New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Month: March, 2014

New Electric Ride’s Balloon Age: Brilliantly Crazed Retro 60s Psychedelia

British group New Electric Ride are a period-perfect, fantastic mid-60s style psychedelic rock band. As their new album Balloon Age goes on, it becomes a wickedly funny, good-natured parody of mid-60s style psychedelia of all kinds. The Rutles, XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphear albums or Love Camp 7‘s Love Camp VII album are the closest thing to what they’re doing here, a spot-on evocation of tropes from across the acid rock and acid pop spectrum, right down to the vintage guitar, bass and keyboard sounds. The whole delicious thing is streaming at their Bandcamp page.

A trippy orchestral intro opens the first number, Here Comes the Bloom, which is sort of the 13th Floor Elevators doing Sergeant Pepper. There’s some twelve-string jangle from 60s guitar polymath Jack Briggs, then an unexpectedly ominous, shuffling bridge that works its way down to Adam Cole’s fuzz bass riff before the fun begins all over again. Marquis de Sade imagines the old philosopher as a stoner, from a funky Cream intro, through a little early Santana and then a galloping proto-metal interlude fueled by Craig Oxberry’s artful drums before some very funny vocals kick in.

From Paul Nelson’s faux-vibraphone keyboard intro through its intensely catchy slide guitar riffage contrasting with offcenter, lushly watery vintage chorus-box guitar – and what might be a murder mystery narrative – Bye Bye Baton Rouge is arguably the album’s strongest track. A Submarine Song is where the satire really gets heavy, in this case a litany of White Album-era Beatles references. The lyrics are just as funny: “Diving deep through the foam and brine I spin, tickling fins and dodging whales,” but this would-be Jules Verne isn’t allowed to tell the tale since it’s classified information!

The slow, slinky I Feel So Invited lampoons an Abbey Road vamp, Briggs’ anachronistic Dick Dale-style tremolo-picking knocking everything else to the side. In Chains, from the band’s previous ep, shoots for a psychedelic organ soul sound a la the Spencer Davis Group or Vanilla Fudge, rising to more of that killer, watery guitar. Lovers, another track that first appeared on the ep, goes back to stealing wryly from the Fab Four.

I Can’t Help but Smile, the poppiest track here, evokes the Moody Blues circa In Search of the Lost Chord trying to bring a little bossa nova into their psych-folk shuffle. The Beyond mingles more epic Moody Blues with early War-style latin soul, the Byrds, a droll quote from the Lemon Pipers and a bizarre Jefferson Airplane outro – in case anybody was wondering if these guys knew their source material or not, this seals the deal. As they did with their ep, the band take their sound a little further into the 70s to close the album with the ominously harmony-driven From Under Me, its darkly swaying, blues-tinged Pretty Things atmospherics spiced with lively brass. Much as there are droll and squirrelly effects here, the overall ambience is more straight-ahead and serious…but then again with this band, you never know how much they’re messing with your mind. That’s what makes this album, a lock for one of the best of 2014, so much fun.

A Hauntingly Contrasting Klezmer Twinbill on the Upper West

It might have been a cold night on the upper west side this past March 4, but in the basement of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a surprisingly large and energetic crowd gathered to see a hauntingly kinetic doublebill of two very different bands, Ichka and Siach HaSadeh, from the thriving Montreal klezmer scene. Ichka play minor key party music. Siach HaSadeh play hushed, slow, sometimes rapt, sometimes utterly morose soundscapes using ancient ngunim as a stepping-off point for improvisation (although they did romp through one unexpectedly upbeat number in about half an hour onstage).

Ichka clarinetist Julien Biret, violinist Isaac Beaudet and trombonist Eli Richards showed off sizzling chops right from the start,. While Biret’s swirls and dips and Beaudet’s slashing cadenzas and flickering trills were adrenalizing to the extreme, and their sub accordionist, Emily, filled in solidly both as a sidewoman and soloist in place of their usual player Laurence Sabourin, the band’s not-so-secret weapon is Richards. He’s what sets this band apart sonically, cuttting through with slinky basslines, ragtime-flavored riffage and occasionally the kind of tongue-in-cheek bursts you might expect from a tuba. In an all-acoustic setting such as this, having Richards instead of a bass brought the energy another level higher.

