New York Music Daily

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Month: November, 2013

Macabre, Menacing, Purposeful Female-Fronted Metal from Black Moth

Black Moth‘s new album The Killing Jar is the rare metal record with hardly any guitar solos. It’s also the rare metal album that doesn’t have some cheesy or buffoonish element. Nick Cave percussionist Jim Sclavunos’ production surrounds the band’s diabolically catchy post-Sabbath riffage with echoey, atmospheric sonics that enhance the songs’ relentless chromatic menace. The rhythm section has plutonium weight, Dave Vachon’s downtuned bass paired with Dom McCready’s lead-bullet drums that hold the beast to the rails without cluttering the songs. Likewise, frontwoman Harriet Bevan sings with a direct, clear delivery that’s all the more disturbingly believable because she stays within herself instead of getting all cartoonish like so many other metal singers. The songs here are relatively short, maintaining a macabre mood rather than shooting for epic length, the longest one clocking in at just over five minutes.

There actually are a few genuine guitar solos on this album: a twin solo between axemeisters Jim Swainston and Nico Carew on the catchy, unexpectedly lighthearted opening track, The Articulate Dead that goes in a bluesmetal direction, and and a deliciously noisy, all too brief bit of chord-chopping on the way out of Land of the Sky, which takes an oldschool stoner groove and gives it a kick in the ass.

“Feel your body run through the trees and then you’ll get your release,” Bevan intones coldly over the bludgeoning, apocalyptically vamping Blackbirds Fall. Banished But Blameless sets a vengeful revolutionary cry – “Ablata y alba!” – over dynamically shifting horror riffage, with a brief detour into death metal. Spit Out Your Teeth – which might be a zombie love song, go figure – goes from a careening sway to one of those classic, hammerheaded Sabbath riffs on the bridge and then into a fullscale gallop.

It’s not clear what The Plague of Our Age is, but it’s deadly for certain, that point driven home with a sarcastic chorus of backing vocals. One of the most pissed-off tracks is Chicken Shit, which goes from four-on-the-floor into a surprisingly effective, tricky, proggy rhythm. Maybe to be true to the title, Blind Faith works a swaying, darkly bluesy early 70s vibe but with denser production. Plastic Blaze mingles allusions to both mid-80s Iron Maiden and the Vice Squad’s apocalyptic classic Last Rockers amid burning, multitracked sci-fi effects; the album’s closing cut, Honey Lung, has a distatntly Middle Eastern flavor and might be about smoking hash. There isn’t a single bad song on this album: definitely one of the best of 2013.


Purist Highway Rock Tunesmithing from Carly Jamison

Nashville rocker Carly Jamison‘s 2011 album Everything Happens for a Reason mixed up crushingly sarcastic, Americana-flavored four-on-the-floor rock with the occasional detour into honkytonk, spiced with former Georgia Satellite Dan Baird’s nonchalantly scorching guitar work. Her new one, Ungrounded is much the same musically, less assaultively lyrical, with similarly purist production and solid tunesmithing. Simple, catchy hooks, warmly familiar themes and a heavy foot on the kick drum propel this solid, oldschool mix of tunes. It’s got the feel of a vinyl record from the 80s…but an American one, drums in the back, vocals up where they should be, with rich, volcanic layers of roaring, smoldering, jangling, screaming guitars.

The opening track, Superman Fantasy sets big brass riffs and swirly organ over a Stonesy stomp: “I don’t need no x-ray vision to see right through your walls,” Jamison intones. And then after an all-too-brief Baird solo, she turns the lyric inside out. It’s a cool touch.

No Easy Way Out is richly layered noir 60s garage-psych rock with a heavy 80s backbeat. I Don’t Think We Have Ever Met reaches for a mid-60s Dylanesque folk-rock vibe. Small Talk takes a dirty indie blues theme and beefs it up with big-studio drums, organ, soaring bass and more of those deliciously roaring, multitracked guitars. And Sailing Away disguises a stereotypical 90s singer-songwriter tune amid all the searing Stonesy sonics: “You could have been the careless sailor, could have been the helpless crew, could have been the broken compass that let the ship through.. maybe you’ll be sailing away, but I know I’ll be back dredging you up,” Jamison murmurs.

