesn’t come in until after the dreamy, gorgeous, three part oldtimey harmonies of their version of Dear Someone. They follow that with the determined pulse of Walk Beside Me, a gospel/bluegrass blend with Gardner’s stinging dobro and McAllister’s bracing Appalachian violin. Come On In My Kitchen gets freshly and cleverly reinvented, with funky organ. If you’re convinced that Robert Johnson’s version is a classic that can’t be beat, you have to hear the way they play up Gardner’s “oh the wind howls” bridge into an organ solo – it might not exactly be delta blues, but it’s awfully fun.

A banjo tune, Do I Ever Cross Your Mind has a vintage Carter Family vibe with better production values and more of that sweet violin. They follow that with Oh My Michael, a stark, Celtic-flavored fisherman’s widow’s lament. The best song on the album is a darkly bristling, bluesy version of Buddy and Julie Miller’s Does My Ring Burn Your Finger. “Just wait here in the dark, my dearly departed,” McAllister sings with a wounded menace at the end.

Hello Goodbye isn’t the Beatles tune: it’s a jaunty, ragtime-flavored original, Gardner’s soaring dobro trading off with her dad Herb Gardner’s pre-Prohibition piano. With balmy muted trumpet, It’s Too Late to Call It a Night is an irresistibly charming, lushly slinky bourdoir swing tune; by contrast, Why Should I Cry has a resolute western swing edge. There’s also a couple of casual, swaying Americana-pop songs, Ghost and Hold It All; a couple of country gospel tunes, Your Long Journey and a brisk remake of Gillian Welch’s By the Mark; and a similarly upbeat version of Fever that’s closer to Elvis irrepressibility than Peggy Lee mist, just the trio harmonizing over fingersnaps and Craig Akin’s bass. As usual, Red Molly cover all the bases: there’s something for fans of pretty much every Americana style ever invented here.

The Mast Join in Support for the Occupy Movement

Intense art-rockers the Mast have a cool new video with footage from the Occupy sites. The privatizers of Zuccotti Park may have emptied it for now, but the whole country is waking up. Bandmates Haale and Matt wrote this one during the Wisconsin protests, “While thinking about bankers and bailouts, water privatization, the wall street gamblers…and the well-being of people and the planet!” The song is called Trump, the best track on their latest album Wild Poppies. “Oh some pockets run so deep, the rest are struggling for a piece of a fast-turning pie…the waters while we sleep are being bought up by a thief with paper bills for eyes.”

Jenifer Jackson’s New Album: An Emotional Portrait of the Here and Now

We typically associate emotional depth with sadness. Jenifer Jackson’s music has always been deep, usually with a melancholy edge, so on one level her new album The Day Happiness Found Me is quite a change. But the semantics of the title are a giveaway: she wasn’t expecting this. Against a backdrop of sometimes crushing angst and an awareness of the ever-present possibility of defeat, this enchantingly subtle singer offers guarded hope for the future. Sometimes sultry, sometimes aching, sometimes absolutely shattering, it’s a definitive record for our time.

Jackson has made a career out of pushing the envelope: merging Beatlesque psychedelia with Brazilian rhythms, blending jazz sophistication with the direct emotional impact of country music and vintage 70s soul. This latest album, her seventh full-length release, is her most intimate to date, distilled to a crystalline purity. She’s always been an extraordinarily nuanced singer, and has been through several phases, from misty chanteuse to powerful soul belter. Here, she’s never sung more directly, yet more subtly, over arrangements which are sparse but not spare, just Jackson and Chris McQueen on guitars and keys, with Chris Jones on bass (and Hem’s Jason Mercer guesting on four-string on two tracks). To say that this is a departure from the intricate psychedelia of her previous album The Outskirts of a Giant Town is an understatement.

The Missing Time opens the album on a pensive note: as is the case from here on out, Jackson’s images linger vividly. “Autumn descends” is the focal point here. It’s about missing someone, just vocals and fingerpicked guitar, with a gentle allusive Stax/Volt solo from McQueen. Groundward is classic Jenifer Jackson: an inscrutable, hypnotically imagistic rainy day tableau where “Yesterday the motion had no meaning, yesterday the seasons were careening, groundward.” Is the understated depiction of the gentle drizzle an ominous omen (especially with those dark, low-register guitar flourishes), or a sign that the sun’s about to shine?

