New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Month: September, 2012

Fanfare Ciocarlia Bring Their Volcanic Live Show to NYC

The highlight of many highlights of this year’s NY Gypsy Festival is this Saturday night, the 22nd at 7:30 PM when Romanian gypsy brass orchestra Fanfare Ciocarlia play their first New York concert of the decade – and their first in almost a decade – at the Schimmel Center at Pace University downtown on Spruce St. It’s expensive – $35 – but it’ll be worth it: tix are available at the box office and also online.

Fanfare Ciocarlia have a reputation for an explosive live show to rival Gogol Bordello. They’re the kind of band who battle other bands, talking trash and playing faster than anybody else. Their two most recent albums are a scorching live set from 2009 and a 2011 Balkan Brass Battle with the Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar. And although both records are intense to the extreme, they’re also surprisingly subtle, musically diverse, and have a viciously sarcastic edge. The Brass Battle album’s most adrenalizing number is Suita a la Coibanas, where the horns play at warp speed – metal guitar shredders would be jealous of how fast, and how tightly they do it. And then they speed up, again and again – and with literally pinpoint precision, without hitting any clams! It’s a hardcore polka, which is what the groove turns into as it spins closer to going out of control but never does.

Serbian brass father-and-son team Boban and Marko Markovic add another level of slashing chromatic wildness, throughout a funky Balkan brass version of the James Bond theme, a noir cabaret take on Duke Ellington’s Caravan, lickety-split, bloodthirsty “Dances from the Monastery Hills” and couple of cruelly satirical spoofs of dance music, Disco Dzumbus and I Am Your Gummy Bear. The album ends with the menacing cumbia slink of Asfalt Tango – the song that launched a label.

The live record is just as intense. They vary the moods – it isn’t all just murderous chromatic vamps with one sizzling solo after another (although that’s a big part of the picture). And they also give the band a break with several quieter interludes, most of them humorous to some extent, whether a faux Cab Calloway take on Gershwin’s Summertime, or an irresistibly amusing version of Nicoleta, where they take a silly vaudevillian riff and use that as the basis for the entire jam. The interplay between the horns is intricate beyond belief, and the alto saxophonist – who swoops down out of nowhere and absolutely destroys an entire brass section on the second track, Ruseasca Lui Filon – has a slashing power to rival anyone in jazz. The band trades birdcalls on their signature anthem, Ciocarlia and wows the crowd with a series of dragstrip accelerations on the wryly titled Hurichestra. But the best part of the album is when they really hit their groove with a series of raw, snarling Balkan numbers and the intensity simply doesn’t let up, with plenty of room for soloing – even the band intros serve as a launching pad for pyrotechnics. This music isn’t for the faint of heart, but if adrenaline is your thing, Fanfare Ciocarlia are unsurpassed.

Jim Lauderdale Goes Deep Into His Roots at Madison Square Park

Jim Lauderdale may be best known as a songwriter, but he’s also a first-rate performer. Rock fans know him as one of Elvis Costello’s Sugarcanes; he’s just as much at home playing jamband rock as the Americana roots he’s returned to in recent years. Saturday at Madison Square Park, Lauderdale and his excellent five-piece band – Jay Weaver on bass guitar, Randy Kohrs on dobro, Ollie O’Shea on fiddle, and a first-rate mandolinist – went deep into the bluegrass that Lauderdale loves so much. Vocally, his obvious influence is George Jones: with No-Show Jones past eighty now and not so likely to make many if any more New York visits, this show was a good approximation. Lauderdale has also done a lot of recording with both Dr. Ralph Stanley and Grateful Dead collaborator Robert Hunter, so it was no surprise that the set drew heavily from those tracks.

