New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: June, 2013

The Studio Debut of the West Coast Version of Maynard & the Musties

Songwriter Joe Maynard has the luxury of two bands to choose from, one in his Brooklyn hometown and one in the somewhat unlikely location of Orcas Island, Washington. Both bands are called the Musties (his gig when not playing music is dealing in rare books). Booker T. & the MG’s had a similar deal back in the 60s: Booker T. Jones led one outfit, and Isaac Hayes led an entirely different band: apparently nobody noticed that there were two versions of Booker T & the MG’s touring at the same time. However, there is only one Joe Maynard, a crooner with a deviously lyrical wit. His latest album is titled West, a hint as to which band is involved this time out. Orignally from Nashville, Maynard got his start playing snide, often funny-as-hell country songs inspired by the classics he grew up with, but in recent years he’s taken some rewarding detours into Americana-flavored rock. This album has some of both and it’s available at his Bandcamp page as a name-your-price download.

The first track, Big News, I’m Cryin’ has a western swing vibe fueled by Bruce Harvie’s sideswiping slide guitar. Melody Funk (that’s her real name) on bass and Andrew Moore on drums round out the band, Maynard likening his sad narrator to a frog that’s done jumping to the point where he’s passed out on the floor. Yikes!

The next two songs share a mysterious, hypnotic swaying vibe. Tin of Tea is an enigmatic account of a damaged woman who may or may not have killed her man: Maynard keeps you guessing. Killer Inside is considerably darker, Maynard’s vocals running through what sounds like a Leslie speaker for a creepy, watery effect, Harvie adding a long, slinky slide guitar solo. The last track is an unexpectedly gentle acoustic waltz spiked with Harvie’s mandolin. Maynard was a Lakeside Lounge act for quite some time but since that venue closed he often plays Hank’s and Rodeo Bar with his excellent New York band featurning the brilliant Naa Koshie Mills on violin; watch this space for upcoming show dates.

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In Memoriam – Dylan Willemsa

Dylan Willemsa, who distinguished himself as one of New York’s most individualistic and virtuosic violists, died last week in San Francisco. He’d moved there shortly after the group in which he arguably did his most memorable work, Dimestore Dance Band – guitarist Jack Martin’s brilliantly eclectic jazz/ragtime/latin noir instrumental ensemble – went on hiatus. According to police reports, the cause of death was suicide.

A native of Pennsylvania, Willemsa came to New York in the 90s and soon joined Nina Nastasia’s band. He played on several of her albums, including her iconic debut, Dogs, and her lush, sweeping post-9/11 release, The Blackened Air. He also played and recorded with numerous other artists, from art-rockers Firewater to clarinetist Patrick Holmes. In the mid-zeros, Willemsa was a familiar and comforting presence for months on end, busking at night on the Brooklyn-bound platform at the First Avenue L train station. His signature style – a whirling, pyrotechnic blend of Balkan, jazz and classical music – won him many admirers among his fellow musicians in the Lower East Side underground scene and made him constantly in demand.

A gentle, fragile soul, Willemsa sometimes struggled outside of music. A broken engagement and then a fractured marriage no doubt factored in a downward spiral that saw him give up playing music entirely. With Martin recently regrouping the Dimestore project, one can only imagine how much fun it could have been if Willemsa, always the band’s not-so-secret weapon, had returned. Deepest condolences to his family, friends and many bandmates.

A First-Class Americana Roots Triplebill at the Bell House

Jan Bell is not only one of the most distinctly individual voices in Americana music, she’s also an impresario. In addition to her regular Saturday night music series at 68 Jay Street Bar, she books the occasional show at larger venues. Last night at the Bell House featured both the past and future of roots music, from the most rustic, purist oldtime sounds to the avant garde.

