New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Month: August, 2013

An Overlooked Lorca-Inspired Art-Rock Treasure from Rima Fand

Much as this blog’s raison d’etre is to keep an eye on what’s happening now, the past is littered with unfairly overlooked albums. One recent one, from 2011, is Rima Fand’s Sol, Caracol (Spanish for “Sun, Snail”). It comprises many of the songs from her theatrical project Don Cristobal: Billy-Club Man, which sets Federico Garcia Lorca poetry to frequently haunting, flamenco-tinged original music. This is the closest thing to an original soundtrack recording that exists, part dark flamenco rock, part noir cabaret, part chamber pop. Besides playing violin, the Luminescent Orchestrii co-founder distinguishes herself on mandolin and keyboards as well, accompanied by an all-star cast from many styles of south-of-the-border and Balkan music.

Although Don Cristobal and his sidekick Rosita are a Spanish version of Punch and Judy, there’s very little here that’s vaudevillian, consistent with Garcia Lorca’s full-fledged rather than one-dimensionally farcical depiction of the characters. The opening track, Midnight Hours, sets a dramatic lead vocal by David Fand over a spiky blend of the bandleader’s mandolin with Avi Fox-Rosen and Chris Rael’s guitars, a soaring choir behind them. You might call this art-flamenco. Lucia Pulido sings the dynamically charged Replica, Rima Fand doubling on mandolin and accordion. Cicada, a shivery, hypnotically suspenseful string piece, blends her violin with those of Sarah Alden and Not Waving But Drowning’s Pinky Weitzman and Matt Moran‘s vibraphone.

Justine Williams
sings the creepy, marching Rosita’s Song. The choir returns for Don Woodsman-Heart, a moody flamenco vamp lit up by Quince Marcum‘s alto horn, morphing into a dreaming, longing waltz. Pulido takes over the mic again on the terse, minimalistic Confusion over My Brightest Diamond cellist Maria Jeffers‘ bassline. David Fand returns to imploring lead vocals on the insistent Abre Tu Balcon (Open Up Your Balcony – that’s Don Cristobal imploring Rosita to have a word with him). They follow that with a cartoonish miniature, Te Mate and then Hat-Ache, another flamenco-tinged, angst-fueled, love-stricken ballad.

The album’s centerpiece is the macabre, carnivalesque Billy-Club Ballet, the bandleader on piano with guitar and percussion, Fox-Rosen’s jagged electric incisions adding menace up to a twinkling piano interlude and then back down. They follow a brief mandolin waltz with La Monja Gitana (The Country Nun), rising from another austere 3/4 rhythm, with a rich, bittersweet vocal from Rima Fand.

Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker a.k.a. innovative Balkan/Appalachian duo AE sing the sweeping, tensely moonlit Lullaby for a Sleeping Mirror, building to a lush, anxious round. The album ends with the towering overture La Cogida y la Muerte, sung pensively in English and Spanish by Abigail Wright, the acidic close harmonies of the string section contrasting with Katie Down‘s anxiously dancing flute and the distantly circling trumpets of Ben Syversen, Sarah Ferholt, JR Hankins and Ben Holmes. Surreal, sad, eclectic and vivid, it more than does justice to Lorca’s equally surreal, sad, ironic poetry. The album comes with a useful lyric booklet including English translations.

Mostly Other People Do the Killing Massacre Decades of Hot Jazz

Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s latest release on their Hot Cup label, Red Hot, is the great lost Spike Jones instrumental album. It’s the New York band’s most cartoonish, and also most accessible album: punk jazz doesn’t get any better, or more caustically funny than this. Bassist/bandleader Moppa Elliott insists that this is the best thing the group has ever done, and he’s right. Over the past few years, MOPDtK have parodied everything from post-Ornette sounds to 70s and 80s elevator jazz. But with 20s hot jazz trending hard with the one-percenters, it became obvious that the time was right for the Spinal Tap of jazz to give this genre a vigorous twist to put it out of its misery. This is one sick record. This time out, the core of the band, including Elliott, drummer Kevin Shea, saxophonist Jon Irabagon and trumpeter Peter Evans is bolstered by bass trombone legend David Taylor, pianist Ron Stabinsky and banjo shredder Brandon Seabrook.