Lauderdale’s voice was in top form. He went up into uneasy George Jones territory on the waltz Lost in the Lonesome Pines, a Stanley collaboration that, for what it’s worth, won a Grammy in 2002 – and deserved to. Then Lauderdale aired out his low, low register on a slinky, pulsing version of his country gospel tune Can We Find Forgiveness, Kohrs adding stingingly energetic high lonesome harmonies as he did on many of the other songs. They opened with the oldtime, churchy I Feel Like Singing Tonight and followed that with the first of the Hunter co-writes, the lickety-split bluegrass tune Love’s Voice, fueled by some tasty handoffs from mandolin to the dobro. Zaccheus, another Stanley collaboration, featured Kors handing off nimbly to O’Shea – they may have been playing acoustic instruments, but the chemistry in the band was electric.

For the rest of the show, the band varied the dynamics, rising and falling, from the steady sway of Hummingbird, to Redbird, a rapidfire bluegrass vamp that gave O’Shea a launching pad for some soaring leads. The most memorable of all the songs could have been the honkytonk song Looking Elsewhere, with its wickedly catchy dobro hook – or, it could have been the song afterward, It’s a Trap, an edgy diversion into gypsy-tinged swing. Another song written with Hunter, the aptly topical Tiger and the Monkey, sounded like a bluegrass-flavored take on the Grateful Dead’s Mexicali Blues. When they reached The King of Broken Hearts, Lauderdale finally owned up to his George Jones fixation – and then took his voice up to the rafters for all it was worth. There didn’t seem to be many people recording the show, but some generous soul with a camera took the time to catch all of the unselfconsciously warm version of The Apples Are Just Turning Ripe. This show was yet another reminder of how much great live music there is in this city for absolutely free, if you look for it.

Lauderdale really gets around. His site lists his next show as a headline act at the Gram Parsons Guitar Pull on October 13 at 10 PM at the Okefenokee Fairgrounds in Waycross, Georgia.

Chicago Stone Lightning Band Warps the Blues

Is it an insult to say that the Chicago Stone Lightning Band’s debut album – just out on Chicago’s Downtown Records – sounds like a bunch of clandestine Estonian hippies circa 1971? It’s so NOT B.B. King, yet so incredibly inspired – and creepy, and trippy. These guys aren’t trying to be anyone but themselves. The obvious comparison, in terms of both chops and sheer energy, is Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, except that at the point where Lewis looks back to James Brown, these guys veer off in a direction closer to Hound Dog Taylor. Peter Green during his time in John Mayall’s band and then the embryonic Fleetwood Mac is also an obvious influence. Fans who expect a blues band to be aping Muddy Waters will have to look elsewhere, but if you want to know what the blues is all about in the 21st century, these guys – guitarists Ben Pirani and Nick Myers, bassist Gabe McDonough and drummer John Dugan – are it. Both guitarists play Gibsons through vintage amps with no effects pedals and have distinctive styles, Myers being the more frenetic, Pirani preferring a more fluid, legato attack. The whole album is streaming at their Bandcamp site.

The opening track, Girlfriend Gone, kicks off with a whiplash guitar riff, distorted rhythm and growly bass, a lo fi assault: Chicago through the prism of the Stooges. Like a lot of the tracks here, it’s more of a sway than a shuffle. Pirani takes a fat, sustained, bent-note solo that’s surprisingly thoughtful – and surprisingly, it works. Track two, White Girl is midtempo oldschool southern soul swing hitched to a growly Stonesy riff. Oh No works a slinky/careening Smokestack Lightning one-chord groove, Myers’ jagged strokes like lightning against Pirani’s simple, ominous, sustained cumulo nimbus ambience, with a deliciously long, murky, pitchblende buildup.

Do Yourself A Favor starts out as a lo-fi distorto boogie, JSBX style, the guitarists having a lively conversation trading fours. They hit a brief acoustic interlude, Dogpatch Blues, with a rustic Pallet on Your Floor vibe and follow that with the killer Gray Lady, a pounding, casually murderous minor-key psych/blues tune.