Counterpoint and dynamics are a big part of what this band does, the songs rising and falling, the band opening with a somber stroll before leaping into a joyously bouncy if biting and acerbic groove. As lively and entertianing as their set was, their best song might have been a stately, somber dirge by Alicia Svigals. A tune from the catalog of USSR-era researcher Moishe Beregovsky served as a long, slow launching pad for intense, lickety-split soloing from Biret and Beaudet. They closed with another steadily crescendoing number that they’d picked up from Michael Winograd, which they assumed was from the Beregovsky repertoire as well but actually turned out to be a Winograd original.

Siach HaSadeh didn’t waste any time changing the mood about 180 degrees from celebratory to sepulchral with their “improvisational Jewish chamber music,” as clarinetist/bandleader Yoni Kaston put it. Bassist Joel Kerr propelled their opening number with a tighly circular vamp that wouldn’t have been out of place in a west African soukous song – or one by Vampire Weekend, for that matterr. An even more subdued number was a dirge that Kason had recently unearthed on a wax cylinder in an archive in Kiev: it’s not inconceivable that this band was the first to play the melody in over a century, or for that matter, outside Ukrainian soil. How cool is that?

Gael Huard’s cello and Daniel Fuchs’ violin provided otherwordly, ambered washes of sound along with ghostly harmonic flickers as Kaston’s broodingly crystalline, sometimes Middle Eastern-toned melodies floated overhead. Afterward the two bands, joined with Ariane Morin, Kaston’s alto saxophonist partner in Turkish music duo Ihtimanska, along with several audience members for a robust jam on some familiar themes from across the centuries.

Drummer Aaron Alexander – one of the prime movers in New York Jewish-themed jazz for the past two decades – runs the Tuesday night series in the synagogue basement, and the concerts are consistently excellent. Concertgoers have many options: at the top end, $35 gets you a music class at 5:30, the show and jam afterward plus refreshments. If you just want the class, that’s $25; just the show by itself is $15. The next concert here is on April 1 at 7:30 with luminous singer Inna Barmash and her all-star band – featuring her paradigm-shifting violist husband Ljova Zhurbin – playing tracks from her haunting new collection of mostly Ukrainian Yiddish lullabies and love songs.

And Ichka have an album release show for their new one Podorozh on March 23 at 9 PM at Casa del Popolo, 4873 boul. St-Laurent in Montréal; cover is $10, or $20 including a copy of the album.

Good Cop and Bad Cop Review Guess and Check

 

Bad Cop: Is this couplecore?

Good Cop: From the band lineup – Maya Klein on keys and her husband Jay on guitars – you might think so, but I wouldn’t call this band couplecore at all. Couplecore is rich brats from LA singing about riding the Ikea bus together. With you around I’m probably not going to get away with this, but I’d call Guess and Check indie pop.

Bad Cop: We’ll see about that. Let’s get the formalities out of the way. Their album is called, um, Entanglement. It’s on Bandcamp. They’re playing the Knitting Factory tomorrow night, the twelfth, at 8. I think cover is ten bucks and if you’re going, I wouldn’t stress, shows at the Knit don’t usually sell out.

Good Cop: OK, let’s run the tracks. Lucy Relax is the first one. You know what, I think this song is about a cat.

Bad Cop: Explain.

Good Cop: Well, it’s like something you’d say to a cat. Cats are asleep for so much of their lives that when they’re actually awake, they’re insane. And then you have to say, “Lucy, RELAX!!!” And Lucy isn’t the kind of name you’d give a person anyway. Unless like maybe you were French.

Bad Cop: “We’d never let you come to harm,” hmmm, you may have a point. A blue-eyed soul tinge to the vocals. You know, this reminds me of something from ten years ago. Or maybe earlier. Nice production – drums back in the mix, growly bass, some intertwining guitar lines. Catchy without being cloying.

Good Cop: That’s Barry Ickow on drums and Shayna Lewis on bass. Good song, good start to the album.

Bad Cop: Track two. Antidote. Reminds me of Erika Simonian‘s solo stuff before Little Silver. Good lyrics too. When’s the last time you heard someone use both “parse” and “absolution” in a song, at least one that was good?

Good Cop: I could see the Decemberists doing that.

Bad Cop: But they suck.

Good Cop: True. And this doesn’t sound anything like that anyway. Penny Lane but with new wave values.