Underneath the incessant jokes, there’s a method to the madness. They bedevil each other with the uneven meters common in hot jazz. Seabrook adds an ever-present mosquito buzz as he tremolo-picks his strings, ad nauseum: even if you love the banjo, you will get sick of hearing from him. That’s part of the plan. Taylor, the first and probably only bass trombonist to ever play a solo show at Carnegie Hall, is in his eighth decade and has never tired of taking on a challenge, and fits in perfectly: he’s one of the funniest members of the cast.

As usual, most of the song titles refer to Pennsylvania towns. The Shickshinny Shimmy works a vaudevillian swing with droll comedic japes from the banjo and bass trombone,  morphing into a vaguely latin vamp and then back; a simplistic three-chord cliche gets in the way. Zelionople opens with a ridiculously long drum solo and then shuffles along with repeated breaks for tomfoolery every time the bass and drums drop out, a trope that repeats throughout the album with surprisingly interesting results. Taylor’s silly downsliding hands off to Evans, who disappears with a clam in his throat, then reappears as Irabagon shadows him with his tongue stuck out.

The title track,  a tongue-in-cheek march, goes doublespeed a la Spike Jones, Irabagon having a field day, mealymouthed and psyched to halfheartedly spoof dixieland along with the rest of the band. King of Prussia has a priceless ADD piano intro and solo from Stabinsky, spitball-in-waiting suspense from Seabrook and dorky acents from Evans. Turkey Foot Corner has Elliott imitating a tabla and introducing a barnyard scenario, Taylor aptly quoting a familar Wizard of Oz lick, Evans’ not-quite-there solo over Seabrook’s omnipresent deadpan woodpecker banjo.

Seabrook, Power, Plant explores the Romany influence on hot jazz, working its way down to a Nino Rota-on-acid bolero. Orange Is the Name of the Town jams out a faux sentimental waltz with weepy muted trumpet accents and a long interlude that Stabinsky slowly and hilariously unravels, lefthand and righthand oblivious to each other.

There are two more tracks. Gum Stump makes fun of blues cliches, Shea’s refusal to stay on track one of the album’s best jokes, Seabrook and Taylor muttering their disapproval. The last track, a hi-de-ho Cab Calloway shuffle, is a mess by the time they hit the second turnaround, Irabagon mealymouthing his first solo and practically regurgitating his second one, going out on a deadpan serious note. Don’t count on that next time around. The album comes complete with liner notes by “Leonardo Featheweight,” this time taking the story of a smoldering Pennsylvania ghost town to its logical conclusion.

The Snow’s Disaster Is Your Mistress: An Art-Rock Classic

While it might seem a little extreme to proclaim the Snow‘s latest album Disaster Is Your Mistress to be a classic, somebody has to do it: four or five times a year, albums this good make their way over the transom here. Full disclosure: this actually came out in 2012. A file was sent; the link didn’t work; the ball was dropped on this end and finally retrieved close to a year later. Things like that happen around here more often than you will ever know.

In the age where indie rock is usually recorded by cutting and pasting a simple verse and chorus so that the band (or, possibly, the producer) doesn’t have to play either more than once, the Snow still make songs that sound that seem like they were a joy rather than a chore to create. The Brooklyn art-rock band distinguish themselves for having not one but two brilliant songwriters in singer/keyboardist Hilary Downes and guitarist/singer/trumpeter Pierre de Gaillande. Downes’ songs tend to be torchier, crafted to fit her crystalline, Anita O’Day-esque jazz voice. Her co-bandleader’s songs tend to rock harder, sometimes with the dark garage-rock edge that his first New York band, Melomane (who are in dry dock now but once in awhile make an appearance onstage) were known for. Each songwriter’s lyrics have edge, and bite, and clever wordplay imbued with black humor.

The Snow’s arrangements and production on their previous two albums had a chamber pop elegance, but the new album is a throwback to the days of peak-era Pink Floyd – each song has an intricately arranged, symphonic sweep. No verse or chorus is ever exactly the same: guitar and keyboard voicings and effects change, depending on the lyrics, rising and falling with a sometimes epic grandeur. Most albums can be summed up in a couple of paragraphs, but there are so many interesting things going on in this one that it takes awhile to get to know, and it takes some time explaining, and it’s all worth it.