My Love Is a Good Look sounds like early Zep covering Mose Allison but with better vocals, then they go back to sunbaked Stoogoid riffage for the funky shuffle Talk Tough – it’s the closest thing to Black Joe Lewis here. The best song on the album is Tears and Sorrow, a macabre acid blues dirge, creeping and crawling with eerie, echoey electric piano, chilling Otis Rush-influenced fills from Pirani and a cool trippy outro. The album winds up with Dance on My Grave, a woozy acoustic track that could have been a Violent Femmes outtake circa 1983. From start to finish, the vocals here are laid-back and casual: nobody’s trying to be the Wolf (or Robert Plant). The lyrics fit the genre without being over-the-top: “Don’t be surprised if she tags along/Man, I’ll get your girlfriend gone.” And the rhythm section swings: who would have thought that the drummer from Ted Leo’s old band Chisel had such a great groove? Not a single disappointing track here: a lock for one of the best albums of 2012. Chicago Stone Lightning Band does their hometown proud.

Another Creepy Winner from Bobtown

Among oldtime Americana bands, no one has better original songs than Bobtown. That’s probably because the band has four first-rate songwriters. Between them, percussionist/keyboardist Katherine Etzel, singer Jen McDearman, guitarist Karen Dahlstrom and bassist Fred Stesney blend their voices and instruments in a dark mix of bluegrass, country blues, gospel and other rustic Americana styles alongside new band member and brilliant guitarist/banjoist Alan Lee Backer. Their new album Trouble I Wrought also features cameos by drummers Dave Ciolino-Volano and Charlie Shaw and pedal steel player Mike Nolan along with M Shanghai String Band’s Philippa Thompson’s stark violin, and Dock Oscar Stern’s wry jawharp on one song. The new record expands on the eclectically haunting sound of their brilliant 2010 debut: this time out, they’re a little less stark, a little more lush but just as grim, fixated on death and despair. Consider this stuff antique folk songs for a new century.

On this album, Etzel is the main songwriter. Bobtown’s first album has a number of her songs written in the style of 19th century chain gang chants, and this album opens with one, Mama’s Got the Backbeat – which with different production, could be trip-hop, or gospel-flavored hip-hop. But that’s hardly the only style she works here. Skipping Stone is part banjo-fueled gospel bluegrass, part oldtime hokum blues with jaunty Roulette Sisters-style harmonies: “Today’s precious lover is tomorrow’s tasty bourguignon,” mmmm…

Etzel’s most lavish song here is Burn Your Building Down, a sepulchral grand guignol anthem with swirly violin, banjo and harmonies, building to a towering angst in the same vein as Vespertina. By contrast, her title track clocks in at barely two minutes, its rage semi-concealed in a soaring gospel arrangement over an organ drone. Resurrection Mary is a cheery, harmony-fueled Boswell Sisters-style swing tune…about a murder and a ghost. And Coalville, the lurid tale of a doomed couple now sharing a graveyard, reaches for a plush Nashville gothic ambience.

McDearman seems to specialize in sarcastically cheery, upbeat bluegrass songs. One Public Enemy would have been a perfect fit on one of Dolly Parton’s bluegrass albums (hey Dolly, there’s still time…). And McDearman maxes out the suspense factor in the otherwise very pretty Magilla Lee, as the listener grows closer and closer to finding out what happened as the poor girl waited to die. Dahlstrom contributes only one song here, Battle Creek, but it’s the best one on the album. With her searing gospel wail rising over an ominous minor-key backdrop, she paints a cruel portrait of a farm girl slowly losing it in early Rust Belt-era Michigan. Dahlstrom is no stranger to historically-informed songwriting: her Idaho-themed solo album, Gem State, was one of last year’s most intense releases in any style of music.

Not everything is so overtly bleak. Stesney’s two songs here each work a blackly humorous vein: Live Slow Die Old, which comes across as a mashup of Smog, Flugente and the Mountain Goats, and the irresistibly funny faux-gospel Flood Water Rising, possibly the only country gospel song to namecheck both L. Ron Hubbard and Herbert Hoover. There’s also a deadpan cover of Don’t Fear the Reaper, done as tersely creepy Nashville gothic, Backer’s banjo carrying the hook under the womens’ angelic harmonies, a terse banjo/accordion interlude in place of Buck Dharma’s shredding guitar solo. Like Bobtown’s previous album, this is one of the best of the year. The band’s next gig is Sept 21 at 9 PM on an excellent bill with eclectic alt-country siren Alana Amram & the Rough Gems at Union Hall for $10.

