New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Month: February, 2014

Agnes Obel Brings Her Somberly Catchy Art-Rock to Bowery Ballroom

If art-rock is your thing, Agnes Obel should be on your radar. The Danish-born pianist/chanteuse writes slow, brooding, extremely tuneful neoromantic laments that sometimes sound like Marissa Nadler with a piano – yeah, that good. Obel is playing Bowery Ballroom this Sunday night, March 2 at 10 PM; advance tix are $20 and as of today are still available.

Her latest album – streaming at Spotify  – is titled Aventine. It opens with a creepily minimalistic solo piano instrumental, Chord Left, which ought to be a horror film theme. From there Obel segues into Fuel to Fire, which adds a distant baroque tinge to the creepiness, dark washes of strings rising in the background, Obel’s elegant vocals building to big swells like Kristin Hoffmann in full-blown angst mode. While Obel’s Danish accent often makes her English lyrics hard to understand, it only adds to the songs’ menacing allure. The third track, Dorian is just piano, vocals and simple percussion: it’s more rhythmic and has more of a pop-oriented feel, albeit with some tricky syncopation.

Pizzicato cellos dancing in outer space – or at least that’s how they seem – juxtapose with a somber lead line on the title track. Obel disguises a Lynchian Nashville gothic vamp with swoops and shivers from the strings in Run Cried & Crawling, following it with the brief, rainy-night piano instrumental Tokka.

With its alternately stately and dancing cellos, the album’s longest track, The Curse sounds a lot like Rasputina, right down to the misterioso deadpan vocals. Simple, incisive piano contrasts with dark washes of strings on Pass Them By, which might be about a public lynching. Obel’s uneasy, breathy vocals on the catchily circling piano ballad Words Are Dead are the closest thing to Marissa Nadler here. After that, there’s the looping, crescendoing instrumental Fivefold, then the sad waltz Smoke & Mirrors, an Appalachian gothic tune reimagined with piano and ethereal vocal harmonies. Fans of Kate Bush, Linnea Olsson and Clara Engel, among other artists, will find a lot to like in Obel’s moody, wounded yet often unexpectedly kinetic sonics.


Electric Eye Mashes Up Decades of Classic Psychedelia

Norwegian band Electric Eye play long, psychedelic, cinematic, mostly instrumental anthems that are equal parts spacerock, postrock and art-rock. The obvious influences are Australian art-rock legends the Church and Pink Floyd, although there are interludes on their debut album that very closely evoke paisley underground legends the Rain Parade as well as the Black Angels. The whole thing  is streaming at the group’s Bandcamp page.

The seven-minute opening track, 6 AM sounds more like twelve hours later, a clustering Øyvind Hegg-Lunde drum figure and Njaal Clementsen’s insistent, gravelly bass anchoring an interchange of metalish riffs from guitarists Øystein Braut and Anders Bjelland that contrast with sustained, clanging, lingering chords evoking the Church circa Priest Equals Aura while a series of drones and shimmering sheets of metallic noise shifts uneasily through the background. Lake Geneva doesn’t seem to have much of anything to do with Wisconsin, unless this slide guitar-driven anthem is meant to be a deep-water scenario, bubbling keyboard samples and weird narration interspersed amidst the long, sustained guitar lines, ringing and fading chords. The longest number here, Tangerine, features a guitar sitar and is sort of Within You Without You as the Black Angels might do it, but faster, with tinges of surf music and a series of long, droning crescendos.

Morning Light, another one-chord jam basically, is the closest thing to the Church here, its lingering, burning slide guitar leads set to echoey, dense atmospherics over an insistent beat. The Road hints at a roadhouse theme with a funk-tinged rhythm, an ominous on-the-run scenario akin to Thomas Simon at his most anthemic and rocking, or an especially animated mashup of the Church and the Black Angels. The band nicks The Rain Parade’s This Can’t Be Today for Kruskontroll…and then shift to more slide guitar-fueled, hypnotic vamping. The album’s concluding cut, titled Electric Eye, vividly evokes the Church’s Is This Where You Live, its slow, catchy, spare ambience building to an epic grandeur as the band adds layer after layer of guitar and keys. They pick it up with what sounds like a mellotron in the background, then get quiet with a tiptoeing bass interlude and end with a long wash of feedback that fades down gracefully. Turn on, tune in, you know the rest.