When the opening act gets more time onstage than anyone else on the bill, that’s usually a bad omen, but in case of Jackson Lynch and Eli Smith from the Downhill Strugglers, the effect was the opposite: they could have kept going for twice as long and nobody would have wanted them to leave. This oldtime music collective, with their rotating cast of characters, are a time machine: their mission seems to be to go looking for the raw and the intense in rural music from the 1920s and sometimes before then, and bring it back to life. They two switched guitars and fiddles and a banjo in and out and sang on everything except for a stomping, high-energy reel. The word “hallelujah” figured prominently early in the set; as it went on, country blues took centerstage. Over and over again, without mentioning it once, the two drove home the point that most of this music was made for dancing. That, and that all the cross-pollination between black blues and white country was clearing the path for the rock music that would follow in decades to come.

Bell is the rare singer who’s better live than she is in the studio – notwithstanding her glistening, detailed, nuanced vocals on her best and most recent album, Dream of the Miner’s Child. This time out she was joined in exquisitely lush four-part harmonies by bassist Tina Lama, fiddler Rima Fand, banjo player Katy Stone and M Shanghai String Band’s multi-talented Philippa Thompson on mandolin, fiddle, spoons and musial saw. Yorkshire-raised, Brooklyn-based, Bell’s take on Americana has a distinctive British folk flavor: it isn’t hard to imagine how easily she would have blended into a crowd of immigrant miners and their kin dancing around the bonfire somewhere in the Appalachians, 150 years ago. She sees herself as a link in a chain, adding her own blend of vulnerability and indomitability to material that’s been handed down through the ages – as in Trixie Smith’s Mining Camp Blues, a 1920 song that Bell picked up via Alice Gerrard’s version (Gerrard is featured in a duet of that song on Bell’s album).

Maybe because she’s an emigre, departure is a recurrent theme in Bell’s music, often an uneasy and poignant one. Gracefully and plaintively, she led the group through Jean Ritchie’s grim The L and N Don’t Stop Here Anymore and Darrell Scott’s grimmer You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive, then mined the sadness in Loretta Lynn’s Blue Kentucky Girl. A brisk minor-key shufffle made room for a bristling solo from Lama and an acrobatically perfect one on the spoons by Thompson, which wowed the crowd. They wound up the set with a wistful waltz by Bell and then a chilling take of sometime Bell bandmate Karen Dahlstrom’s The Miner’s Bride, a cruelly matter-of-fact account of a mail-order marriage in the old west.

The Wiyos have always had a carnivalesque side, but lately the carnival has gotten a lot darker, in the wake of the band’s recent turn into psychedelic rock with last year’s Wizard of Oz-inspired Twist album. Though they barely got any time onstage, they made the most of it, maxing out the menace with an ominous, atmospheric introduction and then a bitingly jaunty minor-key swing tune. The addition of electric piano to the band is genius, freeing up the guitar to handle more leads and add to the trippy, time-warping surrealism. Frontman Michael Farkas brought his sardonically goodnatured energy and deadpan humor over the irrepressible oldtimey pulse of the band, happily bolstered by both bass and drums this time out. In their Oz world, the Tin Man is a stoner – as a shout-out, the band gave a him an unexpectedly menacing, noirish tango that reminded of Jack Grace’s recent, darker material. A little later, they did much the same in addressing the student loan crisis. As one of New York’s first (and arguably most popular) oldtimey bands, they’ve always had great chops and live shows; it’s just a much fun to see them branching out into new territory. And it was a great bill overall: to see this many first-class Americana roots acts usually requires at least a couple of trips to 68 Jay or the Jalopy.

A Killer Free Download From Drina Seay

New York songwriter and bandleader Drina Seay seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the great voices in pretty much every style of Americana music. For her, Americana means jazz and soul music in addition to country and blues. Her blend of all these vocal styles is one of the things that distinguishes her; the other is her songwriting, which draws equally powerfully on all of those genres as well. For the moment, she has an intriguing ep of original songs available for free download at her site. The lineup here features her on acousttic guitar along with Homeboy Steve Antonakos doing his usual virtuoso job, this time on both acoustic and electric, backed by Skip Ward’s terse bass.