Orwellian New Wave from Gladshot

OK – time for a free download, there haven’t been many on this page lately. This one’s by Gladshot, who’ve collaborated with Hair’s James Rado on an Orwellian-flavored musical titled Barcode, running from 9/30 through 10/2 at 7 PM at Bowery Electric; general admission tix are $12. “’Barcode’ tells the story of a dystopian future in which one corporation, Earth Corp, dominates society. Wielding control over the populace by imprinting barcodes on the wrists of every citizen, Earth Corp monitors all activity and privacy is virtually extinct. A star-crossed romance develops between Dorna, a member of the resistance, and Nest, the son of an Earth Corp News Anchor. Together, the young couple may just spark a revolution.”

The song, Corporate, Safe and Secure, is a caustic, sarcastically generic new wave number with keening, lo-fi organ and a scurrying beat. “Our music is ideologically pure,” goes the deadpan last verse. Download it here before Big Brother finds out that this exists.

An Intimate Tour of NYC with Sam Llanas

Sam Llanas has been in town the past week, supplying the music for playwright Doug Vincent’s harrowing, suicide-themed performance piece, A Day For Grace. In between those gigs, Llanas has been playing a series of intimate club dates. He’s at Iridium on Monday the 17th at 8 PM, singing classics with Les Paul’s trio plus veteran jazz guitar stars Bucky Pizzarelli and Gene Bertoncini. For those who always thought Llanas had the chops to go further than the Americana rock he made a name for himself in, this should be a revealing and rewarding evening.

It’s interesting how the co-founder of Waukesha, Wisconsin’s legendary roots rockers the BoDeans has done some of his most memorable work outside that band. His 1998 Absinthe project, with original BoDeans drummer Guy Hoffman and the Shivvers’ Jim Eanelli, among others, ranks as one of the most powerful dark rock records ever made. Many of those songs appear in abbreviated versions in A Day for Grace, so it’s no surprise that he left that material out of shows this past Tuesday at Zirzamin and Wednesday at Rockwood Music Hall. Playing acoustic guitar and backed by the terse beats of Ryan Schiedermayer on cajon (and the Dog Show’s Jerome O’Brien guesting on bass at Zirzamin), Llanas took his time with a diverse mix of new and rare solo material as well as a handful of BoDeans crowd-pleasers. And even those he reinvented. Zirzamin was the fun set, with the singalong Still the Night done as a swaying, hypnotic nocturne in the style of the tracks on Llanas’ deliciously atmospheric solo album, 4 AM. At the end of the set, Llanas launched into All Along the Watchtower, and then a medley of songs using that same three-chord progression that began with Don’t Fear the Reaper and then went further and further into cheese, with the Violent Femmes and then Tom Petty and at that point everyone including the band was cracking up. In between there was a lot of new or unreleased material: a wickedly catchy reggae tune straight out of late-period Bob Marley; a suspensefully bouncy singalong about a vet returned from Afghanistan; the haunting, elegaic To Where You Go; and the title track from the solo album, about the kind of headspace that’s “surely beautiful, but ice is cold.”

