New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Month: June, 2013

A Lyrical Limited Edition Single from Wormburner

Wormburner play anthemic, tuneful, darkly lyrical rock narratives that often get compared to Springsteen. But to reduce them to Jersey highway rock, even the good stuff the Boss was doing thirty-five years ago, wouldn’t be fair, as evidenced by their new vinyl single – their first release since the fiery, sardonic album Placed by the Gideons three years ago.

The A-side, Today Might Be Our Day is on the Celtic side of anthemic 80s rock, U2 without the strident vocals and empty slogans. And it’s got a story, in this case a smalltime hood on the run from the law. Is that a swoopy synth solo or a guitar running through a wah? The band has both.

The B-side, Parliaments on Sundays, is a wry janglerock anthem like the Figgs at their most tuneful, told from the point of view of a guy who likes his liquor but only smokes or does the other stuff if it “helps to dull the edge, and anything to keep you off the ledge.” The vinyl seven-inch is officially out July 9 in a limited edition and the sound is rich, sweet analog.


Alpha Blondy Brings His Revolutionary African Reggae to B.B. King’s

Ivory Coast bandleader and songwriter Alpha Blondy has built a career that ranks with the work of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Through decades of censorship and repression, he toiled on, a crusader for peace whose rage began to boil over even before the Jasmine Revolution began in Tunisia and then started its inevitable spread around the world. Like Tosh, especially, Blondy is a big-picture guy with a gift for metaphor that cuts to the root of whatever he’s going up against. Many of his albums are roots reggae classics, beginning with his early 80s collaborations with the Wailers. NY Music Daily’s sister blog Lucid Culture ranked his massive 2007 double album Jah Victory as one of the thousand best albums of all time, a spot-on state-of-the-world account that skewers dictators, genocidal regimes and hypocrites of all kinds. Now, in what has been a considerable coup in the reggae business, VP Records has released Blondy’s new album Mystic Power, an often caustic, sometimes epically powerful album that’s as valuable a historical document as it is for its infectious grooves. He’s playing B.B. King’s at 8 PM on July 2; advance tickets are $30 and still available as of today.

Blondy sings in French, English, Arabic and his native vernacular. The albums opens uncharacteristically with a nod to current African autotune pop, a weirdly worrisome tune featuring a Beenie Man cameo, then closes with a brief coda from a gospel choir. In between, the riddims are an eclectic mix, from seriously oldschool roots reggae with rippling organ, layers of guitar, real bass and drums, to high-tech, artsy anthems with all kinds of synthesized orchestration.

With its fuzzy P-Funk synth riffage, My American Dream takes the ominous and tragic point of view of an African immigrant whose experiences here were anything but dreamy. If you’ve ever wondered what I Shot the Sherriff would sound like in French, you need to hear J’ai Tue le Commissaire – and the music is remarkably close to the original Marley classic, something Blondy no doubt learned from working with Marley’s band.

With its gospel gandeur, Crime Spirituel is sort of Blondy’s Masters of War: “Mohammed isn’t a terrorist prophet, don’t connect him with your wars,” Blondy intones in French. La Bataille d’Abidjan begins with a viciously sarcastic surf rock quote but then offers hope for a post-revolutionary future, as does the Middle Easterm-flavored Ouarzazate, and also Reconciliation (a collaboration with fellow African roots reggae revolutionary Tiken Jah Fakoly).

The snidely catchy France A Fric (one of Blondy’s signature Peter Tosh-style jokes, a pun on “French Africa” and “France Has Big Bucks”) – is a warning to any wannabe imperialists. Woman, sung in English, is a Burning Spear-style shout-out to the strength of women around the world – much as you might not expect a feminist anthem from a guy from the Ivory Coast, that’s what this is. Danger Ivoirite looks at the terror Blondy’s fellow citizens have had to deal with in the last few years, even if they have to go online to get the real story about war atrocities. There’s also a French Mediterranean ballad done as roots reggae, and a gospel anthem, as well as a couple of bouncy tracks in Blondy’s own dialect. Like so many Africans, Blondy shifts easily between languges: in concert here in the US, he adjusts the set list to include a lot of stuff in English, including his haunting, plaintive cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.

The Cat Empire Bring Their High-Voltage Anthems to NYC

What is it about Melbourne, Australia that keeps that city turning out great bands? Noir soul goddess Clairy  Browne is from Melbourne, and so are the Cat Empire, who’re playing the big theatre space at 1515 Broadway (at 45th Street) formerly known as the World this Saturday, June 29 at around 10 PM. Tickets are $27.50 and are still available as of today. If you like the idea of Fitz & the Tantrums but find that band too lightweight, the Cat Empire will rock your world. Their latest album, Steal the Light, is a party in a box.