Bad Cop: A happy pop song about being poisoned. I’m not supposed to say this, but I’m starting to really like this band.

Good Cop: Careful with that business of breaking character, you don’t want to get us into trouble. Now track three, Changeling, sounds a lot like that last one.

Bad Cop: But even more new wave. That string synth – and is that an omnichord? Whoah. That would be cool.

Good Cop: Kinda disco beat but without the disco drumming. You know, the boom-swish, boom-swish on the cymbals.

Bad Cop: I could do without the b-vox. But this would have been a hit thirty years ago. You know, baseball season is coming up and I’m in a baseball mood. So I would say that this album is three for three so far. No home runs, and that last one was more of a bloop than a blast, but these guys can definitely write a song.

Good Cop: Yeah, I’m enjoying this. [nudges Bad Cop] You notice we’ve been getting better assignments here. And more of them.

Bad Cop: Don’t count your chickens. Track four is Wish I Could Dance. My answer to that complaint, just have a few more drinks.

Good Cop: More of that disco groove. Oscillating synth. Kind of jarring with the hip-hop vocal flavor.

Bad Cop: This is the guy singing. It just kills me when a band has a perfectly good lead singer and then some doofus has to take over the mic to sing his or her song. And this song sucks. I think they’re trying to be Bushwick. You know, twee or something.

Good Cop: I’m not supposed to agree with you but this one doesn’t really pick up until the bridge on the way out and by then it’s too late.

Bad Cop: OK. Three for four. This next one is the title track. Are you sure this isn’t couplecore? “We were left there naked and alive?” And I don’t like guys who sing like girls.

Good Cop: C’mon, he just has a soft voice. And he’s hitting all the notes. I like that kind of suspenseful pulse they have going on. This is a hit, you have to admit it.

Bad Cop: Started slow but it picked up, didn’t it? I like that. Dynamics. They didn’t just record a single verse and chorus and then loop them like all those indie bands do.

Good Cop: I’m with you on that. Track six is Letter. Now I can tell this is the kind of song you love. It’s so plainspoken but so well-crafted. And so sad. Reminds me of that band DollHouse that you told me about..

Bad Cop: I think this is a New York band. Not a Bushwick band or a Williamsburg band. Real New Yorkers. This song has that kind of edge, it doesn’t waste words, the singer is on her game, she lets the story tell itself. A home run, no question. Not a cheap Yankee Stadium flyball into the bullpen, either. What does this make the album? Five for six at this point.

Good Cop: Here’s track seven, Some DJ’s. Now I know you’re gonna love this one. I love how Jay Klein says “They’ll have some DJ’s,” so cold and sarcastic. Songs about bands trying to make it are usually dumb and boring but this one really captures a moment.

Bad Cop: Grand slam home run. Awww, I love this song. For so many reasons. If you are as mystified as I am that anyone would pay a cover charge to listen to whatever songs are on some random person’s phone, you will love this too. Six for seven.

Good Cop: Here’s track eight, Gone. Who’s this singing?

Bad Cop: That’s the drummer. OK, give the drummer some. Next.

Good Cop: C’mon, it’s not so bad.

Bad Cop: It’s not awful, it’s just meh. Drummer knows a little guitar, can fake his way through a tune, he’s been bugging the band to give him a turn on the mic, and you know with drummers, you can’t fuck with them. Drummers all play in about ten bands and if you don’t kiss their ass they’ll leave. And this guy’s a good drummer but I could do without this song. Six for eight.

Good Cop: OK, track nine, Hundred Waters. I like that creepy bass walk over the steady guitar chords. Postpunk.

Bad Cop: Now THAT’S an omnichord! Eerie verse, anthemic chorus, nice contrast. Good song. And notice how few actual tracks there are on this song? For example, there’s about three for the keys, then just guitar, bass, drums and the vocals, lead and backups. No wasted notes. They really had an idea when they went into the studio with this.

Good Cop: “If you build a school like a prison, thoughts will never be sweet.” What a line. This is my favorite song on the album and I like almost all the rest too.

Bad Cop: Another home run. Seven for nine. I’m starting to think about maybe going to this show since the band is going on hiatus afterward.

Good Cop: Aw, that’s too bad! Just when they put out a really great album. How many times does that happen, huh?

Bad Cop: Ulrich Ziegler a couple of years ago, for one. Now this is track ten, Shelter. Biggest anthem here so far. Reverse image of the last song: big propulsive verse, little lullaby chorus.