The Rockwood show was more intense, Llanas’ baritone imploring and brooding and occasionally evoking the sly, rakish persona that fueled much of the BoDeans’ more upbeat catalog. He moved through the shadows with the morose All the Blues (from his next-to-last release with the BoDeans, Mr. Sad Clown), then the practically breathless desperation of Down at the Wishing Well and then the rich noir ambience of Shyne, one of the standout tracks on the solo album. After a wryly casual take of the big BoDeans concert hit Something’s Telling Me, he went back to the dark stuff for Dangerous Love, a swaying, bolero-tinged anthem, picked up the pace with the big radio hit Closer to Free and then took it down again for an audience request, 617 (from the 2004 album Resolution), a chilling portrait of alienation and isolation. “They say that time will heal everything – I don’t know if that’s true, down on Third Avenue,” Llanas crooned ominously. He and Schiedermayer wrapped up the set with a particularly intense, vengeful take of the solo album’s catchiest track, Cherry-O, kept the aching intensity going with 4 AM and Two Souls, ending with fiery singalongs of Feed the Fire and Still the Night. With just an acoustic guitar and a simple beat, Llanas brought the energy up to stadium level and made it look easy.

The Strawbs Still Shine at B.B. King’s

Four songs into their set Tuesday night at B.B. King’s, Strawbs frontman David Cousins brought out the heavy artillery. Bassist Chas Cronk held down a tensely swaying pulse and added an extra layer of ominous ambience with his footpedals as Cousins and lead player David Lambert built a richly overcast, menacing backdrop with their acoustic guitars. Cousins had explained that the song, New World – the centerpiece of the band’s iconic 1972 album Grave New World – was inspired by the Bloody Sunday massacre in Ireland earlier that year. This time out, he dedicated it to the victims of 9/11, which had special resonance since this was the eleventh anniversary of that particular massacre. And he held nothing back. When he hit the second chorus, his face twisted into a venomous grimace. “May you rot, MAY YOU ROT, in your grave new world!” he snarled, evoking as much outraged horror as murderously vengeful intent. In a year full of amazing concert moments in this city, it was arguably the most intense. From beginning to end, this veteran group put to shame bands a third their age with the majesty of their arrangements, the craftsmanship of their tunes and their lyrics, which remain as socially relevant as they were decades ago.

The band’s vocal harmonies at this stage of their career are tighter and soar higher than anything Crosby, Stills and Nash ever did, their guitar chops are still tight, and so is their songwriting. Even in his youth, Cousins always had the voice of a man in his fifties; in the forty years since Grave New World, it’s barely changed, and it suits him even better than it did then. He’s grown into himself.

In the years that have passed since the band was playing stadiums, the songs have aged just as well. Their tunesmithing seems even more remarkable in this era of samples and machine-tooled melodies. They began their mostly acoustic trio show with their very first single, the wryly aphoristic, Jethro Tull-like Man Who Called Himself Jesus, following with the even more telling, metaphorically-charged, gorgeously harmony-driven Weary Song, from their 1970 Dragonfly album. A similarly lush, wistful new song from a forthcoming album due out early next year paid homage to Sandy Denny, their singer who abruptly left for Fairport Convention after recording a Strawbs album in Denmark that didn’t see a release until over twenty years later.

After the fireworks of Grave New World, they took a slow, psychedelic detour through Oh How She Changed, another 1968 track that made use of the alternate guitar tunings from ancient British folk music that have served this band so well over the decades. Cousins returned to righteous rage with the epic The Hangman and the Papist, a track that seemed somewhat obvious when it came out in 1971 but has taken on greater significance in this age of renewed religious hatred. Then he reached to his side for an electric dulcimer and launched into a rousing, well-applauded verison of Benedictus, the big, Byrdsy FM radio hit from Grave New World with inscrutable lyrics taken from the Chinese Book of the Dead.

From there they went into an unexpectedly fiery version of the art-rock mini-suite Ghosts, Cousins taking a tastily bluesy, incisive solo over the insistent jangle of the guitars. Likewise, a raw, unapologetically High Romantic version of the Autumn Suite – a song that Cousins said had become a soundtrack to hundreds of weddings since the band released it on the Hero and Heroine album in 1974 – redeemed it from the overproduction of the studio version. Volume-wise, the high point of the evening was Cold Steel, a richly anthemic 2004 kiss-off anthem sung vigorously by Lambert, Cousins’ biting banjo work adding an extra edge to the overtones ringing from Cronk’s twelve-string guitar. The nostalgic You and I When We Were Young and a hypnotic take on an unexpected 1975 ballad, Shine On Silver Sun, came toward the end of the set. The trio closed and then encored with a couple of British folk standards, coming full circle with the music that has inspired them from the very beginning.