Siach HaSadeh Reinvent Exquisitely Otherworldly, Haunting Jewish Themes

Siach HaSadeh are among the elite vanguard of jazz-inclined improvisers breathing new life into otherworldly old Hasidic melodies from centuries past. The Quebec-based band further distinguish themselves with their many haunting diversions into moody, mystical Middle Eastern sounds. Their latest album Song of the Grasses, a collection of exquisitely sad songs, exquisitely played, is streaming online, and the band has a whirlwind New York tour coming up. On March 4 they’ll be doing a set (plus a jam afterward) at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, 30 W. 68th St. at 7:30 PM; cover for the show is $15, more if you want the dance lesson or whatever else is happening beforehand, usually a lot at this place. Siach HaSadeh are also at Branded Saloon in Ft. Greene at 8 on March 5 followed at 9 by the more boisterous Breslov Bar Band. Then on March 6 they’ll be at Silvana, 300 W. 116th St at 8 PM as well.

Slow tempos and subdued, highly nuanced playing with minute dynamic shifts are the constants throughout the album’s seventeen tracks. Several of the instrumentals feature elegant handoffs from one instrument to the other; others employ a lot of intricate, sometimes awestruck harmony between Yoni Kaston’s clarinet, Joel Kerr’s bass and accordion, and Gael Huard’s cello. The group opens with Levi Yitzchak’s Berdichever’s Niggun, a droning dirge that pairs off clarinet with a darkly ambered string section throughout a series of slowly rising and falling waves. An alternate take at the end of the album finds the band working it with more sparseness and restraint, with a bit of a free jazz interlude before the melody coalesces again.

Kaston’s clarinet takes on an absolutely disconsolate cavatina-like tone on the brooding waltz Nigun firn di Tsadikkim in Gan Eyden, with a rich blend of harmonies between clarinet, Jason Rosenblatt’s harmonica and Ismail Fencioglu’s oud leading to an unexpectedly energetic but thematically spot-on bass solo. The pensively strolling Rabbeinu’s Niggun – reprised at the end of the album with a bit more oomph – opens with a spiky oud taqsim and then builds to a misterioso groove with the clarinet leading the way.

Dror Yikra contrasts rather blithe, blues-tinted harmonica with murky, low-key clarinet while the bass plays it as a bolero. Baal Shem Tov’s Niggun sets warily emphatic, sustained clarinet against a backdrop of sepulchral flickers from the strings, a dancing bass loop leading the tempo from tricky to straightforward as the clarinet and cello loom menacingly overhead. Yedid Nefesh weaves a web of rich, darkly ethereal harmonies between bass, clarinet and cello, while Menucha Vesimcha offers a rare, jaunty, harmonica-spiced interlude.

Oud and clarinet exchange somberly elegant phrases and then blend with the harmonica on Tolner Niggun, while the darkly dancing North African-tinged diptych Kuni Roni/Maggid’s Niggun might be the best if simplest track here: the oud’s ironically triumphant run down into the abyss midway through might be the album’s high point, such that it is.

There are also a handful of bass-and-clarinet duets: Song of the Seven Beggars, a minimalistic, swaying nocturnal waltz; Radishitz Niggun, a gorgeously otherworldly, Middle Eastern-tinged miniature; Kah Echshof, which brightens just a bit; Agadelcha, an ominously chromatic dark-sky theme that opens with an apprehensive low drone; Dveikus Niggun, which is as tight as it is darkly nebulous; and the album’s most strikingly minimalist track, Tfilas Tal. Is this the best album of the past several months? It’s certainly one of them, as darkly unforgettable as anything you’ll hear this year.

And if you like this stuff, you’ll want to check out Kaston’s intriguing, intense Turkish music duo Ihtimanska with talented multi-reedwoman Ariane Morin.

Pete Lanctot and the Hot Sardines Make a Killer Doublebill at Littlefield

Pete Lanctot personifies pretty much everything good about New York’s most happening music scene, which as just about everybody knows by now, is Americana. Lanctot’s aphoristic lyrics are loaded with layers of meaning: he’s probably the only songwriter who’s ever made a caustic rhyme out of “Delacroix” and “Evelyn Waugh.” He’s a strong tunesmith and storyteller, a gifted multi-instrumentalist on guitar and fiddle and also a nonchalantly charismatic stage presence. Thursday night at Littlefield, he led a sensationally good band through an all-too-brief, roughly 45-minute set celebrating the release of his latest album Caledonia (streaming at Bandcamp) The rhythm section of Hot Sardines drummer Alex Raderman and a versatile upright bassist, who colored a couple of the songs with with dark, elegant bowing, switched from slinky swing to a propulsive drive. Lanctot’s violinist played soaring sustained lines over which the band’s brilliant lead guitarist fired off jagged, murderous noir skronk, careening surf leads and assaultive blues. Lanctot began and ended on guitar, taking turn on fiddle and then banjo midway through the set.