It opens with a brief, staccato, dancing string intro fueled by Sara Stalnaker’s cello and Karl Meyer’s violin. The first song is Downes’ Paper Raincoats, alternating between a stately, marching art-rock theme and a funkier groove:

Feed your disequilibrium
Until the planted seed is born
We’re wearing paper raincoats
In a season of storm
Are you on your way home?

she asks anxiously. De Gaillande’s simmering minor-key bolero Little Girl is hilarious, and vicious, and poignant as a portait of an annoyingly irresponsible Edie Sedgwick type. It starts out sympathetically and then gets brutal, with fuzztone guitar and some LMFAO snide vocoder. The album’s title track layers swirling, ELO-flavored psychedelics into a swaying, 6/8 anthem, Christian Bongers’ bass rising tensely as the chorus kicks in. It works on multiple levels: as a metaphor for simply leaving a bad situation behind, or for a nation at the edge of disaster.

Pomegranate is one of de Gaillande’s playful, droll, catchy numbers, evolution as a metaphor for guy hooking up with girl. “I guess we lose a lot of fluids when we finally make the climb,” he grins, drummer Jeff Schaefer pushing it with a purposeful new wave beat and then taking it down halfspeed to a quiet interlude lowlit by Downes’ coy vocalese. If the radio played songs this smart, this would be the album’s hit single.

Downes’ pensive chamber pop ballad Glass Door has a gentle, Moody Blues-ish woodwind chart – David Spinley on clarinet and Quentin Jennings on flute – and one of the album’s best lyrics:

Here you are a fugitive
On the chamber you depend
A little peace, a little shelter
And safety from buffetting winds
But smoke gets in, inside this sphere
And in this haze we live my dear
One warden’s custody you plead
For another form of slavery
Where are the rooms inside of you? 

Good Morning Cambodia takes a savage look at how the west looked the other way during Pol Pot’s genocidal regime, de Gaillande’s banjo eerily mimicking a koto as the verse scampers to the faux-cheery turnaround. It builds to an apprehensive backbeat Romany rock anthem fueled by Meyer’s sailing violin, and then a series of cruelly funny false endings.

Black and Blue builds from funky trip-hop spiced with Ken Thomson’s baritone sax and Downes’ come-on vocals and then winds down to a gorgeous art-rock chorus. Dirty Diamond is a subdued wee-hours duet, part countrypolitan, part noir cabaret, solace for anyone stuck on the corporate treadmill:

There’s a cruel character
And its cunning opposite
And they follow you around
As they watchy you step in shit
It’s a drag to run this race
With these strivers and their baggage 
You never seem to keep the pace
As they rip and run you ragged 

With its Cure references, the brief, brisk duet Reaching Back is the closest thing to Bushwick blog-rock here, soberingly weighing the pros and cons of keeping a tradition alive, be it familial or artistic.  The album ends with Stay Awake, a slowly swaying apprehensive folk-rock anthem a la the Strawbs, imploring a nameless, dissolute figure to clean up his or her act:

Push on the verge of the surging ocean
Missing the days of the sweet commotion past
You felt your way to the creeping notion
It’s a lie that will make devotion last
And the bosses lost their minds
And you might not have the line
And the dotted line that you signed
When you were flying was a lie

And you resigned

While de Gaillande has made his frequently hilarious, richly tuneful English-language Georges Brassens cover band his main focus lately, the Snow is still active. Here’s the itunes link.

It Takes a Lot of Nerve to Call Your Band 10 Foot Ganja Plant

Oldschool dub reggae connoisseurs 10 Foot Ganja Plant celebrate the release of their thirteenth album, Skycatcher, with a rare live show at the Sinclair in Boston on Sept 20. The band plans to have the record “in all good record stores” by Sept 24. One thing that distinguishes 10 Foot Ganja Plant from the other dub groups is that they encompass the entire world of classic dub, from the tail end of the rocksteady era through Lee “Scratch” Perry, on forward to King Tubby and then their own main group, John Brown’s Body. The other is the songwriting: the tracks here are all actual songs, not just two-chord vamps where everything drops down to just the bass, or the keyboard, or the drums…you know the drill. Unless you’re high, that stuff gets old fast. This draws you in and keeps you there all the way through, an eclectic mix of oldschool Jamaican riddims and riffs, instrumentals and vocal numbers.

