New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: September, 2012

Towering, Haunting Lynchian Intensity from Alec K. Redfearn

On Sister Death, their first album since 2007’s The Blind Spot, accordionist Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores deliver a lushly orchestrated, epically sweeping, Lynchian mix of creepy cinematic themes and towering gypsy-infused art-rock. Redfearn’s rich, often funereal tones blend with the even more macabre swirls and torrents from Orion Rigel Dommisse ‘s Acetone Top-5 organ: she plays the Lynch Girl on this album, and often steals the show. The core of this shapeshifting Providence, Rhode Island band includes Matt McLaren on drums, Chris Sadlers on bass, Clint Heidorn on guitar and the father-daughter team of Jimmy and Hannah Divine on violins along with a mammoth supporting cast. Redfearn has an enormous talent base to draw from, and in concert has been known to bring anything from a stripped-down quartet to a mighty fifteen-piece chamber orchestra.

The album opens with Fire Shuffle, a brisk, murderously chromatic epic, the casualness of the guy/girl vocals downplaying the darkness of the music: “Burn with me awhile, leave the wreckage far behind,” Redfearn and Dommisse intone. Chris Turner contributes a ferociously intense, feedback-charged chromatic harp solo to fan the flames.. The second track, Unawake, reaches for the same kind of orchestral sweep even though it’s over in just over two minutes. The Seven and Six, a slowly menacing 6/8 ballad, has the accordion rising through the mix with an increasingly distorted, gritty texture beneath Redfearn’s mythologically-inspired wordplay.

Terse tremolo guitar and creepy bells gently propel Longreach, a totally Lynchian instrumental, followed by the trickily rhythmic Amplifier Hum, its faux Bulgarian folk vocals (in English!)  a throwback to the band’s earlier days working a more avant-garde vein. Black Ice begins with a solo accordion taqsim and builds to a massive Balkan dance, funeral organ mingling with the accordion and intricately multitracked guitar from Domenick Panzarella. A creepy waltz, Exhumed is sort of a gypsy take on Julee Cruise Twin Peaks noir pop, Redfearn’s baritone uke mimicking a Spanish guitar, Dommisse playing femme fatale once again over an echoey dead-girl choir.

With a more straight-ahead beat, Scratch would be horror surf instead of Balkan rock – Redfearn’s long, searing, minimalist accordion solo out is adrenalizing to say the least. They follow that with Hashishin, a matter-of-factly swaying, trippily macabre Middle Eastern instrumental jam, the baritone uke running through a Big Muff pedal for extra menace. By contrast, Redfearn’s cover of St. James Infirmary gets a skeletal steampunk treatment, ending with a murderous, digeridoo-like drone from the bass pedals on a Hammond organ. The most inscrutable – and least menacing – number here is Wings of the Magpie, with its surreal 70s space-rock vibe. The album closes with a dire, In the Morning, Roger Waters meets the Walkabouts.

Redfearn is a cool guy: much of his fascinatingly eclectic back catalog is available as free downloads at the  Free Music Archive. A punk/metal kid back in the 80s, he taught himself accordion in retaliation against the onslaught of grunge. This might be his best album: nice to see, for someone who’s been making music since the 90s and remains one of the most underrated songwriters in rock, or whatever you call what he does. The album is due out in a couple of days from Cuneiform;  he and the band play a hometown album release show on Oct 4  at the Empire Black Box Theatre in Providence.

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Another Trippy, Murky Album from Thee Oh Sees

If you’re into garage rock or psychedelia, you might be interested to know that Thee Oh Sees have yet another album out. Putrifiers II is everything you’d expect from the band: warped Brian Jonestown Massacre rambles, pitchblende Black Angels atmospherics and a couple of tracks that sound like Stereolab gazing up from the bottom of a well. Everything here follows a wobbly path straight back to Syd Barrett.

Unexpected flamenco tinges kick off the first track, Wax Face, quickly leading into one of the band’s signature dense, echoey, pounding vamps. Keyboardist Brigid Dawson sings with an eerie, deadpan brightness on that one and also the swaying, hyypnotic Hang a Picture, decked out in late Beatles paisley harmonies. They move through the lushly sustained neo-Velvets dirge So Nice and then a nebulous violin/keyboard drone into the funky soul strut Flood’s New Light and its sarcastic ba-ba-ba chorus.