While Lanctot’s songwriting is going to draw inevitable Tom Waits comparisons, the artist he most closely resembles is Tom Shaner – although where Shaner will sometimes go off on a rockabilly or Irish tangent, Lanctot’s fallback places are oldtime swing and blues. He kicked off the show with a wryly seductive country sway that shifted to shuffling swing on the chorus. “There’s a swamp for every goose, there’s a neck for every noose,” he intoned in his nonchalant tenor, alluding to the kind of snare his lovestruck narrator had walked straight into.

From there the band picked up the pace with a bitingly shuffling blues tune (the one with the snide references to the Louisiana town and the British novelist). Lanctot followed that with a warmly pastoral, gently metaphorical country tune told from the point of view of a 19th century immigrant:

I will lay down all my weapons when I stand before your gate
Bang my daggers into breadknives, make my bullets into plates…
I will keep the dogs of war at bay and call off all the alarms

From there they picked it up again with a searing, hellbound, bluesy account of a boss from hell somewhere on the Arkansas railroad, colored with diaboloical, staccato fiddle and the lead player’s switchblade tremolo-picking. They mined every inch of doom in the old folk lament Undone in Sorrow, a twin-fiddle number sprinkled with creepy accents from the drums and sepulchral flickers of overtones from the lead guitarist’s Strat. A brooding, swinging, minor-key banjo tune was the closest thing to Waits on the bill, followed by a snarling, stomping blues with a savage guitar solo that ended with a long Dick Dale slide down the low string – which promptly snapped. After a catchy, wistful kiss-off ballad that evoked Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan without any of the Dylan affectations, they ended the set with a roaring update on Slim Harpo’s Hip Shake. The encore was a pillowy, lullaby take of Ernest Tubb’s Waltz Across Texas with You, Lanctot getting the women in the crowd to sing along on the last chorus.

Anachronistic mindfuck par excellence: watching Hot Sardines pianist “Pee Wee,” a.k.a. Evan Palazzo vape on his electronic cigar throughout his oldtimey swing band’s jaunty 45 minutes or so. They made up a set list on the fly and then swung through it like crazy. Where Lanctot’s band maxed out the push-pull between the fiddle and lead guitar, the Sardines got plenty of livewire intensity this time out from the interplay of Jason Prover’s purist, blues-infused trumpet and Nick Myer’s sizzling spirals and trills on clarinet and tenor sax, while frontwoman “Miz Elizabeth” Bougerol breathed new life into a bunch of old standards with her brassy allure. Introducing a lively Fats Waller tune over a serpentine bass groove, she mused that if Waller was alive today, he’d be waking up at five in the evening somewhere in Bay Ridge, maybe on Ocean Avenue – drunk. She told the crowd that while the band didn’t do a lot of Brooklyn shows, this one was right up their alley, most of the group done up in plaid shirts and mismatched bolo ties. And she had a point: it was good to hear them playing through Littlefield’s pristine sound system, considering the band’s ongoing monthly residency at feeedback-plagued Joe’s Pub.

She sang most of a bouncy version of Once Love in flawless French; a little later, she brought Lanctot back up onstage for a turn on fiddle through what she termed a “hoedown,” and then a big dixieland romp through What the Moonlight Can do. Palazzo ran a droll Grieg quote through the first verse of a ragtime-inflected take of I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance before they wound up the set with Bei Mir Bist Du Shein, Myer’s moody clarinet adding a dark klezmer edge.

Rosalie Kaplan and Marco Cappelli Reinvent Benjamin Britten

Rosalie Kaplan has carved out a niche for herself as one of New York’s most distinctive and arresting voices, reinventing 19th and 20th century classical songs with her improvisational band Dollshot. Her latest album is a duo project with adventurous guitarist Marco Cappelli, a new interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s Songs from the Chinese.