The first song, Don’t Keep Me Waiting Too Long works off a catchy rustic fingerpicked bluegrass riff, Seay”s voice alternately stern and alluring, Antonakos firing off a sizzling solo. It wouldn’t be out of place in the Mary Lee Kortes songbook. The second cut, a big, torchy concert favorite, is Chase My Blues Away. Seay’s lurid, aching, reverbtoned vocals have a Neko Case menace matched by Antonakos’ blue-flame slide guitar: it’s one of the best songs written by anybody in this town in recent years. The last track, Whatcha Gonna Do, brings back Seay’s blend of bluegrass and classic pop chops. Watch this space for future show dates.

The Del-Lords’ First Album in 23 Years Picks Up Like They Never Stopped

In the case where a band releases their first album in 23 years, it’s typically either a reissue, a grab-bag of rarities or a half-baked attempt to revisit the group’s glory years, assuming they had any.  In the case of the Del-Lords, had they never made their new album Elvis Club- their first since 1990’s Lovers Who Wander- their place in rock history would be secure. They came up as a fiery highway rock band with deep roots in Americana, in an era when theose roots were being rediscovered and a four-star review in Rolling Stone actually helped a band sell records. If it’s possible to say that a band had a huge cult following, the Del-Lords had one. Their live performances are legendary, including a series of 1987 New York shows where they opened for Lou Reed and his band and blew them off the stage. The new album  – as well as two albums’ worth of rarities and esoterica – is streaming at the Del-Lords Bandcamp page. Much as it might sound extreme to declare it the ballsiest Del-Lords album ever, it just might be. The band is playing the album release show on June 27 at 9 PM at Bowery Electric with excellent female-fronted Americana punk rockers Spanking Charlene opening the night at 8; advance tickets are still available as of today but won’t last much longer.

The irony is that this probably wouldn’t have happened had a promoter not contacted them in 2010 and persuaded them into doing a brief Spanish tour. The quartet – guitarists Scott Kempner and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, bassist Manny Caiati and drummer Frank Funaro – reunited, played a handful of reunion gigs at the now-shuttered Lakeside Lounge to warm up for the tour (under the pseudonym the Elvis Club, which explains the album title), and decided, what the hell, let’s pull some new songs together. It’s a good thing they did. Kempner’s tunesmithing is as strong as ever and as it turns out both he and Ambel have never sung better. The songs run the gamut from anthemic Willie Nile-ish janglerock to fiery riff-rock to various rootsy styles, with a choice Neil Young cover to cap it off.

The music is a rich blend of jangle, twang, clang and roar. Layers of guitar get tweaked artfully for just the right tinge of reverb or distortion or tremolo; the playing is terse and powerful. This time around, Ambel handles all the leads except one; almost all of them go on for no more than a couple of bars. He always leaves you wanting more. He also produced the album with his usual purist touch (the inside cd cover shot is an early morning view of the East River from inside Ambel’s Cowbow Technical Services studio, home to scores of great albums in the years since the Del-Lords first disbanded). That has a lot to do with why it sounds as good as it does: strong as the band’s albums from the 80s were, there’s a distinct 80s feel to them, while this one sounds timeless. The rest of the band is as strong as they were 23 years ago, in the case of Kempner maybe stronger. This time out, Caiaiti wasn’t available, so a rotating cast of bassists including Ambel’s Yayhoos bandmate Keith Christopher, Jason Mercer, Steve Almaas and new fulltime member Michael DuClos share the four-string chair.

The opening track, When the Drugs Kick In sets the stage for what’s to come with its wickedly catchy four-chord hook and beefed-up janglerock vibe. The second track, Princess might be the strongest one: the beat is deceptively funky, the reverb-fueled minor-key riffage burns and slashes, with a couple of searing Ambel solos fueled by resonant chords and nonchalantly savage tremolo-picking. The sardonic Chicks, Man is one of those classic one-chord songs (give it a listen, it’s true), while Flying works some vintage Memphis licks into a gorgeous, midtempo anthem in the same vein as Kempner’s classic Forever Came Today (from the 1986 Roscoe’s Gang album), with a sudden, explosive crescendo midway through.