The first two tracks set the stage: instead of doing the song and then the version, they open with the version and then follow with the fully fleshed-out song so you can see the whole thing coming together. It’s a cool idea. As with the best dub, it’s the little touches that keep it interesting: wisps of melodica, a rattle, reverby conga hits and even wah synth like in the old days of John Brown’s Body back in the 90s. Jay Champany, whose raspy voice has sung many of this group’s songs over the years, carries the song, which doesn’t neglect crafty little elements like the echoey snare riffage in the background, and a fat bass break.

The anthemic Collect the Trophy sounds like Harry Chapin Cat’s in the Cradle done as dub reggae – and is this about the Cannabis Cup? Like most of the tracks here, Sounding Zone is anchored by a wicked bass hook, set against a casual, emphatic sax vamp, punchy brass in and out against woozy synth. State of Man has JBB founder emeritus Kevin Kinsella’s falsetto channeling the Congo’s Cedric Myton all the way through. The title track makes a stark contrast with its ominous minor-key harmonica and distantly austere, spacious vibe, then gets fleshed out with Kinsella on the mic.

Champany sings the angry, biting, minor-key Hypocrites in Town , “a warning to all deceivers,” the full band nimbly weaving in and out. The poppiest track here, Sometimes We Play reminds of vintage Marley, circa Kaya – again, it’s the bass hook that drives it. Champany returns to take the album out on a high note on the lively rocksteady of Sing and Dance. As is this band’s custom, there are no musician credits: these guys like mystery, in the real world as well as the musical sense.

A Fish Out of Water at the Dan Band at Stage 48

It’s an unseasonably gorgeous Thursday night over by the water in Hell’s Kitchen. By 8 PM, the tables at swanky triplex venue Stage 48 are mostly full. There are two distinct, and separate crowds here to see the Dan Band: one young, loud, starstruck and very El Lay, the other older, beefy, New Jersey. Loud rock standards play over the PA. A gaggle of drunken Jersey tiara witches, screaming and whistling, totters on six-inch heels to the second level  The stage crew test the smoke machine: it’s working. By around twenty after eight, a club employee takes the stage and offers a couple of drink tickets as a prize for imitating the character Alan from the movie The Hangover. This is starting to feel more and more like spring break. On the other hand, who can blame the half-dozen sheepish contestants – drinks here are expensive.

The Dan Band take the stage about forty-five minutes late. The bassist kills his first beer before the show starts: he’ll be mostly inaudible throughout the set. The drummer keeps things simple; it becomes obvious that there’s a lot more music on the laptop manipulated by the guitarist. – who turns out to be a solid, eclectic rock player – than is being played by the band. But they’re not who the crowd came to see.

Frontman Dan Finnerty first achieved notoriety for his role as the pottymouth wedding singer in the film Old School, leading to similar roles in the Todd Phillips movies Starsky and Hutch and The Hangover (which explains the pre-show contest). He’s wearing a backwards baseball cap, baggy pants, sneakers, a gas station attendant shirt with “Dan” on the nametag and a blue t-shirt underneath. The hat stays on for the whole show. He’s flanked by a duo of backup singers dressed in identical dorky thick-frame glasses and matching brown suits: the two guys look as if they could be twins but as it turns out they’re not. They’re both good singers, and Finnerty isn’t bad himself. But he’s not there to hit the notes: he’s there to skewer a whole lot of cheeseball pop songs, most of them from the past decade or so.

They open with a recent top 40 medley, doing it completely straight-up, which isn’t funny at all. They sound like an awful Long Island wedding band. Then they launch into an Abba medley and start to have some fun. A lot of this band’s shtick is pretty obvious: the guys singing songs written for women, white men struggling with the ebonics of hip-hop, the stage moves and the gang signs. But they have their American Idol parody down cold: the phony, simpering energy, the ridiculous boy-band choreography, the equally ridiculous props. The music may be corporate putrid, but the esthetic is pure oldschool punk rock. Finnerty’s contempt for the schlocky tunes is surpassed only by his contempt for the audience. His standup shtick is oldschool, Don Rickles doing Vegas, going into the crowd and ragging on random customers. Two girls enjoying a night out are singled out as lesbians; Finnerty hits on women who’re clearly with other guys, steals a dollar bill off someone’s table and uses it as a sweatrag. Later in the set, a drunk girl wearing a hat festooned what appear to be two illuminated, red plastic penises arrives at the edge of the stage and becomes a favorite target.