As you might expect from these two, the versions of these songs are a lot more dynamic than the all-acoustic guitar-and-voice arrangements devised by the composer, although they stick to the originals’ brevity: only a couple of them exceed the two-minute mark. Cappelli’s insistent, clustering classical guitar mimics Kaplan’s vocals on the first song, The Big Chariot. Her careful articulation – “Don’t help on the big chariot…don’t think about the sorrows of the world” – rises breathtakingly as the song winds out. Although the melody has a rustic quality, Cappelli’s spacious electric guitar on The Old Lute lingers much like Bill Frisell’s did on his collaboration with Elvis Costello, Deep Dead Blue, particularly as he exchanges phrases with Kaplan. Her nonchalance and penetrating, soaring top end makes The Autumn Wind all the more sinister, Cappelli’s distorted phrases lingering as the vocals fall away gently.

Cappelli returns to classical guitar on The Herd Boy, Kaplan’s deadpan, suspenseful vocals adding to the narrative’s mysterious ambience. Depression pairs Kaplan’s full-blown angst against Cappelli’s animatedly surreal slide guitar work, while the miniature Dance Song has both the guitar and the vocals doing some eerie glissandos; it’s the most downtown-jazz oriented of the songs here.

Kaplan and Dollshot – with pianist Wes Matthews, saxophonist Noah Kaplan, bassist Peter Bitenc and drummer Mike Pride- play Shapeshifter Lab at 10 PM on March 4; cover is $10.

Garage Rock Legends the Fleshtones Kick Off Their US Tour on Feb 27 in Williamsburg

The Fleshtones have aged well. The world’s most enduring garage rock band have a new album, Wheel of Talent, and a marathon US tour that kicks off at around 8 PM at Grand Victory in Williamsburg on Feb 27: cover is $15. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about the same as what you would have paid to see them at the Ritz (now Webster Hall) thirty years ago. That this band is still around, let alone with virtually all of the original core members, testifies both to their endurance as well as the eternal popularity of the sound they helped revitalize and then make iconic. The whole album is streaming at, of all places.

What differentiates the Fleshtones from their second-wave garage rock brethren the Lyres, and the Cynics, and the thousands who followed over the decades, is that they’re as well versed in classic 60s soul music as they are in Nuggets Anthology-style riff-pop. And over the last couple of decades – wow, has it really been that long! – they’ve also taken frequent diversions into boisterously guitar-fueled powerpop in the same vein as Handsome Dick Manitoba’s Master Plan, which makes sense since lead guitarist Keith Streng has also spent time in that band. The Fleshtones have also never been afraid to be funny: they know what they do is fun, they obviously have a good time doing it and have loosened up over the years while keeping their punchy four-on-the-floor groove as tight as ever.

The best and funniest songs here make fun of dumb, trendy spoiled brats, their social ineptitude and social media obsessions. Available – which has a violin on it, an unexpected texture for a Fleshtones song – ridicules kids who find it necessary tell the whole world their most intimate details on Facebook. And the Chuck Berry-flavored Hipster Heaven, a hellish chronicle of the band’s old New York neighborhoods being swallowed by hordes of narcissistic gentrifiers fresh out of college but acting like kindergarteners, will resonate with every real New Yorker.

What You’re Talking About, with Streng’s banks of distorted guitars, organ and snarling, bluesy guitar leads, is garage rock as Cheap Trick might have done it circa 1979. The jangly, Byrdsy It Is As It Was reaches to capture a snapshot of the band’s career: they may not have made a lot of money, but it’s been a good time. They follow that with a minute fifty-nine worth of Remember the Ramones, a spot-on punk rock homage. “CBGB’s was very loud, Suicide packed the crowd, I was drinking Remy with Marty Thau, ” frontman/organist Peter Zaremba reminisces (ironically, Thau’s little label failed to release the Fleshtones’ debut album and a legal brouhaha ensued).

Roofarama blends Byrds jangle and Stooges wah guitar into a funky, sexy up-on-the-roof narrative. With its spacy Ventures guitars, The Right Girl sounds suspiciously like a parody of Joe Meek-style surf pop, right down to the faux British vocals. What I’ve Done Before takes an oldschool soul ballad and soups it up with loud guitars, while How to Say Goodbye goes back to the Cheap Trick (or Blue Oyster Cult at their mid-70s poppiest).

Zaremba croons his way through the Buddy Holly shuffle For a Smile as a British band like the Records might have done it, while the hardest-hitting song on the album, Stranger in My House evokes Da Capo-era Love, right down to the galloping drums and dark guitar chords, a surreal, bitter tale of losing a home and everything in it to something like a divorce or a probate dispute. There’s also a vengeful, Orbisonesque doo-wop pop number, Tear for Tear and the fuzztone garage rock number Veo La Luz and its tortured Spanish lyrics.