With its wall of guitars and inscrutably creepy lyrics, the six-minute title track shifts tempos back and forth unexpectedly, followed by the briskly shuffling, squalling Lupine Dominus, the most obvious early Pink Floyd homage here. The album’s best songs are We Will Be Scared, an off-center Lynchian noir pop tune lowlit by sepulcural flute, and Goodnight Baby, which with its allusively catchy jangle could be a Church outtake from the late 80s. The last cut is Wicked Park, recalling the Pretty Things’ first adventures in acid chamber rock. Turn on, tune in, you know the rest.

Wrapping Up a Good Month’s Worth of Shows

If you’ve been following this space over the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably been wondering where all the concert coverage went. That’s not to say that this has been a slow month for live shows – this is NYC, after all. To keep pace with what’s been happening, here’s a look at some of the highlights from the past month or so that didn’t get coverage here for one reason or another (the band just got written up here; the show wasn’t that good; it’s hard to come up with anything much to say about a performance where you show up late and only catch the last half hour).

After a long hiatus, a reconfigured version of psychedelic Greek surf/rebetiko rockers the Byzan-tones has made a scorching comeback in recent weeks. Their show at Otto’s in early August was off the hook and got a rave review here; a couple of weeks later at Zebulon, they were even better. The electric oud is sorely missed, but they’re incorporating more and more of the virtuosity of new guitarist Steve Antonakos into the show, a good idea considering his extensive background playing this kind of stuff with Magges. It was a feast of scary chromatics, and frontman/guitarist George Sempepos was getting all kinds of praise for his brooding baritone vocals.

Another first-rate instrumental unit that had been on hiatus for just as long, Dimestore Dance Band, is back together and has been playing a series of last-minute gigs as they reconfigure themselves (the drum chair has been rotating lately). They were a staple of the Tonic scene in the mid-zeros, and since guitarslinger Jack Martin and bassist Jude Webre decided to get back together, they’ve made Zirzamin – the closest thing to Tonic in New York these days – their new home. Like the Byzan-tones, their late July show at Zirzamin drew a rave here; their show there earlier this month was also arguably even better. Playing a borrowed guitar through a borrowed pedalboard, Martin broke a string on the first song, fueling a savage, volcanic performance that rocked harder than anything this elegant, cerebral gypsy/jazz/ragtime/jamband has done lately. Billing themselves as the Bob Dylan Deathwatch, they put Martin on vocals on a handful of searing, swampy, noir covers of Dylan, the Stanley Brothers and Martin’s old garage rock band Knoxville Girls. Sometimes musicians play their best when they’re pissed off: this show was a prime example.

One of the most reliably excellent free summer concert series in town is the jazz program put on by the Jazzmobile at a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces around the five boroughs. At the very end of last month, veteran pianist Barry Harris, who goes all the way back to the golden age of the 50s, played a suavely indestructible set of bop standards with a four-horn septet way up at Grant’s Tomb. Places to sit and watch (and try to figure out who the supporting cast was) were hard to come by: although the series’ site doesn’t list the concert, somebody must have spread the word because there was a big afterwork posse gathered around the monument with their picnics and lawn chairs. Does everyone in Harlem read the NY Jazz Record? It would seem like it.

Another enjoyable end-of-the-month show was Demolition String Band’s Friday night gig at Rodeo Bar. Frontwoman/guitarist Elena Skye has never sung better or with more nuance, and lead guitarist Boo Reiners remains one of the most soulfully pyrotechnic players in country music. He flatpicked and twanged and jangled while Skye led the band through a mix of well-received, biting twangrock and C&W originals from earlier in their career along with some more rustic material from their sensationally good new album Gracious Days, plus a handful of bluegrass classics.

Quirky instrumentalists This Spy Surfs, who’ve been around forever, made a return to the stage Labor Day weekend at Otto’s and proved no worse for a long layoff. The bass growled and popped, the guitar snaked and slashed and the drums switched from a new wave scamper to a surprisingly funky pulse. The band name is a misnomer: what they play is basically catchy 80s rock without the vocals. It’s good to see such an original band back in action.