Good Cop: A lot like that track you really liked a lot. You know, the DollHouse one.

Bad Cop: That was Letter. This is just as good, maybe better. Another homer. Although what it really needs, what I would love to hear right now, is a big slashing guitar solo.

Good Cop: Maybe they ran out of time in the studio. Or maybe they aren’t into big guitar solos.

Bad Cop: Or maybe nobody in the band can play one.

Good Cop: Don’t be so needlessly critical. Now there’s one more track, this is My God I Just Realized. Looks like we’re going back to the new wave.

Bad Cop: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s 1981 and this is the Mudd Club. I like how they trade off lines on the vocals on the verse. And there’s distortion on the guitar for once.

Good Cop: Looks like you were wrong about these guys not rocking out. And looks like we have a winner here. How would you rank this, nine for eleven?

Bad Cop: Yeah, that’s really raking. That’s an average that would never happen in real baseball – unless steroids were involved. It never ceases to amaze me how many good bands like this there are out there that just slip through the cracks.

Good Cop: Would you say that this is one of the best albums you’ve heard this year?

Bad Cop: Now let me put this in perspective, I’m not big on pop music as you know. But these guys won me over. The tunes are simple, terse, crystallized, and catchy as hell. You can understand the lyrics and better yet, the lyrics are usually pretty good. I have some issues with the vocals…

Good Cop: When do you NOT have issues with the vocals?

Bad Cop: That Byzan-tones concert we saw. That band plays instrumentals.

Good Cop: My point exactly. I can’t wait to see what the blog has for us to do next! Remember the days when the only thing we’d ever get to review was organ jazz cds? What a long way we’ve come since then!

Bad Cop: Don’t hold your breath. We could be on the shuttle back to Columbus…

Good Cop: You mean Scranton.

Bad Cop: I still can’t get used to Scranton being a Yankees farm team. Just can’t. Anyway, see you on the train.

The Infamous Stringdusters Catch Lightning in a Bottle

 

It’s no secret that jambands are at their best onstage. Sure, the Infamous Stringdusters will probably sell busloads of copies of their forthcoming album Let It Go (due out April 1) at shows – a cynic would say that if you’re drunk or stoned enough, you’ll buy anything. But believe it or not, the album actually manages to capture the kind of livewire intensity that the band generates night after night in concert. They’re at Bowery Ballroom on March 27 at 10ish; general admission tix are $23.

The secret to this band’s onstage alchemy lies in the dynamics between Andy Hall’s dobro and Chris Pandolfi’s banjo. Sometimes it’s a tug-of-war, sometimes their snaky lines intertwine and harmonize alongside Andy Falco’s guitars, Jeremy Garrett’s fiddle and Travis Book’s bass. What makes the Stringdusters different from so many of their newgrass brethren is that a lot of their songs, especially on this album, are basically blue-sky rock anthems with acoustic instrumentation. This band doesn’t just recycle a ton of oldtime folk and bluegrass licks: they have their own distinctive style. Case in point: the album’s opening track, I’ll Get Away, where Garrett’s dancing lines give the song a bit of a Celtic tinge. Or the second track, Where the Rivers Run Cold, with Pandolfi’s flurrying, rapidfire, genuinely hard-rocking banjo.

The wary, biting Winds of Change segues out of that, with a stark twin fiddle solo and then some deliciously intense tradeoffs between the dobro and banjo. Rainbows starts out as a gentle folk-pop tune and then picks up with a big anthemic chorus, while Summercamp takes doo-wop rock to the country. The tersely dancing instrumental Middlefork mashes up a country waltz with Mexican folk and the Grateful Dead in acoustic mode

By My Side reverts to an anthemic acoustic highway rock vibe, followed by Colorado, an even mightier, more soaring newgrass anthem. There’s a hint of the Dead classic Franklin’s Tower in the catchy, shuffling Peace of Mind, the fiddle leaping joyously over its steady backdrop. Light and Love offers hints of oldtime country blues, while the album’s closing track, Let It Go is a civil war tune at heart. All of this has an intricate weave of instruments and the kind of incisive, meaningful jamming that usually gets the squeeze when you take a jamband out of their element and stick them in the sterile confines of a studio. The album’s not up at Spotify yet but it ought to be next month because the rest of the band’s studio stuff is there.