Haunting, Kinetic New Arrangements of Turkish Folk Gems

Canada is a hotbed for Romany jazz, due primarily to the influence of French music coming in through Quebec. Canada is also home to many excellent groups who play music similar to or influenced by Romany sounds, notably klezmer and Turkish music. Monteal-based Turkish music duo Ihtimanska are a prime example. Ariane Morin plays alto sax and kaval flute; Yoni Kaston alternates between accordion, piano and oud. Their fantastic album, a mix of brightly dancing and hauntingly otherworldly instrumentals, is streaming at their Bandcamp page. It’s a revealing reminder how richly influential Turkish music has been on cultures thousands of miles on either side of the border

The first song sets the stage, Morin opening it with a pensive, microtonally-spiced sax improvisation over an accordion drone, then the duo romp through alternately bubbly and more acerbic, chromatic interludes over tricky metrics. The second track is a medley that begins as a dirge, Morin first on kaval and then switching to sax over increasingly lush, anthemic accordion. The number after that is a duet for sax and oud, Morin once again starting with a brooding taqsim and then picking up the pace with a dancing flair, the accordion sometimes doubling the sax lines, sometimes spiraling off the end of a phrase.

The fourth and sixth tracks both sound like Balkan brass band songs stripped to the essentials: tricky dancing tempos, long dynamic crescendos over edgy chromatic vamps alternating with breezier passages. The fifth track, Hicaz Hümayun Saz Semaisi, is the most gripping and most Middle Eastern of all the songs here: it’s also the least rhythmic. Kaston plays cleverly ornamented, rippling piano on the final number, Morin’s introductory statement powerful and purposeful, and the song follows from there, ending the album on a wickedly catchy, anthemic note. Fans of music from anywhere east of the Danube are in for a treat with these two. Lucky Montrealers can catch them in concert on a bill with clarinetist Michael Winograd’s high-voltage group on March 26 at the Segal Center, 5170 Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine.

Alternately Catchy and Noisy Sounds from Brooklyn Art-Rock Trio Goddess

Goddess may not be the optimum choice of band name if branding is the issue. But this particular Brooklyn Goddess – a trio with single-string fiddle, dulcimer, Casio and calm, unselfconsciously warm, folk-tinged, two-woman harmonies – has an intriguing name-your-price ep titled Mind Control up at Bandcamp. If the artsiest side of art-rock is your thing, you’ll love this stuff. This group likes circular melodies and vamping out on them, which they do best on the opening number, Confinement. Their songs are all about contrasts and juxtapositions, calm versus agitation, smoothness versus abrasiveness: in this case, it’s stark overtones from the fiddle against an attractively stately piano melody that runs over and over. The lyrics are enigmatic: is it “All I could find,” or “I’ll occupy?” Maybe it’s both.

The second track, Candle Magick, paints a picture of an animated black magic ritual against a gentle lullaby melody with faux mellotron and Rhodes electric piano settings, and a flute that adds an off-center edge midway through: it’s so pretty that it might well be sarcastic. The title track sets the hint of a tune emerging from the dulcimer over an increasingly abrasive string drone. Once again, the lyrics are on the opaque side: “Catch some rays, free your mind…special rates, free your mind.” It gets more ominous as it goes along.

Good Cop and Bad Cop Review Jan Bell & the Maybelles

Good Cop (on her phone, outside the American Folk Art Museum): See any jaywalkers?

Bad Cop (on his phone, out of breath, across Broadway on 64th Street): Ha, just me [sprints across just ahead of the light, and a taxi edging into the crosswalk]. How’d you get here before me?

Good Cop: I took the D and walked from Columbus Circle. And I didn’t jaywalk.

Bad Cop: Jaywalking is the new stop-and-frisk. Makes sense: after all, cars are hitting people and killing them left and right in this neighborhood. While we’re at it, we should start fining banks for every time they get robbed. They wouldn’t be getting robbed if they had better security.

Good Cop [sarcastically]: Or if they weren’t banks.

Bad Cop: They would be if they were bodegas. Anyway, let’s go inside. It’s freezing out here.

Good Cop: We’re here for the Friday night show with folk singer Jan Bell and her all-female band the Maybelles.