What Finnerty likes to spoof most is “R&B,” i.e. corporate pop sung by black people or white people imitating a black accent. And he could actually pull it off if he wanted to, it seems. But the joke is that he’s phoning it in – he doesn’t even try to stay on key, pepppering the lyrics with random obscenities. The big faux-sensitive crescendos get a predictable but irresistibly amusing over-the-top treatment. The backup guys’ stage moves are just as over-the-top: are they making fun of top 40 music videos, maybe?

As the show goes on, it becomes clear that Finnerty is phoning in not only the vocals but the standup: by the time he’s been up there a half an hour, he’s pretty much given up on assaulting the audience. Half the time, he’s got a bewildered smirk on his face, as if to say, I can’t believe I’m doing this at all, let alone getting paid a little something for it. And the crowd loves it! They don’t seem to be in on the joke, that they could see the exact same thing for a lot less at a karaoke bar or a show by a high school cover band.

Finnerty brings the performance to a climax with arguably the ultimate cheeseball power ballad, Total Eclipse of the Heart and then a mashup of the theme songs from Flashdance and Fame. He saves his best and most graphically obscene gesture for the end – a water bottle is involved – and gets called back for a couple of encores. On one hand, this band’s basic jokes get old fast, and the music, from the hip-hop to the dance-pop and occasional elevator-music ballad, reminds how nauseatingly cliched corporate pop has become over the past twenty years: after awhile, all the songs literally sound the same, with the same mechanical beat and phony hip-hop bridge. On the other, you have to love a guy who’s been able to make some money satirizing something he detests to this extreme, along with the people who, if they don’t love Finnerty’s source material, are at least familiar with it to the point where they know some of the words. The Dan Band have a monthly residency at Stage 48 if you feel like sharing Finnerty’s contempt. Just don’t sit too close to the stage.

Lush, Pulsing Atmospherics from Eluvium

The recently released Nightmare Ending by Eluvium, a.k.a. Matthew Robert Cooper is completely mistitled – unless it means either “nightmare, ending,” or he’s being sarcastic. Built with a sometimes ornately intricate, sometimes disarmingly simple series of concentric loops, this lavishly atmospheric album creates a warmly enveloping ambience that reminds of Brian Eno, and Philip Glass at his catchiest. Alexander Berne’s magnificently nocturnal Echoes of Mime, Death of Memes also comes to mind.

A slow, pulsing echo prevades most of the fourteen tracks here, most of them clocking in at six minutes or more. All but the final cut are instrumentals. Segues and fades in both directions, up and down, abound. Tempos are slow to glacial. With the exception of the album’s single upbeat interlude, the central rhythm is like waves on a tide, implied rather than centered on a beat, sometimes surrounded by a thicket of gentle alternate rhythms, sometimes simply drifting. Thick, nebulous sheets of sound contrast with tersely emphatic phrases played on piano, tinkling electric piano, austerely swelling organ, an endless series of synthesizer patches and possibly guitar. The complete sonic picture is so densely processed that it’s hard to figure out what’s what. The hypnotic effect is so strong that it creates an audio vortex that, depending on your attention span, either has you raptly watching the slideshow as it glides by, or sends you blissfully lost out into the swirl.

There’s some hide-and-seek going on here, too: Cooper has a dry sense of humor, hiding several new wave pop melodies in the slowly revolving cloud. Stately baroque phrases get methodically disassembled and are also sent into space to slowly spin and refract glints and shadows of themselves back into the mix. With an oceanic majesty, several of the tracks rise to an epically orchestral peak and then gracefully descend to peaceful lullaby ambience. There are also a small handful of simple, disarmingly direct piano miniatures here, two of them gentle, stately waltzes, a third which introduces an unexpected plaintiveness. Their childlike simplicity only enhances the contrast with the kaleidoscope around them.

Jail Weddings’ Upcoming Album with the Impossibly Long Title Is Amazing

Jail Weddings do creepy noir bolero rock better than just about anybody. They also do it a lot differently, and more energetically, rising to a towering, Spectoresque splendor. As noir music goes, their new album Meltdown: A Declaration of Unpopular Emotion is luridly delicious. Frontman/guitarist Gabriel Hart has one of those shambling, stumbling Pete Doherty/Shane MacGowan deliveries, and also looks straight back to Nick Cave in places. But his songs draw on a vast range of influences from paisley underground psychedelia to the Balkans to circus rock. The album follows the trail of a relationship that’s doomed from the start: he’s obsessive and she’s increasingly disgusted by it, a dynamic that both Hart and frontwoman Jada Wagensomer work for as much black humor as raw angst.