Prison builds from a slinky, fingersnapping kiss-off ballad into a gorgeously swaying, explosive rock anthem – the way Baird’s evil, backward-masked solo takes everything down to the second verse is one of many of the innumerably cool production touches here. Runaway Train, an amped-up rockabilly shuffle, is a lot more optimistic; Brand New Day nicks the chords from Iggy Pop’s the Passenger while revealing Jamison’s fondness for chocolate donuts.

Traveling On is a catchy highway rock tune with a distant Tex-Mex feel, followed by the shuffling Say Goodbye. The album ends with Jamison’s best song here, I Said I Loved You But I Lied, a creepy acoustic bolero with ominously lingering accordion and violin that wouldn’t be out of place in the Marni Rice catalog. Roll down the windows, let out the clutch and leave some rubber on the road with this one.

Jaggedly Menacing, Smartly Terse Noise-Rock Instumentals from Dusan Jevtovic’s Power Trio

Sartre said that once you name something, you kill it. That’s why it’s problematic to stick a label on Serbian-born, Barcelona-based guitarist Dusan Jevtovic‘s new instrumental power trio album Am I Walking Wrong. Is it art-rock? Noise-rock? Jazz? Metal? It’s elements of all that, but more than anything, it’s its own animal, which makes it so interesting. The punishing rhythm section of Marko Djordjevic’s drums and Bernat Hernandez’s smartly terse bass provides a heavy anchor that grounds Jevtovic’s gritty, growling, spark-showering yet remarkably focused attack.

The opening track, You Can’t Sing, You Can’t Dance builds from spacious, tensely echoing solo guitar figures to a pounding four-on-the-floor drive, Jevtovic slinging haphazardly bluesy, bent-note figures and then grinding, noisy chords that throw off eerie Live Skull-esque overtones. It ends enigmatically, unresolved. The album’s title track sets the stage for the rest of the album, Jevtovic echoing menacingly jagged Robert Fripp circa King Crimson’s Red album over a looping bassline, Djordjevic doing a pummeling Mitch Mitchell evocation. Drummer’s Dance sounds like classic early 90s Polvo as done by Eyal Maoz, maybe, while One on One reaches for a surrealistically bluesy, noisy, more straight-up Hendrix vibe that brings to mind both Voodoo Chile: Slight Return and the first verse of Machine Gun.

In the Last Moment II has Jevtovic following the first track’s trajectory up from lingering, menacinagly wavering Dave Fiuczynski-eque lines to darkly scruffy, sandpaper chords. It makes a good segue with Embracing Simplicity, one of the few tracks that’s not totally live  – Jevtovic layers uneasily pulsing acoustic guitar and dirty electric rhythm behind his creepy bell tones and twistedly dancing spirals. Third Life, the album’s creepiest track, reminds of Big Lazy with its suspenseful noir theme and deep-space backward masking. After that, the trio segue from fang-baring allusions to Led Zep’s Black Dog to a warped, strolling blues theme. The last track,  If I See You Again, stumbles out of the blocks but eventually gains traction with a pensively looping, tersely sunbaked, tremoloing guitar theme.

Who is the audience for this? Anybody who loves deliciously noisy, smartly dynamic guitar, and all the artists referenced here: Jevtovic deserves mention alongside all of them. MoonJune Records – home to all things global and prog – gets credit for putting this one out.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices Burn Up the Parkside

The Best Concerts of the Year page is an annual tradition here. With everything else going on lately, it’s been tempting to just make 2013 a wrap right now – after all, the last few weeks of the year are pretty much a wash, right? That would have been a mistake, because the list would have left out LJ Murphy & the Accomplices‘ explosive show this past Saturday night at the Parkside. Other than the fact that he’s a great showman with an amazing band and a deep catalog of savagely lyrical songs, what makes Murphy’s live shows so consistently interesting is that he’s always reinventing the material. For example, ten years ago, he was doing Comfortable Cage as a plaintive minor-key dirge. This time out, he reworked it into a much subtler, noir Orbison pop groove that was a lot more upbeat yet packed twice the wallop. A little later, the band picked up the pace even more and gave an extra jolt of electricity to Saturday’s Down, an understatedly haunting account of watching a respite from the trials of the work week slip away:

The morning came a bit too late as usual today
The sunshine made its case and was abruptly pushed away
Coffee burnt beyond description, bread as hard as stone
The stranger in the mirror said you’re spending too much time alone

A Sweetheart of the Rodeo sway masked the venom in Imperfect Strangers, pianist Patrick McLellan’s fiery chords and ripples raising the ante – “Don’t kid yourself until he calls you in the morning, I don’t want to hear you say he never gave you warning,” Murphy insisted. And then they hit a doublespeed soul-clap groove.

Over a slinky latin soul beat, the defiant Another Lesson I Never Learned wound up with a bitingly enigmatic series of tradeoffs between Murphy’s vocals and the piano. Then they took it down for a bit with This Is Nothing Like Bliss, a morose soul ballad about a hookup gone drastically wrong, then took it back up again.

In his signature porkpie hat and black suit, Murphy twitched and stutter-stepped like a pre-angel dust James Brown in front of the band as they made their into way through the Stax/Volt shuffle Happy Hour, a reminder that the people at the office that you can’t stand are even more obnoxious once they’ve had a few. Mad Within Reason, the title track to Murphy’s brilliant, most recent album, careened along on with a phantasmagical Weimar blues pulse:

Sinews and cobwebs have clung to our lips
Cnd crosses and pistols are hung from our hips
Cried for my supper, then spat on the plate
While everyone tried to become what they hate
The industry captain, smile on his face
So proud of the changes he’s made to this place

Lead guitarist Tommy Hoscheid alternated between judicious Memphis licks, a Stonesy growl and finally a flurry of slasher tremolo-picking over the sway of Brothers Moving‘s Nils Sorensen’s bass and Carlos Hernandez’s drums. The best song of the night was a recently resurrected classic, Pretty for the Parlor, adding a little deadpan country glitter to the grimly bouncing tale of a sniper hellbent on picking off a few poor suckers in some outer-borough hell.  After that, they segued out of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue into Stormy Monday and then back again. At the end of the show, after the last of the encores (a roaring version of the sardonically titled Blue Silence) Murphy wryly stole a page out of the Muddy Waters book and led the group through a couple of lickety-split choruses of I Got My Mojo Working. In a year packed with transcendent live shows, this was one of the best – and the sound at the club, hit-and-miss in years past, was great! Lesson learned – watch for the Best Concerts of 2013 page here at the END of the year.

Lively, Intriguing Folk-Rock Jams from McGuffin Electric

Italian acoustic trio McGuffin Electric build an attractively pastoral psychedelic folk sound out the lush interweave of Matteo Fiorini’s guitars, banjo and uke, Erica Polini’s violin and Domenico Peluchetti’s bouzouki and bass. Their album Brightelephant, a free download from the atmospherically-inclined Acustronica netlabel, is aptly titled; their long instrumental vamps have a colorful airiness as well as elephantine length and heft.

The title track is a long, pretty, swaying Neapolitan folk-rock theme with atmospheric violin juxtaposed against slightly out-of-tune ukulele that adds a surreal edge. Kismet, Hardy rises and falls over a spare acoustic waltz tune, basically a dreamy, elegant one-chord jam like something off Pink Floyd’s Atomheart Mother. Somewhere in the North of Italy, a gently gorgeous stroll for guitar and bouzouki, works slowly shifting waves of dynamics – it sounds more lush than it actually is, credit to Fiorini and Peluchetti’s tight interplay. Seaside builds slowly with ghostly whispers echoing  around a quietly purposeful boogie riff.

I Don’t Give a Damn, the longest track here, is an extended jam that’s part Nick Drake, part Velvet Underground, lit up by Polini’s alternatingly stark and sailing violin. Kiss Me, Hardy is a considerably livelier blend of bluegrass fingerpicking, boisterous strumming and incisive violin work, with a nod to early 70s acoustic Hot Tuna. The album ends with Vivre Sa Vie and its sideways allusions to Romany jazz.  Who is the audience for this? Fans of the quieter side of jamband rock, the contemplative side of jazz, the rich Italian folk tradition, or simply the kind of music you can drift away to on a sunny Saturday morning. In addition to this album, Fiorini has a bunch of good stuff streaming at his Soundcloud page.