Fueled by more of that soul guitar, All of My Life is a casually celebratory ballad from the point of view of a survivor who never expected to get as far as he has, Rob Arthur’s lush Hammond organ picking it up out of a thoughtful Ambel solo. Everyday – co-written with early rock legend Dion DiMucci – is the closest thing to  Willie Nile here. Ambel takes over the vocals on Me & the Lord Blues, an evil, slinky, slow-burning tune that builds to a sunbaked Ron Asheton-like wah guitar solo.

The low-key but catchy Letter (Unmailed) sways along with a hint of Tex-Mex and a subtle reference to the Church, followed by You Can Make a Mistake One Time, which has the feel of an oldtime chain gang song set to raw, electric rock, Ambel getting a rare opportunty to cut loose for more than a couple of bars and making the most of it, Funaro’s snare drum like a sniper in the dark.

Silverlake evokes Steve Wynn with Kempner’s  brooding lyric – “It’s just a matter of trying, it’s just a matter of crying, it’s just a matter of lying to yourself” – and forceful, jangly tune. The album winds up with a take of Neil Young’s Southern Pacific – the best song from the 1981 Reactor album – which turns out to be a lot more sonically diverse than the original while maintaining an angry mood all the way through. Considering that it’s told from the point of view of a guy who worked his whole life only to get laid off, it’s an apt way to wind up an album released in these new depression days. It’s inspiring to see a bunch of guys who’ve been going as long as these guys have continuing to put out music that’s as vital and entertaining as what they were doing almost three decades ago.

Catchy, Haunting, Artsy Rock from the Whispering Tree

Nostalgic childhood memories – and songs about them – can never be trusted. As Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz once pointedly asked, who would ever want to be young again? Find someone who claims to have been happy as a kid and chances are they’re A) lying, B) extremely lucky, C) brain-dead, or D) any combination thereof. Dark New York folk-rock band the Whispering Tree’s first album Go Call the Captain worked a gothic Americana vein; their new album The Escape reflects on growing up over a backdrop of artsy new wave-influenced rock. On all but one of the songs, frontwoman/pianist Eleanor Kleiner’s lyrics take the cynical, gloomy view that just about anywhere would be better than here. Her cool, confident, resonant voice sails over terse, elegantly swaying guitar and piano, fueled by longing and angst.

The opening track, Where Have You Gone is addressed to a missing person who could either be on the lam or not – which amps up the mystery. When it comes time for a big solo, it’s on a synthesizer, a brave and surprisingly effective touch. The second track, Remember Waiting starts quiet and pensive and then goes doublespeed with an anxious new wave pulse. Kleiner paints a vivid portrait of an alienated school kid: “All the other players in the picture standing on the periphery and the space between what I am and what I’m not, the big thick line is getting thinner and I remember waiting…for something to get me out of here.”

No Love works a swinging noir cabaret vein: it’s not clear whether it’s an escape anthem or a suicide song. Better Off implores someone to get out while they can: “There is no home for you here, better off leaving – just some dusty bones and an ancient wound that won’t stop bleeding.” The album ends surprisingly with Pink House, a wistful memory of days when “we played outside until the sun lay low and the shadows grew and there was nothing  holding us down.” Implying, maybe, that a child’s imagination gets crushed by everything that comes after. Which makes this album so potentially appealing to just about everybody. There’s also a cover of a famous showtune here that has so much ugly baggage that even the great Dave Brubeck couldn’t rescue it. The Whispering Tree kick off their southern tour in just a couple of days on June 18; the whole schedule is here.