One of the year’s most amusing concert moments happened about a week later at Tompkins Square Park, where David Peel forgot the lyrics to The Pope Smokes Dope. The original stoner freak-folk songwriter has only been playing the song for about 45 years – and he had to stop in the middle and then restart it when he remembered what they were. Maybe he’d had a marijuana….duh, of course he’d Have a Marijuana at a time like this.  That’s the title of his John Lennon-produced debut album, which reputedly went multi-platinum despite being banned from radio and the Top 40 charts for obvious reasons. He sang that one, and a new song for the Occupy movement, and a handful of other singalongs. There seemed to be just about as many people gathered in front of the crowd, playing with Peel – there’s a reason why his scruffy band is called the Lower East Side – as there were watching. The band before Peel, a tunefully sludgy metal trio called the Aliens, who sounded like the Melvins doing Social Distortion, weren’t bad either. They’re also impossible to find online (try googling “aliens” and “Tompkins Square”…)

While the summer concerts are over, there’s still plenty of interesting free music around town. The series of ongoing performances of new music by an eclectic mix of European composers – primarily from Austria – programmed by the Austrian Cultural Center on 52nd Street got off to a good start Friday night at the Bohemian National Hall with the Talea Ensemble. The respected avant garde chamber group’s first piece was Ondrej Adamek’s Ca Tourne Ca Bloque, an electroacoustic work that had the ensemble mimicking spoken phrases in French and Japanese. There was clearly some improvisation going on along with what was on the scores; it wasn’t easy to figure out which was which, particularly when the piece began swirling as the laptop started spitting out random spoken phrases. Music is often described as having the quality of speech – emphatic, conversational, laughing, teary, you name it – and this was an interesting exploration of that concept, even if it went on a little long.

The group followed that with a percussive suspense movie for the ears, Pierluigi Billone’s Dike Wall, interspersing tense washes of sound from the strings amidst even tenser scrapes, scampers, suspenseful footfalls and the occasional ominous crash from inside the piano as well as from the vast collection of instruments employed by percussionist Alex Lipowski, who was given centerstage and got a real workout. The series at the Austrian Cultural Center is ongoing: reservations are required..

Much as it’s been a typically good month for concerts in this city, there were a few disappointments as well. That Summerstage show last month was a sad reminder that just because a girl has a southern accent and plays the banjo, it doesn’t make what she does any more interesting than what you’d hear in the dentist’s office. That classical pianist with the lovely musical name did her best with a difficult program, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the screeches of the security gates at that ill-advised anniversary tribute series way downtown. And that rock & roll reverend needs to drop that hideous hair-metal cover from the set list. It’s worse than a bathroom tune: it’s enough to clear a room.

Another Great Album by the Larch

For more than a decade, the Larch have been making first-class British rock in Brooklyn. Frontman/guitarist Ian Roure’s status as an expat has a lot to do with that. Like Squeeze, or Elvis Costello – an artist he’s often compared to – Roure writes sardonically about dysfunctional office scenarios, schizos with cellphones and post-9/11 American fascism to rival any scheme Margaret Thatcher ever devised. After a flirtation with sci-fi rock on 2009’s Gravity Rocks, Roure’s worldview has become bleaker, his cynicism deeper. His songwriting hit a high point with Larix Americana, a masterpiece of lyrical New York underground rock, released just over a couple of years ago. Where that album took a richly successful plunge into psychedelic rock, the band’s new album Days to the West blends new wave and psychedelia, Roure’s withering lyricism as acerbic as ever. If Larix Americana was their Argybargy, you could call this their West Side Story, a richly eclectic and powerful followup to a classic.

The new wave pulse of Tons of Time sets the tone: “We don’t know what we’re going for, but it’s not here,” Roure sings with a gentle insistence: it’s a knowing anthem for any would-be rockers “watching the game you’re not sure you can win…rock criticism with your pickle and cheese, living the life but you’re feeling the squeeze.” But there’s hope to ” meet the word outside this penny market town.” Roure takes a long, rippling, lickety-split wah guitar solo out.

Monkey Happy Hour makes a slightly less caustic companion piece to LJ Murphy’s Happy Hour, a scenario that equates fratboy grotesquerie with post-office overindulgence, set to a terse riff that hits the chorus hard with a nice biting change. Already Lost Tomorrow is just as sardonic: like much of the Larch’s catalog, it could be just a bitter, brooding tale of a guy grabbing for all he can, or it could be a metaphor for disingenuous yuppie consumption, Liza Roure’s trebly organ mingling with a growling web of guitar and Ross Bonadonna’s melodic spiral-staircase bassline. Similarly, the title track, a lushly orchestrated, distantly Scottish-flavored 6/8 ballad, could simply be a reminiscence of watching a comet, or a metaphor for something far greater.