Bring on the Night is not the Kool & the Gang song: it’s an original, casually and very cleverly building to a lushly crescendoing janglerock chorus. When Jackson’s voice swoops and then spirals low with anticipation right as it kicks in, the effect will give you goosebumps – this is a reprieve she’s talking about. What Makes Love Stay is a catchy oldschool country song: it would give instant cred to somebody like Carrie Underwood or her late 2011 equivalent (the Carrie Underwoods of the world don’t last long).

The murky boudoir ambience of Whispering Words reaches back toward the low-key psychedelic vibe Jackson mined on her last couple of albums, while the absolutely gorgeous, artsy pop of In Spring – a track that wouldn’t be out of place on a pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd record – shoots for an optimistic outcome after some disappointments: “One bad season does not make a year,” she reminds. She pulls out her best, plushest soul delivery for the soaring Game & Huff style Baby Did You Think That Love Would Find a Way, then reaches back another ten years for a 60s psychedelic pop vibe on I Remember. And The Beauty in the Emptying goes for a perfectly sparse arrangement, a reflection on letting go of the clutter – emotionally or otherwise – and looking forward to a new adventure. Of all the songs here, Maybe is the stunner, the genuine classic, awash in tense, noir atmospherics. Travel and a search for home have been major themes in Jackson’s music: this could be where she seizes victory from the jaws of defeat.

Beneath the white November moon
A tiny crescent in a deep blue
Cutting stark patterns through twisted trees
I walked a long time through fallen leaves
I tried to talk to you if only in my mind
Looking for an answer for anything that I could find
Maybe this is as much sense as life will ever make

Jenifer Jackson plays the album release show for this one on Friday, Nov 18 at Rockwood Music Hall on at 7 PM.

Songs of Freedom from Amanda Palmer

Back from her tour singing to protestors at the seven Occupy sites throughout the US, Amanda Palmer teamed up with her Boston filmmaker pal Michael Gill to make a video for her version of 1975 Leon Rosselson song  The World Turned Upside Down, which she originally learned of via Billy Bragg. Her Ukulele Anthem is also up as a free download:

It takes about an hour to learn how to play the ukulele
About same to teach someone to build a standard pipe bomb
YOU DO THE MATH

Frankenpine’s Cool Oldtimey Single

Frankenpine are at the Knitting Factory on Tuesday at 8. They’re basically a very dark bluegrass band, playing almost all originals with cool guy/girl harmonies and a couple of intense instrumentals. This free download, La Fee Verte – a tribute to absinthe, “the green fairy” – doesn’t sound much like their other stuff on their excellent new album The Crooked Mountain,but it is very good in an oldtime gypsy jazz way. Download it free here.

Aaron Diehl and Dominick Farinacci Debut Jazz at Trinity Church

The Thursday 1 PM free concert series at Trinity Church went through a lull, but it’s back, bigtime: a great way to revitalize if you work in the neighborhood and can pull yourself away from your desk (or your protest) for an hour. This fall the church fathers have expanded booking here to include jazz, an especially tantalizing development. Yesterday’s show featured pianist Aaron Diehl and trumpeter Dominick Farinacci in a duo show, playing a mix of standards, an intriguing and deliciously catchy improvisation, and original material as well. Both musicians have toured with Wynton Marsalis, so it was no surprise that there was a New Orleans flavor to much of the material, from their opener, a jazzed-up version of the hymn Abide with Me, to a warmly expansive Dizzy Gillespie tune. Farinacci began and ended the show on flugelhorn, choosing his spots and alternating between lushly airy, soulful sustained lines and intricately articulated, rapidfire bop phrases; Diehl set the tone with a casual wee-hours vibe but at the same time left the crowd (and his bandmate) viscerally stunned with his shapeshifting tempos and righthand-versus-lefthand work, each hand sometimes playing against the other in a completely different time signature. The two did a couple of attractive ballads, Chippewa, and a Diehl original, the aptly titled Echoes of Spring along with more intense material, particularly a ferocious take on Back Home Again in Indiana, Diehl looping a warped boogie bassline over and over against the bright acerbity of the righthand melody. Players of this caliber usually play places like the Blue Note for triple-digit cover, when the bill is all added up; jazz fans who work downtown and can’t afford those prices now have something new to look forward to. One especially promising bill is Tuesday, November 22 with gypsy guitar genius Stephane Wrembel.