It finds the keyboard-driven group going deeper into hip-hop and latin sounds, by comparison to the update on anthemic retro 80s new wave pop that they worked with verve and imagination on their 2010 album Cinema. They’re also taking a more socially aware stance, reflected in the album’s best songs. The succinctly titled Go veers from a salsa intro to backbeat pop to a reggae-tinged groove, frontman/percussionist Felix Riebl letting loose with both barrels:

There’s a lot of old gods in the deep
Maybe you could see them if you weren’t
Staring at some message
On your omnipresent phone
You’re so goddamn materialistic
You’ve got to let it GO!!!

Likewise, on the wickedly catchy, new wave meets hip-hop anthem Am I Wrong, he ponders a gently revolutionary question: “If this thought was a bomb that was tripped by desire, we could light up these halls, we could dance through the fire.” And over a mix of P-Funk keyb textures with a second-generation Motown groove, he gives a kick in the pants to any wage slave itching to break loose:

Look out the tiny windowframe that sits behind your desk
Past the big computer screens…
What are you doing in this prison with your psychopathic boss,
 With your brokenhearted mornings and your backstabbing friends
You’re free born!

The rest of the album is smartly crafted, singalong anthems. The opening track, Brighter Than Gold plays off a terse, funky bassline and hints at vintage Midnight Oil (a band they often evoke). Prophets in the Sky kicks off with a big brass riff driven by Harry Angus’ blazing trumpet and shifts smoothly into a minor-key ska rhythm. Still Young turns up the heat on a a similarly ska-flavored vibe, while Don’t Throw Your Hands Up has more of a reggae flavor. Ollie McGill’s eclectic keyboard talent drives the latin-flavored songs: nimble, echoey Rhodes piano on the salsa romantica pop of Like a Drum, and slyly animated acoustic piano on the nocturnal groove Sleep Won’t Sleep. And his soul-flavored organ grounds Open Up Your Face with a here-and-now seriousness without muting its defiance. The title track builds to a break made for a big stadium singalong, and while the final cut’s title more than hints that it’s going to be a big anthem, it turns out to be a nocturnal ballad with just gospel organ and light percussion samples. No doubt this wil be the soundtrack for a lot of partying this year.

Two New York Shows and a Killer New Album from the Handsome Family

The Handsome Family have influenced so many harmony-folk and dark Americana acts over the years, yet they’re impossible to imitate. The husband/wife team of Brett and Rennie Sparks’ resonant, unaffectedly moody vocals and brooding, surrealistic imagery have put them at the front of the noir folk caravan for the past couple of decades. They’ve got a show tonight, June 27 at 8:30 at the Slipper Room (Orchard and Stanton) and then on June 29 at 9 at the Knitting Factory; tickets are $20 and still available as of this moment. They’ve also got a characteristically excellent, thematic new album, Wilderness, just out,  also available as a deluxe edition from Carrot Top Records along with a book featuring both Rennie’s inimitable animal imagery and prose stylings – plus a poster and postcards.

Each of the dozen tracks on the album – their ninth – takes its name from a different animal, although in many instances those animals are only minor characters in the narrative. And Rennie’s tales are often as funny as they are surreal and creepy. The song ostensibly about a lizard chronicles a witch’s curse that gets an entire village dancing, and then they can’t stop, as the song’s ominous major/minor changes go on and on. The one titled Glowworm is a dead ringer for the Strawbs in their trippiest early 70s incarnation, soaring bassline and all, Brett soberly tracing the Jules Verne-like steampunk steps of an inner-earth explorer. The most oldtimey one is Woodpecker, the second song released this year about Mary Sweeney, the Wisconsin Window Smasher of 1896. In contrast to the jaunty tribute by A Brief View of the Hudson, the Handsome Family allude that her delusions might just have to do with a couple of the era’s most popular, legal substances.