The opening track, There Is a Distance sets the stage – it’s the most Cave-ish of the tracks. “It’s not the radiation that makes our hair fall out/It’s the deeper question we just won’t talk about,” Hart laments. May Today Be Merciful sounds like Steve Wynn, or Cave covering the Byrds, right down to the twelve-string guitar. The blend of voices between Wagensomer, Marianne Stewart and Kristina Benson is lush and otherworldly, with tinges of Bulgarian melody. Angel of Sleep is the first of the majestic bolero rockers, rising from a cynical girlie vocal choir to a series of mammoth crescendos with Hannah Blumenfeld’s strings and Marty Sataman’s organ going full blast with the guitars.

Why Is It So Hard to Be Good kicks off with a somber piano riff over Michael Shelbourn’s Atrocity Exhibition ish drums and then goes swinging, a tense mariachi rock tune, like Cave (yeah, him again) doing a late 60s Grass Roots hit. Summer Fades is one of the strongest tracks, a wickedly catchy, brooding folk-rock nuumber with a Watching the Detectives guitar break and a death obsession:

Who’ll be the first to admit
How cold we all look wearing shades?
Was every hole we dug in the sand
A secret demand for a shallow grave…
The gutter empties into the ocean
Summer fades

Wagensomer sings the bluesy noir anthem A Promise, rising to a breathtaking wail through a series of dramatic modulations fueled by Morgan Hart Delaney’s soaring bass and Sataman’s creepy piano. A wickedly cool Bulgarian vocal arrangement opens It’s Not Fair, which works its way from ba-bump cabaret to a phantasmagorically epic anthem. Do You Ever Get Tired of Keeping the Faith takes a a paisley underground anthem and enhances it with gothic art-rock piano and Celtic strings. “Can you see me on the tower with my artillery?Picking off those phony rebels, to infinity?” Hart demands.

You Are Never Going to Find Me is the girl’s response to the guy’s over-the-top ridiculousness, set to a lively, lushly arranged Irish ballad tune. Lyrically speaking, the creepiest and most cringe-inducing song here is Father’s Eyes, a lavish Nashville gothic-tinged account of a guy who hooks up with a girl who’s been raped by her father – and likes to relive the experience. It seems like a diversion from the plotline but it might not be.

The story comes into close focus with Obsession, which opens with a gospel sway and rises to another ba-bump, Spectoresque crescendo, twinkling electric piano mingling with spacy reverb guitar washes and austere violin. Party Girl works the same beat to a big, beefed-up bolero and lots of drama. The sarcastic Dead Celebrity Party goofs on trendoid namedropping over Sweet Jane riffage. Ending the album on predictably downcast note, Don’t Invite Me to Your Party brings to mind Spottiswoode at his most ornate, opening with somber solo piano and vocals, building to a Fairytale of New York-style duet between Hart and Wagensomer: “Just like the stars, we never come down til we burn out,” the two intone with a dead-cold glee. There are so many cool instrumental touches here that it would take pages to list them all: this is an album that takes days to get to know, and the better you know it, the better it sounds. It’s one of the best of 2013.

Avi Fox-Rosen Keeps His Album-a-Month Streak Alive

Avi Fox-Rosen‘s marathon attempt to put out a new album every month isn’t just a stunt: it’s actually produced some of the year’s best music. And it’s been hard to keep up with him. Blink, and he’s got another one up at his Bandcamp page, where they’re all available as name-your-price downloads. Fox-Rosen’s signature traits are humor and good guitar, and often the point where those two intersect: he is unsurpassed as a musical satirist, sort of a ballsier, Brooklyn counterpart to Weird Al Yankovic. Throughout the series, Fox-Rosen plays most of the stringed instruments, with a rotating cast of drummers, keyboardists, occasional strings, horns and harmony singers. As a rule, these songs are catchy, they’ve got intricate, elegant arrangements and sound like real records, not haphazard takes recorded on somebody’s phone. Each album in the series has a theme – in chronological order: getting older, love, money, stupidity (April’s album, the best of the bunch so far), fairy tales and teen angst. Fittingly, July’s theme was nationalism: its title is Amurka.