Bad Cop: You shouldn’t call her a folk singer. People will think she’s some sappy girl singing top 40.

Good Cop: People who like real folk music will get it. What is folk music, after all? It’s songs by songwriters who were most likely illiterate, that were passed down through an oral tradition since those people probably couldn’t read music either.

Bad Cop: Folk music has a bad name. It’s actually really creepy, the good stuff anyway.

Good Cop: Jan Bell knows that for sure. What did she say, how many happy love songs are there really, anyway?

Bad Cop: You’re better at the verbatim stuff than I am. But she’s right.

Good Cop: I’m so psyched for this show. Jan is playing acoustic guitar, that’s Rima Fand from Sherita on fiddle and Tina Lama on bass. And that looks like Katy Stone with the banjo.

Bad Cop [looks around, scowling]: This is so lame. We’re the only ones under sixty here.

Good Cop: What do you mean? That guy over there’s our age…

Bad Cop: That’s the bass player’s boyfriend. And there’s quilts on the walls. I feel like I’m in a nursing home.

Good Cop: This is actually a great place to see a show right after work. Lara Ewen, who’s also a fantastic Americana singer, books the music here and she has great taste. Plus the people from the Jalopy have a hand in it.

Bad Cop: These shows start at 5:30. Who gets out of work by 5:30 on a Friday?

Good Cop: Well, we made it, didn’t we?

Bad Cop: Under the wire. This is strictly a neighborhood thing. That’s New York in 2014 for you: everything is local. Local is the new central. All these little micro-scenes and no central scene, no way for a band to gain any traction.

Good Cop: Jan Bell has plenty of traction. She tours the US and the UK too.

Bad Cop: She has a motorhome. And she’s British so she’s got friends over there to put her up.

Good Cop: Well, I say good for her [the trio of Bell, Fand and Lama launch into a sad, shuffling minor-key song with three-part vocal harmonies].

Bad Cop: Wow, they’re really working the acoustics here.

Good Cop: I see they moved where the performers play from one side of the room to the other. This natural reverb is magical! It didn’t take Jan thirty seconds before she came up with a game plan – her voice can sometimes be pillowy but this is just plain heavenly!

Bad Cop: Yeah, she’s pillowy one minute, biting and bitter the next. She’s found her zone up there and she’s gonna haunt us. The bass player’s also a really good singer. You notice?

Good Cop: She really hits those high notes.

Bad Cop: A jazz player, obviously, She knows when to chill but she’s always got something interesting, something unexpected going on the low end, not just BUMP-bump, BUMP-bump, know what I mean?

Good Cop: Rima’s amazing too – I’m hearing all kinds of unexpected slides, and harmonies in what she’s playing. And she’s a great singer too.

Bad Cop: Yeah, but the lyrics are dumb. What’s this song about, Union Square?

Good Cop: No, it’s a cover. It’s The L and N Don’t Stop Here Anymore, by an English folk singer, Jean Ritchie. It’s a coal mining song. Jan did it on her album from about a year and a half ago with all these mining songs on it. Her grandfather was a miner.

Bad Cop: Now what about this next song they’re doing? This has gotta be American. Oldtime country blues…

Good Cop: This is Mining Camp Blues. It’s from the 1920s, maybe earlier, I dunno. Trixie Smith recorded it, Alice Gerrard covered it and that’s how Jan discovered it. You know, passing stuff down through the generations. Same old, same old, huh?

Bad Cop: Yeah. Now this next one I know, You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive, this is a Steve Earle song. He did it on his bluegrass album.

Good Cop: Actually not. This sad, haunting song is by Darrell Scott. It’s great we can hear all the instruments and yet there’s so much reverb on everything. It sounds so, well, authentic.

Bad Cop: This is a weird neighborhood for me but I gotta say that I am impressed by the acoustics here. And everybody who works here is so nice! It’s like we’re in Iowa. Or a nursing home in Iowa.

Good Cop: C’mon, admit it, you’re having a good time.

Bad Cop: Now THIS one I know! Loretta Lynn. Blue Kentucky Girl. Very different version from the original – the girls are doing it very low key, hushed, kind of a lullaby.

Good Cop: I like how she intersperses the originals, and the classics, and the obscure ones. That sad waltz, you know, “I’ve lost the right to love you.”

Bad Cop: This next one’s even creepier. A mail order bride sent off to Idaho where she’ll probably end up dying. Life was hard back then, huh?