There’s a spider’s tale set to a wry country waltz that’s straight out of Kafka. Flies, a high plains gothic mini-epic, begins with the death of General Custer and connects the dots between wars among both humans and ants. Frogs rocks as hard as this band ever has, a snarling electric Tonight’s the Night-era Neil Young evocation fueled by Brett’s searing leads. Stephen Foster is eulogized, dead and penniless in a Bowery flophouse, with a dreamy waltz lit up by Rennie’s twinkling bass ukulele. Myths – real or imagined – about where birds go in the winter, and the hypnotic effects of the octopus – are explored in wryly minute detail over gracefully waltzing or swaying changes. Giant caterpillars in Belize come to the rescue  – or do they? – when a woman is struck by lightning and “can’t escape the static or the 60 cycle hum” afterward. The funniest song here is Owls, an acerbically droll Edward Gorey-ish folk tune about an old guy losing it in his McMansion with “the clawfooted tubs, the room of rare orchids, the glass hall for my guns, statues of pharaohs twenty feet tall, crystal chandeliers, rare paintings of clowns.” The scariest, and most enigmatic one, is Gulls, which is not the only one here about a magic spell going drastically awry. Funeral parlor organ swells and ripples, glockenspiel tinkles eerily, accordion and fiddle resonate and gentle layers of guitar mingle over steady, minimalist drums. Yet another fantastic album, in every sense of the word.

Hypnotic, Haunting Songs and a Rare NYC Show By the Garifuna Collective

If you’ve never heard it before, Central American Garifuna music is like nothing else on the planet. It has the bubbling, circular riffs of West African folk music, but also the hypnotic bounce of the Caribbean, and the frequently somber tones of the blues. And it is some of the catchiest music you will ever hear. Its best known advocates are the Garifuna Collective, a loosely organized mix of musicians from Belize and Honduras who burst into worldwide acclaim in 2007 with their debut album, Watina. Tragically, bandleader Andy Palacio died unexpectedly within months of its release. Now, the band has regrouped and is currently on North American tour to promote their fantastic new album Ayo (meaning “goodbye” in Garifuna), a tribute to their fallen frontman. They’re playing Highline Ballroom on July 2 at  8 PM; $15 advance tickets are still available as of today.

The album has references to reggae and blues but is its own animal. Many of the songs have a dark, distantly menacing edge, in the same vein as the best Haitian music. Lyrics in the native vernacular are delivered by a succession of male and female singers. Some of the songs feature just electric guitar and percussion behind the vocals; others feature what’s essentially a full rock band lineup. The title track is like soukous, but edgier; the second shuffles along with a Spanish Caribbean lilt. The ridiculously catchy third one has a bit of a reggae feel, which then comes front and center on the next track, a sort of minimalist, shadow image of what Bob Marley did with Could You Be Loved.

The next tune blends elements of rocksteady and salsa over a slinky Afro-Cuban inflected groove; the one after that reminds of the original Wailers’ version of Peter Tosh’s Get Up, Stand Up, but with a gorgeous turnaround that takes the song to a delicious crescendo. The rest of the album includes a dusky, otherworldly, chromatically-fueled slink, a more wary take on American hackysack pop, a ridiculously memorable, scampering tune that works its way from subtle polyrhythms to hints of dub, a couple of scurrying, minimalist, apprehensively echoey numbers and a tensely bouncing concluding cut that brings to mind the Ventures classic Diamond Head. The purposefulness of the playing is stunning — throughout the album, no one – percussionists, guitarist, bassist, drummer and electric keyboardist – wastes a single note. As dark and spacious as much of this album is, ultimately, it’s dance music: the Highline show should be both animated and hypnotic. Be aware that the Garifuna Collective are sharing the bill with singer-songwriter Danny Michel, a purveyor of lightweight hippie pop, whose newly released album features the Garifuna Collective as a backing band and is not nearly as good.

Claire Lynch Brings Her Beautiful Voice and Killer Band to Hill Country

If you’re a bluegrass fan, you probably know that Claire Lynch has been a bigtime IBMA winner as a singer. And if you’re a bluegrass fan in New York, you probably already know that the former Front Porch String Band frontwoman is playing Hill Country on June 27 at 10:30 PM. The downstairs space there has a powerful PA and it’s a ticketed event ($15), so you won’t have to strain to hear over the usual crowds of bellowing tourists. Her latest album with her all-star band, titled Dear Sister, finds her on the mellower side of newgrass, more or less. As usual, the picking is strong (and often spectacular), lively conversations abounding between guitarist/mandolinist Matt Wingate, Bryan McDowell (on fiddle, mando and guitar) and banjo player Mark Schatz  Many of the tunes are just flat-out gorgeous, to match the vocals. Lynch’s voice is sort of a blend of vintage Dolly Parton and Amy Allison, with a similar nuance and unexpected power when she wants to drive a lyric home.