The opening track, Proud to Be American is bombastic post-Chuck Berry bar band rock set to drummer Chis Berry’s scurrying new wave beat. “Every playground needs a bully, say, why not you and me?” Fox-Rosen inquires. Open Letter to Thomas Jefferson has a snarkily laid-back dixieland brass section of Ben Holmes on trumpet, Ric Becker on trombone and Matt Darriau on reeds. It’s hilarious both as a spoof of the new crop of oldtimey swing bands, and as a swipe upside the head of American exceptionalists who won’t cop to the Founding Fathers’ blind spots.

Movin’ to the Country has more brass and a laid-back 70s hippie-rock Rhodes piano groove – and a caustic lyric that ponders “how will we stay alive surrounded by the rotting remains of what we thought would last” when the best we can do is head for the hills and bury our heads in the sand. The most caustic and darkly funny track here is Doctor: over gentle, pretty folk-rock spiced with Darriau’s calm bass clarinet and Holmes’ bright trumpet, Fox-Rosen coldly sums up the failures of the medical-industrial complex. It’s one of the two or three best songs of this whole series. As is the last track, President Sly (it’s a pun – say it fast). Faux southern rock gives way to a catchy electric piano ballad that sneakily goes into lite FM territory as Fox-Rosen gets the politicians in his crosshairs:

Left, right
Theatrically staged fights
Diversions from the real task of the day
Jobs, wars, education’s closing doors
The corporate masters make the puppets sway
It’s a performance, just some entertainment
To keep us on our knees
It seems to be working, there’ll be no revolution…

If you think that Fox-Rosen might want a break at this point, you’re right. The August installment suggests comic relief in the form of sex songs. This is his only covers album so far and unfortunately it doesn’t live up to the rest of the pack. Sex joints can be funny and even more fun to spoof, but once you’ve heard Biggie Smalls do Fucking You Tonight, nothing else really compares. This one opens with a Spike Jones-inspired version of the old swing tune Let’s Misbehave and then stalls: you keep waiting for the jokes, but there aren’t any. And if you’ve followed the series, the fact that Fox-Rosen is just as adept at period-perfect early 80s disco as he is at early 60s doo-wop pop is old news. Bookmark his Bandcamp page and check back next month to see what else he has up his sleeve.

A Soulful Coda for This Year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival

This year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival has been one of the best ever, and the past few years have set a high standard. Sunday’s concluding show was Americana roots music, an annual tradition that goes back decades. The evening began with the impassioned, intense New York debut by a-cappella gospel trio the Como Mamas. If you were there, that was Ester Mae Smith with her raw but minutely nuanced, gravelly alto stage right, chirpy mezzo-soprano Della Daniels in the center and her sister, Angela Taylor, with her full, ripe, modulated alto to her left. The three women make Como, Mississippi’s Mt. Mariah Church their musical home, where their most recent Daptone album was recorded.

Their style of gospel has deep roots that sprang up here but ultimately look back to Africa: fans of Malian desert rock might be surprised to hear melodies much the same coming from these voices, and vice versa. It signifies like mad and transcends any specific Christian meaning – although the trio made clear that they were there to uplift and leave their very personal message of dedication to their Savior. The Como Mamas sing this raw, hypnotically vamping music as the leaders of a community sing rather than a concert, and they got plenty of clapping and a little singing out of the crowd. Smith led the group most of the time through labyrinthine polyrhythms punctuated by joyous shouts, poinpoint harmony and counterpoint as sophisticated as any classical composition. The subtext was crushing, especially in I Knew It Was the Blood, where the Crucifixion is depicted as the lynching that it truly was. Several of the other songs worked just as well in a secular context: the good God in this music is a standin for a man who isn’t cruel – or isn’t about to be sold off, or killed. Each of the group has her own distinctive style: Smith with the occasional rapidfire melisma, delivered with the same spine-tingling inflections every time; Daniels with her split-second, staccato timing and Taylor with her sometimes imploring, sometimes comforting resonance. They put to shame anyone who might get their idea of how to sing gospel from American Idol.

Motown co-writers Eddie and Brian Holland were next on the bill, along with a longtime piano sideman from their Detroit studio who backed them on brief excerpts from their Sixties pop classics when they weren’t being interviewed by the producer of a Motown-flavored musical. Tunesmith/sound engineer Brian kept very quiet, but his singer brother was game to fondly and wryly recall some of the events surrounding the songs. There wasn’t a lot of insight shed into how they were made, underscored by the fact that wordsmithing was never the Holland/Dozier/Holland brain trust’s strong suit. Eddie Holland seemed most proud of how New York producers, with their big multitrack studios, began to imitate the sound that he and the legendary Funk Brothers band created in a cramped Detroit garage basement.