Jerome O’Brien At the Top of His Game at Zirzamin

Jerome O’Brien has been one of New York’s most consistently interesting literate rock songwriters for several years. His mod-punk/vintage R&B-influenced band the Dog Show had a good run for the better part of a decade – back in the day, you could catch them at Tonic, or the C-Note, or Maxwell’s. One of the band’s main attractions was that you never knew who was going to be in it from one gig to another: good songwriters always have their choice of backing musicians, and O’Brien had a deep, rotating cast of players to choose from. But there was attrition, and changes in the New York rock landscape that were not favorable for a band playing just under the radar: the Dog Show played their last gig together under that name in 2007. Since then, O’Brien has been largely absent from the concert stage, but as a songwriter, he’s been anything but idle. A couple of days ago, he played an acoustic gig at Zirzamin, solo on twelve-string guitar, unveiling a lot of intriguing new material as well as reinventing several favorites from the Dog Show era.

As a lyricist, O’Brien’s stock in trade is simple phrases packed with wry, sardonic, loaded imagery. Your Home Will Come to You was a good example:

You were an angel at brunch
Conversation so brilliant
Now it’s a quarter to eight and you’re a little less resilient
Don’t want to keep you from nothing
I can see there’s somewhere you gotta be
Don’t want to tell you nothing you don’t know
Don’t want to show you something you can see

He began it by nicking the intro from Love Will Tear Us Apart, a characteristic touch. A more recent number, a steady, tense country murder ballad, referenced the Buzzcocks. The cynical Every Baby Boy, pondering how we all start out with clean slate and get damaged fast, got a halfspeed sway instead of the Dog Show’s tight mod pulse. “Do you burn your heart like a piece of meat?/Well folks like us don’t care about the heat,” O’Brien intoned casually.

He reinvented the metaphorically-charged Sin-Soaked Dish as a waltz, with a charming neo-Britfolk guitar intro: this particular dish has a “smile like a knife.” Hold Me Down opened with a laid-back riff evoking the old R&B hit On Broadway. Dating from the early Bush/Cheney era, the song set an apprehensive scene: “If you decide to head out west, my friend, you’re on your own..don’t know if I should be walking around with this face under the dangerous lights.” Likewise, Nicotene and Bluz opened with an understatedly caustic view of the smoking section outside a popular bar, pondering a future that’s a lot less than certain. After a nifty little ragtime-flavored instrumental, the most intriguing song of the afternoon might have been a brand-new one, a surreal Pete Townshend-esque epic montage of images from the subway. “The candidates keep running like there’s nowhere else to go…the commodore of looking cool just can’t find a date, and the personal trainer has just decided she’s the potentate.” It was hard to keep up with them. He closed with a couple of older numbers, This One Thing – another rapidfire litany of sarcastic imagery set to a plushly catchy post-Velvets groove – and Halcyon Days, a joyously latin soul-flavored view of life on the Lower East Side just at the moment before the hammer of gentrification lowered its deathblow on the neighborhood. O’Brien has been playing Zirzamin the second Monday of every month at around 7 PM; watch this space for another.

NY Gypsy Festival All-Access Passes Now Half-Price

If you’re a promoter, how do you move a bunch of festival passes if the festival is already underway and they aren’t sold out? Sell ’em at half price. Which turns out to be an absurdly good deal, if music in dark minor keys is your thing. With four shows remaining this year, all of them at Drom, the $22.50 NY Gypsy Festival half-price pass comes to a little more than $5 a show. Remaining concerts include the NY Gypsy All-Stars with guest guitarist Marco Calliari on 9/20 at 8; Quebecois gypsy powerhouse Roma Carnivale on 9/22 at 11:30; flamenco dancer Elena Andujar with her ensemble on 9/28 at 11; and luminous Spanish flamenco-jazz pianist Ariadna Castellanos on 9/30 at 7:15. Assuming you bought advance tix for all four, cover without the pass would be $55.