Purist Psychedelic Tunesmithing from the Allah-Las

The Allah-Las play period-perfect 60s-style psychedelic pop, folk-rock and punchy garage rock sounds, but more tunefully than most of the bands who were playing that stuff over forty years ago. Byrds twelve-string guitar jangle? Check. Dark, surreal, hard-hitting Arthur Lee garage stomp? Doublecheck. Nonchalantly sinister Peanut Butter Conspiracy psych-folk? Some of that too. What makes the Allah-Las different from all of those bands, other than the Byrds, is that they jangle and clang their way through their songs rather than playing riffs or recycled blues and R&B licks. Their not-so-secret weapon is lead guitarist Pedrum Siadatian’s twelve-string, although frontman Miles Michaud will sometimes play twelve-string as well for extra chime and clang. Their album – streaming at their Bandcamp page – is one of the best original retro rock efforts of recent years. They’re scheduled to play Rough Trade on March 27, but whether the venue has reopened or not, you won’t get a chance if you don’t already have a ticket because that show is sold out. What a heartwarming story these guys are: a year ago, when they made a stop in New York, they’d be at the Mercury. If there’s any proof that there’s a massive audience for good music in this town, these guys are it.

The album’s opening tune, Catamaran is a classic, catchy midtempo Ventures-style surf tune which they beef up with organ after the first chorus. The kiss-off anthem Don’t You Forget It sets Spencer Dunham’s trebly descending bassline over a gorgeous twelve-string hook, Siadatian’s solo spiced with eerily bluesy bends. Drummer Matthew Correia builds from a rumble to a steady backbeat on the wickedly tuneful, Byrdsy Busman’s Holiday. The surf instrumental Sacred Sands has a lush beauty that rises to a more incisive chorus with the twelve-and six-string guitars in tandem.

No Voodoo goes more in a trad garage rock direction, but with more lush sonics. The ominously echoey backing vocals on Sandy reminds of the Yardbirds, while Ela Navega could be Los Destellos playing a Brazilian tune, something the Peruvian psychedelic legends did frequently. “Tell me what’s on your mind, cause I can’t find it,” Michaud suggests on the jangly number afterward.

Catalina is clinic in tasteful, incisive twelve-string playing, followed by Vis a Vis, which sounds like the Church at their poppiest, with the two twelve-strings answering each other as the song hits a high point. Seven Point Five works a brooding psych-folk groove, while Long Journey, with its low, creepy Yardbirds vocal harmonies, slashing fuzztone breaks and murderous lyrics, is the darkest and longest track here. There’s reverb on everything, especially the guitars, and an underlying sense of unease throughout all of these songs despite all the catchy clang. If psychedelia and just plain good retro songwriting is your thing, keep your eyes out for when these guys make another trip through town.

Big Buzz Band Blouse Breezes into Bowery Ballroom

Portland, Oregon band Blouse‘s early singles worked moody 80s-style synth-pop terrain. Their latest album, Imperium – streaming at Spotify – finds the band evolving to put a more melodic spin on classic late 80s/early 90s-style dreampop. With the guitars’ enveloping, jangly chill, early Lush is the obvious comparison, but this band has become both more tuneful and uses more varied textures than just the watery chorus-box effects that give dreampop its icy swirl and echoey resonance. Blouse’s Bowery Ballroom gig on March 25 opening for the ghoul-pop Dum Dum Girls is sold out but there are still general tix for $15 for their Music Hall of Williamsburg show the following night, where they’re playing around 9:30.

Throughout the album’s ten tracks, bassist Patrick Adams plays with a gritty, trebly tone, his lines winding and twisting but not wasting notes. Guitarist Jacob Portrait will hit his distortion pedal when the chorus kicks in and go back to an echoey clang on the verse, or vice versa. Frontwoman Charlie Hilton varies her vocals from clipped and Teutonic to much more wamly alluring, particularly when she uses her lower register.

And the songs are catchy. The title cut follows a steady path from watery to searing and back again: with the mantra “Are you one of us?,” it sounds like a sci-fi narrative. On the second track, Eyesite, Portrait brings in a little scratchiness and then what sounds like a vintage repeater box. The strummy 1000 Years hides an echoey electric piano behind the layers of jangle, while In a Glass welds growly guitars to an insistently hypnotic 80s vamp. Capote juxtaposes nebulousness and noise over a steady sway, then A Feeling Like This hints at vintage disco.