Good Cop: That one’s actually a new song. It was written by Karen Dahlstrom, who was Jan’s bass player for awhile. It’s on her album, which is all new songs about Idaho and the old west, but written in an oldtime vernacular. It’s awfully good. I have it.

Bad Cop: You know this is where this band loses me. Cover Hank Williams, ok, but Ramblin’ Man? A woman singing a song written for a guy just doesn’t cut it for me. It’s like Joan Baez singing The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Virgil Cain is my name, NOT.

Good Cop: But listen to the vocals! And the harmonies! They really get this song, it’s so sad, and so haunted, and so full of doom and dread! You like this Nashville gothic stuff, right?

Bad Cop: Actually I do. OK. I changed my mind. I like these girls’ version. But I still don’t think women should try singing songs clearly meant for a guy, or vice versa.

Good Cop: OK, I think this is their last song. Another wistful waltz, a love song to New York written down under the Manhattan Bridge where Bell runs the Saturday night show at 68 Jay Street Bar. What a pretty way to bring it down and end the night. I tell you, we are going places with this blog. This is the third fantastic band we’ve been asked to go see in the past week. Stick with me and you’ll be famous!

Bad Cop: Don’t count your chickens. My guess is that we’re on the shuttle back to Columbus…

Good Cop: You mean Scranton.

Bad Cop: Uh, whatever. At best, we’re the B team. The only reason we were enlisted for this one is because the blog covered another show of hers last summer. So they needed a new angle. That’s all.

Good Cop: Be careful with that breaking-the-fourth-wall stuff. You know you’re not supposed to do that.

Bad Cop: That’s why I’m the bad guy [pulls a flask from his inside jacket pocket and takes a slug]. See you in Col…I mean Scranton.

Good Cop: Oh yeah, I almost forgot, Jan Bell has booked the night of February 23 at the Jalopy for an all-star tribute to Pete Seeger. It starts around 8, it’s ten bucks and there will be a lot of good usual New York Americana suspects onstage. If we’re lucky Jan will do her version of Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream like she did tonight.

Lush, Gorgeous Psychedelic Pop and Vintage Folk-Rock from the New Mendicants

The New Mendicants – the Pernice Brothers’ Joe Pernice, Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and the Sadies’ Mike Belistky – blend classic psychedelic and powerpop sounds from the 60s and 70s while adding their own wickedly tuneful edge. This supergroup of sorts absolutely nails a whole bunch of styles from the UK from around 1965 to 1975. Their new album Into the Lime is streaming at Spotify…and it’s also available on vinyl!

The trio open it very auspiciously with A Very Sorry Christmas, its growling, Badfinger guitars, a little bit of of a shuffling Ringo feel from Belitsky and some Big Star blending in as well. “I’ve hurt so many people on the way, on a very sorry Christmas Eve, I wonder if the ghosts will ever let me be,” Blake laments. The second track, By the Time It Gets Dark is an optimistically catchy, gorgeous folk- rock ballad spiced with glockenspiel (although the litany of cliches that serves as the first verse needs to go). The bouncy Cruel Annette blends the mod pulse of late 60s The Who with jaunty, slightly vaudevillian early 60s Beatles. After that, the delicate, McCartneyesque acoustic waltz Follow You Down is quite likely the prettiest song ever written about a suicide pact.

The genuine classic here is High on the Skyline, an enigmatically alienated folk-rock anthem that’s equal parts Strawbs Britfolk and lushly clangy, twanging Byrds. “I’ll show you how deadly close faraway can be,” Blake intones in his stately  delivery. If You Only Knew Her is similar musically, but more Beatlesque, sort of like a more fleshed-out take on Here, There and Everywhere. The trio follow that with the most modern-sounding track here, Lifelike Hair, a third-generation garage-psych rock tune with a hypnotic Brian Jonestown Massacre vibe.

It’s not clear at all what the title track is about, other than a lament for a vanished girlfriend: “The killing joke, the killing moon, the killing of me softly with this song,” Blake croons over a lushly orchestrated, sunnily attractive chamber folk melody. Sarasota blends elements of Motown and chamber pop into an absolutely surreal Florida scenario that might or might not be a murder mystery. The album winds up on a high note with the blistering neo-mod rock hit Shouting Match, a dead ringer for Connecticut pub rock legends the Reducers. The whole thing is one of the most tuneful collections to come over the transom here this year and a strong contender for one of 2014’s best albums.