Tammy Faye Starlite Plays Nico to the Hilt in Chelsea Madchen

Tammy Faye Starlite’s chillingly evocative musical portrait, Nico: Chelsea Madchen has two more nights to run, June 17 and 24 at the opulently renovated Cutting Room  (44 E 32nd St. just west of Park Ave.) at 8 PM. Tickets for both nights are still available as of today, June 14. This past Monday’s performance was as hauntingly sad as it was hilarious, illuminating the life of the iconic gothic songstress against a pitch black backdrop, both literally and figuratively. Much as Tammy Faye Starlite is best known for her searingly funny, spot-on political humor, she’s also had a lot of fun over the past few years leading snarky cover bands playing the Rolling Stones, Blondie and the New York Dolls. This revue is a step in a different direction, a distinctly tragicomic role that more than does justice to Nico in all her many guises: muse to scores of musicians and filmmakers, pop singer, darling of the avant garde, goth icon, hardcore junkie and existentialist.

Tammy has Nico’s voice down so cold it’s scary. That brittle little vibrato, the wide-angle vowels and inescapable German accent are so perfect that, listening back to a recording of this week’s show, it’s as if Nico had risen from the grave. In a more or less chronological narrative whose doomed foreshadowing never relents, the story and the songs trace the grim, self-defeating path that led her there  A fascinating mix of both obvious and obscure material from throughout Nico’s career gets a surprisingly lively interpretation from a first-class art-rock band: Dave Dunton on piano, Rich Feridun on guitar, Keith Hartel on bass and acoustic guitar, Craig Hoek on sax, flute and trumpet, Ron Metz on drums and Tammy on harmonium. In between songs, Jeff Ward plays the role of a befuddled Australian dj trying to keep an interview – clearly set in Nico’s later years – on the rails.

Tammy has the research down just as much as the accent. Via dialogue constructed from actual Nico interviews and conversations, along with some deliciously ribald improv, a little audience-baiting and a fourth wall waiting to be smashed to bits, Tammy creates a portrait that’s as stunning in its verisimilitude as its depth – and sordidness. One minute Nico is articulate and philosophical, the next she’s bashing Jews or fixated on an unseen adversary. The proto-feminist wishes she’d been born a man. For someone who time and time again perceives herself all alone in a hostile world, there always seems to be a guy lurking nearby. Gloom and doom notwithtanding, there’s a light flickering inside: this Nico is funny! Her putdowns of the men who ran through her life, from Dylan, to Iggy Pop, John Cale and Lou Reed among them, are hysterical: the latter is “a usurper of souls…like a cat.” All this and more makes her all the more tragic, the girl who had everything and ultimately wanted to be nothing.

Tammy’s wardrobe harks back to the early new wave/goth era Nico: many shades of black, scarf forlornly draping her shoulders, face ashen (although unlike her subject, Tammy does not mute her own natural beauty). While an air of apprehension lingers – Ward gamely if hopelessly trying to build a repartee with his subject – Tammy lets off steam with moments that seem to be completely off the cuff. This time out, one of them was an extended, rather violent Freudian interlude involving a flute.

And the music is lush and diverse and sensationally good. Some of the obvious choices – Femme Fatale, which opens the show; I’ll Be Your Mirror; Chelsea Girl; All Tomorrow’s Parties; These Days (featuring some nonchalantly brilliant guitar work from Hartel) and Frozen Borderline (performed solo on harmonium) stick close to the originals. Others take unexpectedly rewarding liberties. The End shifts not into raga-rock but a snidely funky interlude. Nico’s pre-Velvets single, a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s I’m Not Saying, has an almost alt-country feel. David Bowie’s Heroes is transformed into a roaring stadium rock anthem, My Funny Valentine into wrenchingly beautiful, elegaic chamber pop. The closing number, an unexpected treat. is so apt that it wouldn’t be fair to give it away here. Go see the show and find out for yourself, then leave, thrilled and haunted and wishing that Nico was still alive.