No Shelter is totally Lush circa 1990, with an aptly apprehensive lyric: “We can’t keep anything, sky’s getting cloudy and it’s a different time…there is no shelter from this storm.” Happy Days goes back in time ten years for a lo-fi Siouxsie ambience; Arrested takes a familiar early Joy Division beat and beefs it up with ringing twelve-string guitars. The vamping final cut, Trust Me gingerly adds textures until the band has a full-fledged song. Judging from this band’s buzz, if only Lush, and My Bloody Valentine, and the Cocteau Twins would get back together and tour, they’d pack stadiums. At the very least they’d pack Bowery Ballroom.

Trippy, Creepy Surf Rock from France’s La Femme

If there was a surf band in Blade Runner, or in Jabba the Hut’s lounge, it would be La Femme. The French group sound like no other band on the planet – or maybe the universe. While many of the tracks on their latest album, Psycho Tropical Berlin – streaming at Youtube – are instrumentals, the band’s latest shtick is to have a mystery woman guest as vocalist on many of the tracks, appropriate enough considering what the band call themselves. They’re at Glasslands on March 23 at 11ish for $12.

Their basic m.o. is to surround their often creepily Lynchian, twangy surf guitar with all kinds of layers of synths, some of them weirdly offcenter and adding to the uneasy ambience, some of them pretty cheesy. Their French lyrics often aim for humor, with mixed results: the music is the point here. The album’s opening track, Antitaxi, sets the stage: noir sci-fi keys speed up to a motorik spy movie theme of sorts, which gives way to shivery faux organ and eventually the Ventures-in-space guitar kicks in. Amour Dans le Motu makes a creepier cousin to that number, an organ-fueled baroque surf number with an unexpectedly atmospheric mellotron interlude midway through.

The band’s titular song is funk-pop with tremolo-bar guitar: on one level, it’s totally 80s, on another it’s completely original to this band. A slow Lynchian tone poem simply titled Interlude is next, followed by the equally Lynchian reggae of Hypsoline and Sur la Planche 2013, which takes early Ventures noir forward fifty years in time with synth bass and a big shuffling drum crescendo.

They go back to reggae, with some scary dialogue (in French) seemingly from a Chernobyl documentary, and then some bizarre but good boogie-woogie piano, in From Tchernobyl With Love. They mix up spy surf with cheesy dancefloor electronics in Packshot, then shift to a moody minor-key reggae/trip-hop mashup with Saisis La Corde. Le Blues de Francoise drifts along on a swooshy organ grove, a tale about a girl with problems.

With a grand total of twenty tracks, the album thins out as it goes along. The good stuff includes some more baroque spacerock and then a hypnotically murky dub version, some ominous trip-hop and a stab at Orbison noir through the warped, synthesized prism of new wave. On the downside, there’s one song that nicks the Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner, another that’s an overlong attempt to remake New Order’s Temptation, along with ripoffs of Blondie’s Heart of Glass and Berlin’s The Metro, a Missing Persons soundalike, some halfhearted Chuck Berry gone hi-tech plus a considerably more techy, purposeless remake of one of the songs on their previous release, Le Podium. Still, when this band is on their game, the ambience they create is as genuinely as it is offhandedly sinister.

Transcendence, Thrills and Fun with Simon Shaheen and Rima Khcheich

Saturday night, Palestininan-born oud and violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen played a rare duo performance with Lebanese chanteuse Rima Khcheich to a sold-out crowd at Roulette. It was the Middle Eastern equivalent of Richard Thompson backing Rosanne Cash, or Duke Ellingon doing a duo show with Ella Fitzgerald. In a survey of iconic Arabic songs dating as far back as possibly the 12th century and as recently as the 70s, the two delivered two sets that were as rivetingly intense as they were friendly and intimate – no surprise, considering that most of the songs were about unrequited love.

Through endless dynamic shifts led by both the singer and instrumentalist, there were many moments of clenched-teeth angst but also lots of deviously funny repartee, much of it wordless. Humor is big in the Shaheen family. It wasn’t long before Simon started relating some funny stories, including one about how he eventually succeeded in getting a Beirut opera house crowd to loosen up, while his brother Najib – also a distinguished oudist – bantered with him from the audience. “Should we take a break?” Simon grinningly inquired at the concert’s midway point, “Not for us – but for you!”