This year’s remaining NY Gypsy Festival show that’s not at Drom (and sadly not part of the pass package) is on 9/22 with scorching Romanian gypsy brass orchestra Fanfare Ciocarlia at the Schimmel Center at Pace University downtown, 3 Spruce St. between Park Row and Gold St. Full-price tix are pricy – $35 – but the band’s offering a free album download with all advance ticket purchases; tix are available online and at the box office.

Brooding Nocturnal Ambience from Sam Llanas

As the co-founder and frontman of legendary heartland rockers the BoDeans, Sam Llanas built a deep catalog of singalong Americana rock anthems along with many darker, more pensive songs. Like any good songwriter, Llanas can evoke pretty much any emotion he wants. Yet even on his most upbeat upbeat hits with the band – She’s a Runaway, Still the Night, Feed the Fire, etc. – there was usually some undercurrent of unease. That came to the forefront in Absinthe, Llanas’ 1999 side project which released a single, riveting concept album, A Good Day to Die, a haunting series of songs inspired by the suicide of his older brother. Llanas waited til late last year before releasing his first album under his own name, the aptly titled 4 AM: he’s playing songs from it tonight, Sept 11 at 10 at Zirzamin, tomorrow the 12th at 8 PM at the small room at the Rockwood and then Monday the 17th at 8 at Iridium.

“I poured a small bourbon and water, and toasted the Clash,” Llanas sang on Cold Winter’s Day, one of the BoDeans most evocative nocturnes. That same atmosphere pervades the solo record, right down to the inside cd booklet shot of Llanas reclining in murky half-light, glass in hand, revisiting the ghosts of the past. Where he really nails the atmosphere is less with the spare, mostly acoustic insrumentation than with the vocals: instead of going down into his raw, emotionally charged baritone, he goes way up to the top of his register for a breathy, sometimes raspy, soulful timbre. Who knew he had that kind of range! While he’s still writing in an Americana rock vein, this is his soul record: there are hints of 70s artists like William Bell in his casually imploring, emotionally-charged vocals. Llanas plays acoustic guitar, backed tersely and tastefully by band of mostly fellow Milwaukeeans including guitarist Terry Vittone, bassist Matt Turner, Bukka Allen of the BoDeans on accordion, percussionist Ryan Schiedermayer and the one-man string section of Gary Tanin.

Oh, Celia sets the tone, a laid-back yet insistent come-on fueled by Allen’s lilting accordion. Shyne, a backbeat-driven breathy noir 60s pop nocturne, sounds like R. Dean Taylor but with digital production: “I want to dance with the devil’s daughter under the city lights,” Llanas croons, completely deadpan. The title track lingers wistfully but purposefully for just a little over two minutes, lowlit by accordion and gently ringing lead guitar.

The coyly titled Nobody Luvs Me has Tex-Mex tinges while the bittersweet, brooding Fare Thee Well works a western swing vein, underscored by Llannas’ powerful, low-register harmonies. By contrast, Janey is the most stark, minimalist song here: “It’s been a hell of a wonderful fight,” Llanas remarks, out on a late-night walk, trying to cool off. He follows it with the album’s most vivid cut, The Only One, contemplating a crushingly solitary 4 AM “hour of truth” against Vittone’s biting but judicious lead lines.

The song that harks most closely to the BoDeans’ anthemic style is the cynical Cherry O – “I never meant to hurt you as bad as I did,” whispers the vengeful cheater as the catchy chorus subsides. That’s the one song here that really screams out for a loud rock version. Llanas goes back to an understatedly noir, Orbison-inspired vein for Oh How I Loved You, then follows with the suspensefully quiet, symbolically-charged The Way Home. There’s also a cover of Jules Shear’s All Through the Night. This album doesn’t hit you over the head, but it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be: a good late-night listen.