Wickedly Catchy Britrock Anthems from the Reflections

If you love catchy singalong riffs and choruses – or if you like the idea of Coldplay, but the actual thing puts you to sleep – Los Angeles band the Reflections are for you. They have a knack for big, anthemic, incredibly catchy retro British sounds. The songs on their album Limerence typically kick off with a hook and then take it in an unexpected direction: their signature sound is lush arrangements with simple, uncluttered, hard-hitting tunesmithing, often working a basic two-chord vamp spiced with all kinds of neat touches from guitar and atmospheric keyboards. The vocals are pleasantly nonchalant: think Richard Ashcroft without the affectations (ok, that’s an oxymoron, but give it a try). Lyrics are usually pretty much beside the point. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp page; these guys would have been all over the radio back in the 90s.

The hypnotically vamping opening track, Disconnected is a dead ringer for one of the darker tracks on New Order’s Movement, with more dynamic vocals and digital production values. Summer Days goes steadily marching with staccato organ and acoustic guitar and builds to sweeping mid-90s Britrock a la the Verve. Daydreamer rises through a thicket of echo from a moodily resonant minor-key guitar loop to hypnotic, dreampop-flavored atmospherics with distant echoes of Pink Floyd. All Along and Looking Back each look back to the 90s for more of the lush, Verve-inflected minor-key anthemicness.

Ruthless, a portrait of a femme fatale, is darkly delicious, with soaring bass and an icepick guitar chorus that nails the song’s theme. In Another Life colors an 80s pop tune with echoey, wickedly catchy reverb guitar riffage. Until You’re Near, with its slide guitar and insistent piano embedded in nebulously Floydian sonics, is the slowest and most hypnotic track here. The final track, In Your Head, makes dreampop out of snarling 60s noir psychedelia. Who is the audience for this? Anybody who likes tunes that are catchy but not stupid.

Lush, Resonant Chamber Pop from Ukulele Tunesmith Sweet Soubrette

Ellia Bisker’s eclectic tunesmithing has recently taken a deliciously lurid, noir direction. Most recently, she’s joined forces with Kotorino frontman Jeff Morris, playing his femme fatale foil in that menacing circus-rock band as well as in the more stripped-down but equally dark duo Charming Disaster. So it’s no surprise that she’d color the songs on Burning City, the new album by her other project, Sweet Soubrette, with punchy brass and enigmatic, ominously hovering strings. Bisker has also taken her vocals to the next level: she’s got a lot more power and resonance in the lower registers these days. Her band here is excellent. Bisker plays uke, with Heather Cole on violin, Stacy Rock on piano, Bob Smith on bass, Mike Dobson and Don Godwin alternating behind the drum kit along with Erin Rogers on tenor sax, Carl Scheib on trombone and John Waters on trumpet.

Stylistically, the songs run the gamut. The opening track, Be My Man begins with an allusively latin feel and vamps up to to a vintage disco groove. The intriguingly moody, swaying chamber pop title track could be about the Arab/Israeli conflict, or citizens versus gentrifiers in New York City, or warfare in general. Charlatan, a piano ballad, offers an intriguing glimpse of a hardworking fortune teller who might or might not be the real thing. The catchiest, most upbeat number here is Just Your Heart, building to a coyly pulsing second-generation Motown vibe.

Homing Pigeon, which is just uke and violin, works an old country music trope, an endless series of variations on the same metaphor, Bisker running through the bird imagery for all it’s worth.  She does the same thing with electricity on Live Wire, which is a Pat Benetar-ish powerpop song disguised as eerily atmospheric chamber pop, and with stormy weather in Port in a Storm, a gently dancing country waltz. And Rock Paper Scissors gives the band the chance to work all kinds of neat dynamic shifts, back and forth between enigmatic, noirishly artsy pop and swirly circus rock. The remaining two tracks could have been left off and the album wouldn’t be any worse for it – top 40 is top 40, no matter how tasteful the arrangements or playing. Bisker plays the album release show for this one tonight, November 24 at 9 PM with excellent noir cabaret band Not Waving But Drowning opening at 7:30 at the Jalopy; cover is $10.