“No. Violin, thirty minutes!” Najib heckled back. And to satisfy his brother, as well as the others who’d requested some violin, Simon opened the second half with a measured, thoughtfully paced solo improvisation that rose from somber to bitingly animated and then savage, winding up with a series of whirlwind downward runs. Before the concert, he’d given a characteristically enlightening talk, self-deprecatingly relating that he thought that this show would be “Not challenging, but beautiful and fulfilling,” his oud serving simply to provide counterpoint and rhythmic drive for Khcheich’s vocals. But it was so much more than that. The two have done duo performances before, and their chemistry was electric, sometimes haunting but also high-spirited, especially when the other would take an extra verse or extra chorus or add extra melismatic tingle to a phrase. At one point, Shaheen opened a song with a bristling flurry of notes and Khcheich shook him off. For most musicians, that would be a faux pas to the extreme: you don’t shake off Simon Shaheen any more than you tell Chopin or B.B. King to start over again. But Khcheich wanted a slow backdrop and Shaheen gladly gave her one, a stately, swaying pulse that the singer slowly built to a mutedly majestic sense of longing.

Shaheen explained beforehand that Khcheich’s repertoire begins in pre-Renaissance Andalucia and stops in Lebanon in the 70s: “Now in the Middle East, if you listen to one song, you listen to thousands…a replica of the west,” he groused. But he’s largely right about that, and he pretty much nailed what Khcheich is about. In the same vein as the legendary Fairouz, she’s not a big belter, using her minutely nuanced alto to channel the subtlest emotional and dynamic shifts with a fine-tuned sense of irony and a surprising grit that she occasionally employs to ramp up the unease. Shaheen delivered his usual blend of profundity and thrills: much as his searing volleys of chromatics and wild if surgically precise tremolo-picking drew appreciative applause throughout the show, most of what he played was far slower and more contemplative – which made the fireworks all the more thrilling.

“The program wasn’t finalized, and it’s still not,” Shaheen joked as the two made their way raptly into an early Andalucian anthem awash in emotionally charged, wavering melismas, following with a number of songs by 20th century masters Said Darwish and Mohammed Abdel Wahab full of suspenseful push-pull, swells and ebbs and elegant tradeoffs between oud and voice. From there they parsed the Fairouz catalog for a handful of plaintive, rising and falling anthems by Felimone Wihbi and paradigm-shifting Lebanese art-rock/art-song composer duo the Rahbani Brothers. After a long, unexpectedly nebulous anthem to close the show, Khcheich encored with a bravely resolute a-cappella number. “You close your eyes, there’s something beyond the technicality, the knowledge: a spiritual experience, I would say,” Shaheen related before the concert, then made good on that promise.

Promoters Robert Browning Associates have more concerts that promise to be just as exciting coming up at Roulette. On April 26 at 8 PM Amir Nojan & the Nava Ensemble play haunting classical Persian music here, then on May 3 there’s a show with visionary Turkish composer/multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek with his percussionist son Murat.

Poor Old Shine Put an Original, High-Energy Spin on Classic Americana

It’s a good bet that the popularity of Americana rock band Poor Old Shine has a little something to do with Deer Tick. But while both bands use traditional Americana as a stepping-off point for more rock and pop-oriented sounds, Poor Old Shine are both more punk and more eclectic, with a distinct Irish flavor in places. If you like the idea of O’Death but you find the reality oppressively bleak, Poor Old Shine have anthems for you. Their debut album is streaming at Signature Sounds‘ site; they’re at the Mercury on March 10 at around 11. If you’re going, be sure not to miss noir femme fatale Karla Moheno, who plays her murderously torchy, wickedly lyrical songs beforehand at 10 PM. Advance tix are $10 and since the venue is bothering to sell tickets at all, that’s a sign that the club is expecting a big turnout: you can get them there between 5 and 7 PM Monday-Friday sometime before showdate.

Over a swaying Celtic-tinged bounce, the album’s opening track, Weeds or Wildflowers celebrates living in the moment, banjoist Chris Freeman playing a tune that’s practically baroque under Antonio Alcorn’s plinky mandolin. Behind My Eyes keeps the anthemic Irish feel going, but more mutedly, until the mighty last chorus kicks in. Country Pocket spices up a bouncy, upbeat bluegrss tune with Max Shakun’s piano and more than a hint of a Motown beat – and somehow makes all of it work.