Honey Bee works a catchy, Kinks-influenced verse, an upbeat look at “balancing the nectar and the sting.” With its hypnotic space-rock intro, outro and sizzling lead guitar, Midweek Nebula looks at a memorably twisted bunch of office weirdos from the other end of the telescope, a milieu that gets revisited even more caustically with Second Face, a warmly Costelloish new wave pop tune that grimly ponders the loss of an office alliance. And The Bishop’s Chair, with its synthesized bells and tongue-in-cheek backing vocals, pokes fun at how “before you know, those old beliefs are stretched beyond repair.” This particular bishop may think all eyes are on him, but they’re not. The album ends with a darkly ornate, keyboard-driven, late 60s style psychedelic Britfolk anthem, and a return to the more 80s-flavored psych-pop that has been the band’s stock in trade throughout their career. Not a single miss on this album: another winner from a group that deserves to be much bettter known than they are.

Ferocious Psychedelic Rock and Catchy Guitar Pop from Black Water

Jersey City’s Black Water put out an excellent debut album, Disasters, a couple of years ago, setting anthemic 80s-influenced anthems to a bunch of different styles, from ska and reggae to dreampop. Their latest album, Friendly Fire, takes it to the next level: the addition of guitarist Gary Laurie has given them a much more ornate, artsy, psychedelic edge. The first part of the album is a series of ferocious art-rock songs, while most of the rest of it is more pop-oriented. The whole thing is streaming online.

The opening track, Andorra, works a biting,hard-hitting, flamenco-tinged vibe, setting the tone with a couple of tersely searing guitar solos. It segues into the second song, Spin, raising the energy with a stomping menace. As the band make their way through a series of thematic and rhythmic shifts, they evoke artsy 70s jambands like Nektar. Likewise, Miel, the third track, juxtaposes a mellow, Brazilian-tinged verse with a funky, stampeding. furiously chord-chopping theme. Sarcasm and anger are front and center: “Would it be all right if I tied you down so you could be the one to squirm?”

Keep On Movin’ would have been a huge top 40 hit back in the 70s – which is a compliment. A simple, metalish riff gets welded to a catchy four-chord chorus, with an unexpectedly artsy outro. Then Kaleidoscope takes the influences ten years forward: it’s a more ornate take on 80s new wave Motown (think Dexys Midnight Runners). Likewise, Rose (My Old Ways) nicks a chord progression from the Cure for an edgy 80s guitar pop feel.

The poppiest song here is The Thief, its morose lyric contrasting with its catchy, upbeat tune, lit up by a burning but elegant guitar solo. The last song goes back to the art-rock of the earlier tracks. “The war on drugs is a war on us” is the mantra, layers of guitars building to a screaming forest of reverb and maniacal chord-chopping: it’s a great anthem for politically aware stoners.

And here is where this blog does an epic fail. Black Water put out this album last spring, played a bunch of shows and sent a link to the album this way…where it sat, as spring turned to fall, and then one of the band members moved to North Carolina. So Black Water are currently on hiatus. If this is the end of the band, they got the max out of their time together, with two excellent albums. If not, it’s reason to look forward to seeing what Lloyd L. Naideck, Gary Laurie, Adam N. Copeland and Gerry Griffin do next.

Get the Right Now

The Right Now looks back to the late 60s and early 70s, when soul music was taking on all kinds of different dimensions. But on their latest album The Right Now Gets Over You, the oldschool Chicago soul band takes that idea to the next level. Like Damian Quinones (just reviewed here), no verse or chorus is exactly the same, and guitarist Brendan O’Connell’s songs don’t follow a simple verse/chorus progression. They’re little soul symphonies. So if the band happens to interrupt a period-perfect mid-70s soul/funk ballad with a break for a darkly reverberating 60s strut, they’re not being anachronistic: this is how they do it. There are a lot of great retro soul acts out there – New Jersey’s One and Nines bearing the closest resemblance to this band – but there’s none quite like the Right Now. Frontwoman Stefanie Berecz gets a lot of props for her powerful pipes and command of 60s idioms, but the band behind her is every bit as good. Fitz & the Tantrums, eat your little British hearts out.