Karen Hudson’s Long-Awaited Sonic Bloom Finally Busts Out

With her edgy wit, elegant stage presence and a great band behind her, songwriter Karen Hudson has been a mainstay of the New York Americana scene since the early zeros. She’s playing the long-awaited release show for her new album Sonic Bloom tonight, June 13 at her usual hangout, Rodeo Bar at 7 PM sharp. Eric “Roscoe” Ambel – whose legendary Del-Lords have a killer new album, Elvis Club, out as well – produced it with his usual purist touch and played guitar on it. Hudson’s brilliant lead guitarist Homeboy Steve Antonakos, also of surf rockers the Byzan-Tones, zydeco crew the Dirty Water Dogs and Greek psychedelic revivalists Magges joins along with pedal steel player Skip Krevens, bassist and Steve Martin sideman Skip Ward, and Tom Curiano and Kenny Soule sharing drum duties.

“Kicking out some rock, making room for roots” is the opening line of the first track, Late Bloomer and pretty much describes this album. Over a steady backbeat and a tasty blend of twang and grit, Hudson reminds that “Just when your dead flowers have wilted in their vase, I’ll be blooming in your garden some sunny day.” Call Me is not the Blondie hit but a restlessly pulsing Laurel Canyon rock tune. Better Half of Me sets wry honkytonk wit and high lonesome pedal steel to a steady four-on-the-floor rock beat, while St. John’s Isle pays homage to the solidity of the man in Hudson’s life, who is “a rock in the middle of the ocean, while I swim in search of frivolous emotion.”

The best song on the album, Mama Was a Train Wreck looks back in shellshocked anger at dysfunctional family hell, reaching fever pitch with a smoldering Antonakos guitar solo. Better Days makes a good segue with its similarly slow-burning, minor-key angst: it’s sort of an imploring attempt to break through to someone like the monster in the previous song before the guy’s too far gone. A Woman Knows These Things offers some no-nonsense, vintage Tammy Wynette-style advice to a guy with a wandering eye, while Daydream looks at the other side of the equation via a regretful country ballad. Hudson sticks with the classic country on Dead Letter File, memorializing someone Hudson regarded as a beloved brother. The album winds up with the catchy, Byrdsy, janglerocking Beauty of the Now, co-written with Antonakos.

Throughout the album, Hudson’s matter-of-fact vocals carry the lyrics with passion, soul, and rich dynamics, from an insistent wail to a warm, caressing timbre: she’s never sung better. Who is the audience for this? Fans of acts as diverse as Miranda Lambert, Gram Parsons and Loretta Lynn in her prime…and for that matter, Loretta Lynn now.

Et Tu Bruce – A Tuneful Throwback to 90s British Rock

British band Et Tu Bruce are a throwback to an earlier era, when bands signed to big record labels, played stadiums and released videos that were shown on tv. Their wickedly catchy songs scream out to be blasted from the windows of cars rolling down the interstate (or the M4). If you miss those days, or the kind of music that was coming out of the UK about twenty years ago, you might want to head over to Subculture tonight, where the band kick off their American summer tour (opening for what’s left of the Zombies) with an intimate show at 9 PM. Tickets are an un-stadiumlike $12.

Their album is titled Suburban Sunshine (the band seem oblivious to the Sharon Goldman cult classic) The opening track,. Dress Me Up in Bruises is basically an Oasis ballad played doublespeed. It’s got all the elements that made that band familiar to if not exactly beloved by millions: dense layers of luscious electric guitar textures, an epically anthemic singalong quality and somewhat less attitude. They follow that with Memories Remain, a subdued, digitally retouched 60s psych-folk ballad in 6/8 time. This City picks up the pace again: it would be Oasis if that band had stolen their ideas from ELO rather than straight from the Beatles.

Never Seen You Cry has guitarists Jamie White and Matthew O’Toole setting Everlys-influenced harmonies over a staggered country backbeat propelled by the Bruce brothers’ rhythm section (Darryn on bass and Craig on drums). The best song on the album is the deliciusly jangly, artsy fast/midtempo anthem Miracle Crash. The Turning of the Screw looks back to the gentler side of the 90s and bands like Travis, while Stars Fall mucks around in the early 90s Cali mud (think Counting Crows but without the annoying vocals).