Nehedar and Hudson K Bring Down the Lights at the Delancey

Why do so many folkies play coffeehouses? Because their audiences need caffeine in order to stay awake!

There’s usually nothing more boring than a solo vocal-and-guitar act. Typically, the person onstage can either play but not sing, or sing but not play. Many of them can’t do either. And their songs tend to be about themselves, and their meh lives, and their meh loves, or more likely lack thereof. So it was a special treat Thursday night to see soul-rock songwriter Nehedar a.k.a. Emilia Cataldo hold the crowd absolutely rapt with her edgy, often harrowing storytelling and her elegant, balletesque vocal leaps and pirouettes. You could have heard a pin drop. And this wasn’t at Jazz at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, either, it was downstairs at the Delancey. Where people go to hang, and have a few beers, and chitchat while their friends onstage are doing their thing.

And Cataldo doesn’t seem to sing about herself, either; midway through the set, she mused that so many of her songs are about other peoples’ problems – and that she was grateful for that. She opened with Bells of the City, an angst-fueled, swaying oldschool soul song from her excellent new album This Heart that seems to be about somebody “building a nice career out of a life of fear” who ends up not being able to resist the lure of the bright lights. Maybe it was just the power of suggestion, but when she got to the chorus, her voice took on a bell-like resonance. There are a million women out there with pleasant voices; what Cataldo does with hers, always in the service of getting a lyric across or teasing the listener, is what makes her different and worth hearing.

The version of On Killing on the new album is a brooding bolero; here, she did it more as a punchy, brutally insightful rock song about the psychology of warfare: “They taught him to kill and he was good student, ’cause he had the will,” Cataldo wailed knowingly. She went back to a soul vibe for the sad, restless, alienated Headlights, a piano ballad on the album that benefited from the jolt of energy that Cataldo gave it onstage. She followed what was essentially a biting, minor-key garage rock number with another minor-key one that gave her a platform for some bracingly spiraling vocals. Then she went into oldschool country for Something to Call Mine, a pensive ballad that she said sounds like a breakup ballad, but it’s not.

The soul vibe returned on Pretty Young Thing, a nonchalantly haunting tale of a girl who “could be your baby and she could be you,” who runs into somebody who was looking out for someone just like her to attack. Cataldo closed with a Blues Traveler cover, of all things, which she said was basically a clinic in how to write a song. And it wasn’t bad! There’s a lot of darkness and even horror in Cataldo’s songwriting, but she can also be a lot of fun: nobody saw it coming when she turned the outro into hip-hop.

Where Cataldo is all about drawing people into her narratives, Knoxville’s Hudson K, who was next on the bill, is all about power. Belting out her darkwave anthems in a hurricane-force alto over the fat, body-slamming synth bass blasting from her mixing board, she wielded a keytar, backed by a hard-hitting drummer who rose to the challenge of having to play in sync with the mechanical beats.”You’re stuck on repeat,” she wailed sarcastically on the catchiest number of her set, building to a loudly wavering, spacy wash of string synth over an 80s goth hook. There didn’t seem to be a lot of black eyeliner in the crowd, but pretty much everybody got up, moved down front and joined the dance party. Hudson K’s music is actually a lot more eclectic than this show intimated; a couple of years ago, she put out a killer noir cabaret-rock album, Shine, which is still available at her Bandcamp page as a free download.

And the sound at the venue  was great! As Hudson K joyously told the crowd, Marco behind the soundboard made that room really sing.

Andy Statman’s Superstring Theory – A Wild Americana Summit

Meet the latest newgrass supergroup. This is what happens when you put Andy Statman, Michael Cleveland and Tim O’Brien together in the same room – good grief! Much of this album, Superstring Theory, with Statman as bandleader, is flat-out gorgeous, cutting-edge Americana. Jim Whitney, Statman’s longtime four-string guy holds down the low end with Larry Eagle on drums on a mix of Statman originals plus vocal takes of the droll folk tune Green Green Rocky Road and Richie Valens’ proto-Ramones hit Come On Let’s Go. Statman’s signature sense of humor pervades pretty much everything here when he and the rest of the band aren’t burning down the barn. The instrumentation may be mostly acoustic, but this is not a quiet album.