There are so many neat touches on this album that it’s impossible to catch them all. On the wickedly catchy, pulsing first track, I Can’t Speak for You – available as a free download, as is their 2010 ep Carry Me Home– it’s Greg Nergaard’s fuzz bass kicking off the second verse. Berecz evokes a Tammi Terrell sweetness that rises to a longing, or a righteous anger, on several of the songs: Good Man, with its Muscle Shoals guitar and the horns punching in at the end of Berecz’ phrases, is a prime example. Can’t Keep Running blends rap-era snideness with a lush, balmy early 70s ballad vibe: “I saw you in the clothes you wore since last week – watching me through the night won’t bring me back,” Berecz tells her scrubby stalker. Likewise, Tell Everyone the Truth nicks the chords from You Keep Me Hanging On and turns it into a mini-epic with lo-key funeral organ, a cool horn arrangement, a funky bass interlude and a big anthemic windout at the end.

Should’ve Told Me is an artsier, Chicago-themed take on early 70s Three Degrees-style soul-funk, the warm but wary attractiveness of the melody perfectly matching the lyrics. They take I Could Kiss You (I Could Cry) from a tense, distantly gospel-tinged vamp to a big, steady backbeat and a long, soaring, full-voiced crescendo before bringing it down again. He Used to Be is packed with cool touches: dark organ, wah guitar, a verse where the organ goes completedly distorted until the horns blast it back to the band. It has the feel of a Dina Rudeen song.

The best song on the album is Half As Much, another free download: with its surfy reverb guitar and ominously bluesy melody, it’s like a noir Lee Hazelwood take on 60s soul. And Higher takes a classic mid-60s melody and sets it to a funky, disco-flavored 70s shuffle with lots of seductive horn swells. The album’s production has a richly analog feel, graceful flourishes from the instruments peeking out from every corner of the sonic picture, bass and drums plenty high in the mix but leaving plenty of room for the other instruments. The Right Now’s next show is October 6 at 8 PM at Off Broadway in St. Louis.

Rich Purist Psychedelic Soul/Rock Sounds from Damian Quiñones

Damian Quiñones y Su Conjunto’s new album Gumball Ma-Jumbo – streaming in its entirety online – is a masterpiece of tunesmithing, an intricate mix of oldschool late 60s style psychedelic soul, rock and pop spiced with salsa, luscious horn charts, bubbling keys and nasty guitars. Quiñones is the man on the fretboard, jangling, slashing and taking all sorts of solos that blend sunbaked psychedelia with a terse, bluesy edge: he doesn’t waste a note. Likewise, as ornate as his arrangements can be, those don’t waste notes either. It’s one of the best albums of 2012.

Interestingly, the opening track is a wickedly catchy oldschool roots reggae song, a style that Quiñones will only come back to once here, but he nails it, with swirly organ, melodica flourishes, echoey tremoloing guitar and a lush horn chart. He follows that with the only song that really references anything after, say, 1975; it’s an attempt to blend retro 90s and 60s Britpop and it doesn’t really work. But the track after that is a treat – Barrio, pulsing along on a slinky clave beat, juxtaposes Fania-era Puerto Rican soul with a burning powerpop chorus and a tense, suspenseful interlude featuring two basslines. After that, Quiñones takes a pulsing soul song and makes it funkier every time the verse comes around, driven by blazing horns and judiciously slashing guitar fills.

Flyers starts out skeletal but quickly brings in a heavier psychedelic soul vibe: Quiñones’ distorted wah solo over Edwin Canito Garcia’s raw, slinky bassline after the second chorus is one of the highlights of the album. After Laura Mulholland’s tumbling piano intro, Malachi hits a punchy, swaying Big Star groove, Quiñones’ long, searing solo taking the song doublespeed until the end, where he doubletracks another solo alongside it: the effect is intense to say the least. The band follows that with I Know That You That I, blending 60s soul with noir Orbison pop.

What might be the best song – and definitely the best lyric – is Recuredos de Inez, sung in Spanish. Another richly arranged roots reggae tune, it builds to a majestic, regretful, noirishly anthemic crescendo lit up by artfully arranged horns. Or, the best song here might be the unexpectedly sarcastic, dismissive One Trick Pony, funky soul building to a scorching chorus and a series of jagged solos panning between the left and right channels: “It’s hard to discuss where you’ve been with a shoeshine part-time attitude,” Quiñones snarls.