“I like myself better when I’m by myself,” White muses on I Keep Forgetting, in between judicious, terse soul guitar licks. The album winds up with It’s All Nothing, which sounds like Supergrass playing something from Odessey and Oracle. As consistently strong as this band’s tunes are, the lyrics go in the opposite direction; and whoever is struggling to keep those simple piano chords in time with the rest of this tight outfit could use a lesson or two…or at least a click track.

Oana Catalina Chitu Resurrects a Dark Romanian Icon

This year marks the centenary of Romanian singer Maria Tanase’s birth. Officially forgotten in her native land during the Ceaucescu regime, the overthrow of the dictatorship there led to renewed interest in her work, which was wildly popular from the late 30s through her death in 1963. With her dramatic alto delivery and flinty sense of irony, Tanase was sort of the Romanian Edith Piaf, although while Piaf sang mostly cabaret material, Tanase was best loved for her stagy, orchestrated versions of ancient folk songs. Now, singer Oana Catalina Chitu draws on a vibrant Berlin-based Romanian expat community to celebrate Tanase’s legacy with her new album Divine.

Like her inspiration, Chitu is a strong singer, although her interpretations are considerably more eclectic than their source material. Her superb all-acoustic band includes guitarist Alexej Wagner, accordionist Dejan Jovanovic, violinist Anton Slavici, cimbalom player Valeriu Cacaval, bassist Alexander Franz, drummer Philipp Bernhardt and alto saxophonist Vladimir Karparov.

The album opens with Trenule Masina Mica. which is sort of Tanase’s Mystery Train. Chitu’s version amps up the suspense as well as the energy with a bracing violin solo and then a mad dash to the end. Pâna Cand Nu Te Lubeam (Before I Fell in Love with You) takes the haunting, wounded intensity of the original even further into the depths before surrealistically swirling, plaintive sax and accordion solos. Likewise, the band gives extra edge and bite to Aseara Ti-am Luat Basma (Last Night I Bought You a Scarf), trading Tanase’s weepy strings for blistering sax and another sprint to the finish line.

The big, sweeping ballad Pe Vale (In the Valley) gets a richly dynamic treatment that stops short of grand guignol. Habar N-ai Tu (You Have No Idea) works a vindictively gorgeous noir cabaret vein. Tanase’s recording of Cine Iubeste Si Laasa – “the curse of all unfaithful souls,” as the liner notes put it – is absolutely bloodcurdling, gothic to the core; Chitu and band make an epic out of it, with a grinding, macabre accordion intro that’s twice as long as Tanase’s hit single.

Yet not everything here is about to jump off the rails. The sadistic lullaby Cantec de Leagan contrasts Chitu’s pillowy delivery with a grimly nocturnal backdrop – it’s a litany of all the monsters that mom’s going to protect you from, now good luck getting to sleep!  Lume Lume (World, World) gets an unexpectedly dreamy, jazzy guitar-and-voice arrangement, by contrast to the original’s stagy angst and sweep. Mi-am Pus Busuioc In Par (I Put Sweet Basil in My Hair) is even balmier than Tanase’s American-influenced ballad from the 1930s, at least until Wagner decides to mutilate his guitar strings. Daca Nu Te Cunosteam (If I Hadn’s Met You) sticks close to the Djangoesque original. And Lunca Lunca (Meadow Meadow), a Romanian cowboy song of sorts, gets some aptly droll electtric guitar. There’s also a rapidfire, violin-fueled version of the folk dance Tananica. All this makes a good introduction to a Romanian icon who enjoyed a worldwide following (she appeared at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing), as well as to an imaginative singer and her band who’ve taken on the task of carrying a weighty legacy and succeed mightily.