Allen Toussaint, who has a new album recorded during his solo residency at Joe’s Pub last year due out from Rounder this fall, was next, playing elegant, rippling solo piano and sounding much younger than his 74 years. His glistening chords give away his classical inclinations; as a connoisseur of New Orleans piano, there’s no one more knowledgeable. When Henry Butler came on to vamp through a single cameo while Toussaint hurled Mardi Gras regalia into the crowd (including a football, which Toussaint sent on an impressive thirty-yard spiral), it was anticlimactic. Toussaint opened with There’s a Party Going On , entertained the crowd with bouncy versions of Yes We Can Can and Sneaking Sally Through the Alley along with a long medley of early 60s soul-pop hits. He showed off a dry, insightful wit with a tongue-in-cheek yuppie travelogue possibly titled Whatever Happened to Rock n Roll as well as a droll tribute to New York. He brought his hits What Do You Want the Girl to Do and Southern Nights back to their roots, with purist blues chops and lingering, summery, Debussy-esque atmospherics that had nothing to do with the Glenn Campbell mallstore radio hit. After a long romp that made boogie-woogie out of classical themes, Toussaint invited the crowd to join him on a singalong of Arlo Guthrie’s City of New Orleans: “C’mon,” he grinned, “All white folks know this one.” By now, it was past nine, headliner Bobby Rush was nowhere in sight and the storm clouds loomed closer and closer – and much as it would have been fun to stick around for the whole show, having spent the previous two nights in the park here, it was time to beat the rain. What an amazing three weeks it’s been out back in Damrosch Park!

The Lost Patrol Haunts Otto’s

The Lost Patrol headlined this month’s Saturday night surf rock shindig at Otto’s. Part of the set was sort of a mashup of the Cocteau Twins and the Ventures in their most deep-space moments, other times they were the ultimate Lynchian noir Nashville band. On record, their frontwoman Mollie Israel gives the songs an otherworldly allure; on stage, she is the ultimate Lynch girl. Watching her was surreal: between songs, she was unexpectedly down-to-earth, bantering with the crowd, but when the songs began she went into character and never left, a lithely electric, black-clad presence whose charisma was visceral. Having seen both Neko Case and Eilen Jewell recently, Israel is just as compelling, maybe more so, doomed and dangerous yet strangely vulnerable.

The band took a long time to set up: if they’d wanted to be pretentious, they could have called their set “electroacoustic,” the singer and her two guitarists playing to a backing track with bass, drums and occasional keyboards. This didn’t bode well, but they transcended the challenge of having to perform without any useful interaction from whoever had originally played the stuff in the can (it was probably them). They did their earlier material first, some of which reminded of the Church back around the time of the Blurred Crusade album, then one song sounding like Rebel Rebel slowed down and moved forward into the 4AD Records era. Lead guitarist Stephen Masucci’s casually expert, minutely nuanced blend of elegant reverb lines, crescendoing tremolo-picking and eerily resounding, bending chords blended with twelve-string acoustic guitarist Michael Williams’ lustrous jangle, which unfortunately was too low in the mix. But this was Otto’s, where the sound is going to be hit-and-miss and at least Israel’s voice was audible.

All Tomorrow’s Promises blended ethereal dreampop resonance into a sad but purposeful anthem, again much like the Church. Spinning, the first track on the band’s excellent new album, Driven, had the a catchy, bracing, late-winter jangle that reminded of Liza & the WonderWheels. Israel’s best vocals of the night might have been her wordless ones on the late-night highway theme There & Back. She said that her favorite song on the new album is See You in Hell, which takes a familiar dark garage rock riff and uses it in all kinds of original and interesting ways. And then she sang the hell out of it, bright and clear as a bell but irreparably wounded at the same time. They encored with a brightly surreal, gently reverberating cover of the haunting Ginny Millay country ballad Jukebox on the Moon, winding up the night on a perfectly Lynchian note, sad and completely alone, perfectly capsulizing what this band is all about. This show was an increasingly rare treat: although their songs are regularly featured in film and on tv, they don’t play around or tour as much as they used to. Catch them next at Bowery Electric on Sept 12.