The rest of the album includes Ollie Ollie Oxen Free, a psychedelically funky number like vintage Tower of Power but with more of a guitar-fueled edge; Shadow in the Sun, early 60s noir pop as Arthur Lee might have done it – but with a disco beat – and French Tickler, a tango-rock epic. What links all this together is that Quiñones and his band never play a verse or chorus the same way twice. There’s always a cool addition or subtraction, a subtle accent or rumble from drummer Seth Johnson or percussionist Brian Higbie, or a swell from the brass: trumpeters Brian Baker and Geoffrey Hull and trombonist Gregorio Hernandez lock together and rise like a single mighty horn. It gets better with repeated listening. Watch this space for upcoming shows.

Twisted, Sick Stuff from Larry and His Flask

Larry and His Flask bridge the gap between grasscore and gypsy punk with a bunch of funny songs. Punk rock at its best isn’t just assaultive, it’s fun, and that’s exactly what these guys bring to the party. They’re twisted and sick – and they’re excellent musicians. Their popularity is yet another reminder of how much of an audience there is for party music that isn’t stupid, that hasn’t been focused-grouped to death. Their new album Hobo’s Lament might be their best yet: they sound like they’re an awful lot of fun live. They’re at Webster Hall on Sept 29 and 30 at around 7.

The first track, Closed Doors is electric spaghetti western grasscore. Social Distortion might have gone in this direction if Mike Ness had more goth in him; the sarcastic little joke midway through will get a chuckle out of everybody. Big Ride is a politically incorrect anthem about the big party to end all big parties, complete with wryly ornate bvox and a trumpet-fueled gypsy punk outro. My Name Is Cancer is just as sick: over a lickety-split punkgrass groove (with an excellent, creepy mandolin break), the Big C wants everybody to know that he’s coming for your children!

The title track is a punked out swing tune told from the morose point of view of a bum who crashes a party. Likewise, the album’s last two tracks, a brisk, gypsyish shuffle and a distorto guitar jazz crooner ballad, have the suspicious feel of parodies. Larry and His Flask take nothing seriously but the music. Albums like this only make you wonder how many other Larries there might be out there, chugging on their flasks, playing punk rock in their friends’ parents’ garages, pondering their next move.

Ian Hunter Never Gets Old

Ian Hunter’s new album When I’m President is the good rock record that the Stones should have made this year (or around 1986, for that matter) but didn’t. It’s hard to believe that the former Mott the Hoople frontman, somebody who’s collaborated with everyone from John Cale to Mick Ronson to the Clash’s Mick Jones, is now past seventy. But Hunter is absolutely undiminished as both a frontman and a songwriter. On the mic, his rasp is as relentless as ever, and his poison pen still kills: as a stinging, surrealist wordsmith, Hunter still has few rivals. As usual, he plays acoustic guitar and piano here, backed by the Rant Band: Mark Bosch and James Mastro on guitars, Paul Page on bass and Steve Holley on drums, with Andy Burton on keys and Andy York (of John Mellencamp’s band and Mary Lee’s Corvette) adding subtle shades of guitar, some keys, and instruments like baritone guitar and dulcitar.

The music here chugs along with a familiar, Stonesy growl: if Keith Richards could be cloned, he’d sound like them. Mastro plays in the left channel, Bosch in the right, firing off the occasional solo with expert command of five decades worth of rock styles. The catchiest song on the album is the title track (available from Hunter as a free download). With its familiar janglerock melody and an irresistibly funny allusion to a certain “classic” rock riff, Hunter defiantly takes a stand with the 99% against the fat cats: “Still whining about your bonus? Man up, you’re ridiculous…” But as much as trying to buck the system may be like “the pit and the pendulum,” it ends optimistically.

With another amusing allusion to a well-known song (this one from the new wave era), What For is a rant worthy of any other in Hunter’s vast back catalog, a slap upside the head of a clueless conformist, suggesting a break from the cellphone in exchange for “a little recreational skulldiving.” Likewise, the big, dramatic 6/8 anthem I Don’t Know What You Want takes a jaundiced look at generational dissonance.