The Ghost Next Door layers elegantly fingerpicked, catchy acoustic guitar and a pensive lyric over lush accordion chords. Punching the Air anchors its hard-hitting, slurry punkgrass pulse with Harrison Goodale’s fuzz bass. A highway rock tune done as bluegrass, Right Now revisits the carpe diem theme: it’s both more gothic and more optimistic, the guys in the band deciding to jump at the opportunity to live on the road. Then they get quiet with Empty Rocking Chair, which is equal parts oldschool soul, John Lennon and Americana pop.

The Hurry All Around builds from a tuneful, oldtime-tinged accordion-and-mandolin pulse and rises to a long, unexpectedly lush, percussive outro: “That automobile made from Pittsburgh steel has taken all the hellos and the goodbyes out of you,” Freeman sings sardonically. The band follows that with the album’s most low-key number, just vocal harmonies and spacious piano with a little guitar ambience. They wind it up with the rousing, ragtime-tinged Tear Down the Stage; if the Band hadn’t approached vintage Americana as tourists, they would have sounded something like this.

Israeli Guitarist Dudu Tassa Brings Rare Iraqi-Influenced Rock Sounds to NYC

Israeli guitarist Dudu Tassa and his band the Kuwaitis play intense original rock songs influenced by ancient Iraqi Jewish melodies, drawing on his own Iraqi ancestry (his grandfather and uncle, the Daoud Brothers, were a popular act in pre-WWII Iraq, but were driven from the country in 1951). Tassa is a considerably more interesting guitarist than your typical rock lead player, eschewing long bluesy solos for elegant broken chords, darkly resonant chromatic vamps and even the occasional unexpected departure into indie opaqueness. The band’s lineup is a standard rock power trio bolstered by an Iraqi classical ensemble with lutes, percussion and strings. The result is often absolutely haunting – in a lot of ways, they’re doing the same thing with Iraqi music that Rita is with her Iranian roots. As striking and original as this band’s sound is, it’s a throwback to many centuries ago when Jewish and Arabic folk music was pretty much one and the same. Tassa and band make a rare US appearance at the Museum of Jewish Heritage downtown at 36 Battery Place (just north and west of Battery Park) on March 12 at 7 PM; tix are $35/$30/stud/srs.

Tassa’s latest album with this band is his eighth, testament to the eternal popularity of Arabic-influenced music in Israel (as with country and blues music in this hemisphere, it’s considered rootsy and therefore cool). The opening track is a Middle Eastern dancefloor groove, but with screaming guitar, heavy drums, ney flute and baglama lute plinking quietly up to a suspenseful interlude where the flute takes a long solo up to another majestic peak. The second cut opens with a trilling joza fiddle solo, then the band comes in and makes a snarling, richly tuneful, memorably uneasy 6/8 rock anthem out of it, buoyed by the lushness of the string section as it winds out.

Track three (songs titles and vocals are in either Hebrew or Arabic) starts out with a biting late 80s indie feel and hits a more Middle Eastern groove as it goes along, with a stark joza solo midway through. The fourth cut begins with a scampering oud solo and works a hypnotic one-chord groove with microtonal flute and surrealistically flitting accents from the rest of the ensemble. After that, the group puts a rustically galloping spin on a more contemporary Arabic dancefloor pop tune, then Tassa sings a warmly low-key folk-pop ballad for just electric guitars and voice.

The seventh track blends bossa nova, flamenco and the Middle East, tersely incisive trumpet lines floating over the string section. After that, the band blasts through another haunting one-chord chromatic orchestral romp with a long guitar-joza duel out. They keep the bracing Levantine ambience going, the orchestra going full steam and then winding down to a pizzicato string loop and another judiciously crescendoing trumpet solo. Track ten takes an unexpected detour into rather peevish downstroke indie guitar rock, then adds strings for an unexpected majesty: indie ELO? The album ends with a catchy, upbeat, rustic folk number for oud, strings, voice and percussion. The operative question is where, other than onstage north of Battery Park, this album can be heard. Not on Spotify, although many of the tracks are streaming at Tassa’s site, and there are a couple at the band’s publicists’ site as well.