The opening track, How Many Moons is a pop song in disguise: then the backbeat and the dobro and the fiddle kick in and  it’s a country song. “No one’s ever said that I had the patience of a saint,” Lynch admits. Doin’ Time, a duet with Tim O’Brien, is deliciously anthemic, like a vintage Tom Petty song reinvented as bluegrass. Once the Teardrops Start to Fall sets a torchy vocal over a growly, bluesy bassline, a vibe that Lynch keeps going strong in Need Someone, which is an unabashedly straight-up pop song  The album’s centerpiece, a co-write with Louisa Bascomb, is based on letters sent home from the battlefield by Bascomb’s Civil War ancestors.  Dripping with authenticity, there’s an ever-present, bittersweet longing for home; and a crushing subtext that does not bode well for the soldiers.

A brisk remake of the Osborne Brothers’ I’ll be Alright Tomorrow, with a cameo from Alison Brown on banjo, plays up the angle that the singer might like drinking away her baby more than him actually coming home. Other choice tracks include the slow dobro-fueled ballad Everybody Knows I’ve Been Cryin’ and the closing diptych, Buttermilk Road/The Arbours, winding up the album on a high note, a rustic fiddle-and-percussion dance hitched to an oldschool bluegrass romp.

The Hussy Bring Their Pagan Hiss to Death By Audio

Loud, entertaining Madison, Wisconsin duo the Hussy just keep getting better and better. Bobby Hussy’s guitar playing has gotten really good, and very eclectic. Lately he’s had a thing for reverb: his amp settings and effects are a lot more varied than in the band’s early days. They pretty much grew up in public, starting out playing stoner hardcore punk before going off in several other tangents. In the beginning, Heather Hussy’s drumming could have been called charmingly erratic, but months of nonstop touring have made her rock-solid. And she’s a good singer, too! They’re at Death by Audio on 6/27 at around 11 PM for a measly seven bucks.

Their new album Pagan Hiss – streaming at their Bandcamp page –  kicks off with a wicked biker rock riff and revs up into Thee Oh Sees style noir girlgroup pop, a style they revisit with a reverbtoned snarl a little later. They like short songs: a handful of the lickety-split numbers here recall X on Wild Gift. Another one is totally 60s fuzztone garage rock but without the fuzz. The seventh cut, Woodland Creature begins with an unexpectedly sedate acoustic hook and builds to a haunted castle worth of guitar mulitracks: imagine Steve Kilbey producing the Gun Club circa 1985. There’s also a creepy southwestern blues that reminds of the Sideshow Tragedy, a funny little rant called Hate This Town, a brief found-sound montage, a defiant punk song titled Dying (“They said it was my time, but I don’t know,” Heather sneers) and a considerably more than slight return to the swamp rock menace. Psychedelic punk rock has seldom been this much fun or diverse.

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino Bring Their Wild, Eclectic Live Show to Joe’s Pub

In Europe, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino play stadiums and the WOMAD festival. In New York they’re at…Joe’s Pub on June 27 at 7:30. Tickets are $20 and still available as of today, June 23. Anyone unfamiliar with the band who might think them sedate because they play Italian folk music is in for a big surprise: their feral, ferocious, footstomping show might bring down a few chandeliers by the time the show’s over.

Their latest album is titled Pizzicata Indiavolata. While the group uses centuries-old melodies as their stepping-off point, they take them places no one else has gone. Perfect example: the first track, which kicks off with a circular soukous melody and then builds to a slinky blend of qawwali and trip-hop, spiked with biting violin. The next track sets a Nick Drake-ish guitar pastorale to a camelwalking desert blues rhythm. The fourth is a haunting waltz, frontwoman Maria Mazzota’s edgy, microtonal melismas against psychedelic washes of accordion that mimic the effect of backward masking.

The best song on the album is Questa Mattina, scary guy/girl harmonies over a trancey harmonium drone, guitar throwing off some ominous oud-like voicings, bagpipes joining the mix to raise the otherworldly menace. E Chora Te Amenu features ripplling, feathery zither breaks, while La Voce Tola is a pensive revolutionary ballad sung in both English and Italian.

There’s a trio of hypnotic one-chord jams, the second one building to an almost Scottish-sounding bagpipe solo, the last juxtaposing Mazzotta’s powerhouse vocals against suspenseful accordion. There’s also a trio of deliriously bouncy Mexican jumping bean-style romps scattered throughout the tracks, one that trades unexpectedly back and forth with an ominous Balkan-flavored vamp.