Other tracks work a psychopathological vein over a roaring backdrop. Bosch channels David Gilmour with an searing, angst-fueled solo in Black Tears, a kiss-off to a psychic vampire, that faux melancholy being “just another weapon in your arsenal of fear.” There’s also a Pink Floyd influence in the suspensefully percussive Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse), the Indian warrior out for revenge anthem against those “paid by the rich to steal from the poor.” The down-and-out junkie in Saint, a pretty standard-issue garage rock number, rails that “I ain’t no saint but I could never be you.” And Fatally Flawed gets a crushing crescendo on the first verse and an all-too-brief, screaming Bosch solo: “Lookit that trainwreck, purring like a Cadillac,” Hunter snarls.

The other tracks include Just the Way You Look Tonight, a casually majestic anthem that’s a dead ringer for Willie Nile, lit up by Mastro’s mandolin ; The Wild Bunch, a bankrobber ballad with saloon piano by Burton and an unexpected gospel choir; the rakishly seductive Comfortable (Flyin’ Scotsman), with some cool syncopation to fit the lyrics at the end as the chorus stretches out; and the surprisingly upbeat, amusing closing track: “Did you blow it on Myspace, did you twitter when you was clean outta your face?” Hunter wants to know. At this point in his career, his greatest shining moment is still Rant, his savage 2001 response to creeping fascism in the wake of 9/11. But this is a clinic in good tunesmithing and good playing from a bunch of guys who’ve been there and done that, and are still there and still doing it as well or even better than before. One of the best albums of 2012: long live Ian Hunter.

More Excellent Dark Americana from Frankenpine

Dark Americana/bluegrass band Frankenpine’s 2011 debut The Crooked Mountain ranked in the top thirty albums of the year here last year, which doesn’t do justice to its creepy diversity. Their new one, In That Black Sky – streaming online in its entirety – is just as solid and just as eclectic. Like Bobtownjust reviewed here – this band has several good songwriters who’re fluent in vintage Americana: oldtime Appalachian folk, bluegrass, swing and country blues, to name a few. And Frankenpine likes mysteries.

One of the best tracks is Iron Road, co-written by banjo player Matthew Chase and frontwoman/guitarist Kim Chase. She delivers this brisk, biting, minor-key bluegrass tune with a wary, apprehensive edge in her voice and lush harmonies from the rest of the band. It’s a Nashville gothic train ballad, with a surprise ending that makes more sense with repeated listening: it’s obvious that this story isn’t going to end well. Phantom Limb, another dark bluegrass romp has Kim’s vocals plaintively longing for someone who disappeared into the woods, set to a stark backdrop of spiky textures, mandolin hammering home the punch line at the end of a brooding banjo solo. Fine and Fair, written by resonator guitarist/mandolinist Ned P. Rauch, bounces along through the woods with things falling and catching fire. Once again, it’s not clear exactly what happened, but it isn’t good. It builds to a witchy dance and then comes back to a suspenseful interlude held together by violinist Liz B. Rauch.

Opening with ominous harmonium and bells, Tell Me Where You Are, by the Rauches, tells a metaphorically loaded tale of a shipwreck victim searching in vain for her fellow lost soul. Widow Paris, sung by bassist Colin DeHond, is a creepy noir blues about a bereaved bride using voodoo to bring her dead husband back from the grave, Ned’s sonorous resonator solo handing off to Liz’s lively, bracing violin. Another Ned/Liz number, Flood Line, has a bitter oldtime folk feel as a very possibly doomed woman watches the water rise.

DeHond contributes two tracks: Place to Lay My Head, with a couple of surprisingly ornate, artsy, classically-tinged crescendos, and the jaunty, vengeful 99-percenter anthem Mr. Crook: “Nothing, that’s the best we can offer you, unless you want empty packs of cigarettes, hospital bills and credit debts,” the unemployed man tells the rich guy.

There’s also Appaloosa, a stark escape anthem; a surprisingly mellow, airy banjo-and-violin instrumental; and a couple of aphoristic, rustic, Appalachian-flavored Ned Rauch tracks that have the feel of classic hard-times ballads from the 1800s. One of the best albums of the year – just like last year. Oh yeah – just so you know, the Matt & Kim in this band are no relation to any other group by that name. Frankenpine’s next gig is at the Jalopy on Oct 12 at 9:30 PM.