There are more unexpected treats here than you can shake a stick at. On the opening track, Little Addy, it’s not Statman’s mandolin but Cleveland’s fiddle that ends up taking the dancing tune into funky, practically avant-garde territory.  Statman saves his first series of crazed spirals for Mando at the Flambo after O’Brien’s guitar introduces it as a boogie blues. Careful dynamic shifts move up and down throughout the pretty, midtempo blue-sky ballad For Barbara, followed by The French Press, where O’Brien offers hints of flamenco as Statman blows the roof off with his Djangoesque sprints.

Herman Howe’s Bayou, an exuberant fiddle-driven cajun country waltz, is flat-out gorgeous; O’Brien’s low-register hammer-ons fueling one of the album’s most exquisite interludes. Then they launch into Surfin Slivovitz: Eagle gets the surf beat down cold, Whitney plays genre-perfect broken chords, O’Brien’s electric guitar adds some understatedly moody twang, and Cleveland turns out to be as good a surf player as he is at everything else. Statman, as usual, is the wild card. This song should be a standard.

Waltz for Ari is unexpectedly sad and resigned, all the more so through Statman’s almost tenative picking as it fades down morosely. Then they pick up the pace again with Pale Ale Hop, alternating between a jaunty waltz and a funky Tex-Mex theme. House of the Screaming Babies brings back a wry, bluesy interplay; Statman wails on clarinet on the album’s longest and final track, Brooklyn London Rome. which begins as an oompah waltz, then smooths out with more of a country (or Brooklyn, if you will) flavor, then without warning segues into a smoldering klezmer dance that gives the bandleader a chance to flex his chops. Statman’s next NYC gig is on December 3 at 53 Charles St. just west of Hudson in the west village.

Mark Orton’s Nebraska Soundtrack Illuminates Big-Sky Sounds

Tin Hat guitarist Mark Orton‘s richly rustic instrumental soundtrack to the recently released Alexander Payne road movie Nebraska works clever, sometimes wry, often haunting varations on two main themes. The first is a gorgeous Old West big-sky waltz straight out of the Bill Frisell book; the second is more Lynchian. Blending deadpan wit (which sometimes veers thisclose to cornball) with a persistent unease, Orton creates a suspenseful narrative that stands on its own as an integral work, apart from the visuals. Auspiciously, this recording marks the first time the Tin Hat Trio, with Carla Kihlstedt on violin and Rob Burger on accordion – who sprang to fame with Orton for their soundtrack to Everything Is Illuminated – have appeared together in the studio since 2005. Mickey Raphael, of Willie Nelson’s band, joins them on harmonica here.

If the film, which only recently hit the theatres, is anything like the soundtrack, it’s down-home and bittersweet, with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. Alcohol seems to be involved from time to time. Orton doesn’t waste time turning the main theme into spaghetti western, Kihlstedt gamely voicing a trumpet. They take a detour into a skeletally syncopated stroll and then hit the waltz again with a lush, soaring Frisellian grandeur. Shifting strings introduce an expectant ambience and then Orton leads the band deep into the country, adding banjo and dobro against the plaintive wash of the accordion and soaring strings.

The Lynchian nocturne comes alive most ominously in an interlude with the piano and dobro; the group slowly weave and interweave their way back. Kihlstedt’s shivery whispers contrast with droll jawharp and sotto vocce dobro, leading to the score’s most wistful, epically sweeping interlude. Orton introduces a bit of Romany jazz on the pensively dancing Night of the Skeptic, which quickly diverges into ghostly, swirling noir terrain. Tragicomic accents from the guitars give way to disquiet and then a rich confluence of the two themes. The score recedes with a sepulchral, hauntedly spacious piano miniature before it comes full circle and concludes with a dobro-driven version of Green Green Grass of Home (which is not on the album but available as a single at itunes).