Yet Another Great Album and a Highline Show From the Unstoppable Willie Nile

If a powerpop band gets really lucky, once in awhile they’ll earn a comparison to Willie Nile. He’s been the gold standard for hard-hitting, anthemic, edgy, lyrical four-on-the-floor rock for literally decades. He and his band are playing the album release show for his new one.American Ride at Highline Ballroom at 8 PM on June 26: tickets are still available as of today.

Nile’s music reflects his career. On one hand, he defines oldschool New York: a cynical surrealism pervades his lyrics. On the other hand, he never gave up: dumped on the trash heap by the major label machine, he rose from the ashes of a once-promising career to become one of the world’s most successful independent artists, and his indomitable worldview reflects that. Although he pretty much steers clear of specific political references, there’s an anthemic revolutionary sensibility anchoring much of his work. He’s closer to the Clash than the Who, both bands his music resembles and has drawn on deeply over the years.

The new album’s opening track, This Is Our Time, alludes to that spirit right off the bat. “Can you feel the power, can you feel the drive, can you feel the feeling that it’s good to be alive?” Nile asks, guitars slamming out catchy chords over a bubbling Johnny Pisano bassline. It’s a defining, classic Willie Nile moment.

Life on Bleecker Street motors along sarcastically, a basement apartment dweller contemplating the hordes of tourists drawn to the neighborhood’s cheesy bars: it’s possibly the only song to ever rhyme “Nikon” with “icon.” The jangly title track, a band-on-the-road scenario captures one of the few ways a musician can make money these days, bringing the music to the people instead of vice versa.

If I Ever See the Light, a clenched-teeth, intense, pulsing number, is a dead ringer for Nile’s buddy Springsteen, except better: it could pass for one of the great lost tracks from The River. And as much as She’s Got My Heart doesn’t have anything going on lyrically, the hook is irresistible.

The funniest song on the album is God Laughs, a big riff-rocker. As it turns out, the big G is a lot like us, with one major exception – and an ending that comes as a complete surprise. But deities don’t get off so easy on Holy War, a venomous Blue Oyster Cult-influenced smack upside the head of murderous zealots of every persuasion: Nile doesn’t let anybody off the hook. Jim Carroll’s People Who Died sticks close to the original except for a recurrent riff (another BOC reference), and the fact that the lyrics are easier to understand.

Say Hey reminds of the Stray Cats with its growling noir strut, and builds to a big Balkan horn raveup. The bouncy, Beatlesque Sunrise in New York City is a surprisingly unambiguous shout-out to Nile’s hometown, with a jaunty baritone guitar solo from lead player Matt Hogan, who slays throughout this album. The Crossing makes an elegant, metaphorically-charged art-rock ballad out of an Irish immigrant ballad. The final cut is There’s No Place Like Home, one of Nile’s signature litanies of strange imagery set to a Carl Perkins-style shuffle. There literally isn’t a weak track here: to say that it stands up alongside Nile’s other albums testifies both to the strength of this one and the rest of his formidable catalog.

Wickedly Catchy, Artsy Noir Piano Rock from Hudson K

If you like Amanda Palmer, you’ll love Hudson K. The singer/keyboardist is at the Delancey on June 25 at 9. She’s got three albums up at her Bandcamp page including her 2010 release Shine, which is available as a free download -and has been sitting on the hard drive here since before this blog existed. Why so long to mention it? Waiting for her to play a show here, of course.

She’s a great tunesmith: many of the artsy, sometimes cabaret-flavored songs here are catchy beyond belief. Rippling, sometimes ornate layers of piano, organ and other keys mingle with tasty, tasteful electric guitar over a tight rhythm section. There’s also a little bit of an 80s feel to some of the songs, starting with the first track, Fade, with its hint of a second-generation retro-Motown bounce. All the Things I Never Say is sort of stadium-era Who done as dark cabaret, morphing into a brief southern-flavored jam. The pulsing title track sets stagy vocals over a biting clavinova tune, while Champion sets gorgeous Memphis soul guitar against a theatrical 80s-pop sheen.

Intricate orchestration disguises the inner pop song in I Gave It All, while Rattled reaches for a slow-burning va-voom cabaret-rock ambience. With its waltzing baroque intro and seductive vocals, I Could Learn from You sounds like Vera Beren without the screaming guitars. The most cabaret-oriented song here is Prayer for Love, dancing flute contrasting with hard-hitting, low-register piano, while Where Did You Go is the most allusive and menacing, a big anthem rising with waves of ominous organ. The album ends with a heavily altered live version of the old Irish ballad Oh Whiskey. Rip the tracks and check out the similarly dark, tuneful stuff she’s done since then.