New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: December, 2015

In Memoriam – Lemmy

Lemmy turned 70 on December 15, and the crowd at Duff’s Bar in South Williamsburg – not to mention the rest of the world – was in shock. That someone who’d consumed so much amphetamine had managed to make it that far gives us all hope, right? Less than two weeks later, he was gone. Karla Rose & the Thorns, a somewhat quieter yet more menacing band than Motorhead, played that night at Grand Victory, a few blocks north, at around midnight. Their frontwoman related how the last time she spent a New Year’s Eve doing anything other than working or playing a gig, she’d spent part of it drinking champagne with Lemmy and Rev. Horton Heat at a show in San Diego. And said that it was the most fun she’d ever had ringing in the new year. There must be thousands of other stories like that, probably most of them true.

Who knew that Lemmy had a last name – Kilmister – or was in a band before Motorhead (Hawkwind, an early 70s psychedelic group who sounded absolutely nothing like them)? Or that his given name was Ian?

And as much as Lemmy is remembered, rightfully, for his indulgences and reputation one of the alltime great rock and roll party animals, it’s his bass playing that will keep his memory alive. Relatively few of his four-string peers play like him because his style was so unorthodox, and distinctive – and punishingly difficult. Lemmy made it look easy. He played bass like a rhythm guitarist, punching out those chords like the freight train from hell, giving Motorhead a low register that put to shame just about any other group on the planet. In Motorhead, he was Keith Richards, and just as important to his band as Richards in the Stones. For those who aren’t fans, before you write off Motorhead as just another lunkhead metal act, give a listen to their youtube channel, which will be livestreaming Lemmy’s graveside memorial service on January 9 at 5:30 PM EST.

New York Music Daily never covered a Motorhead show because blogs didn’t exist back in 1999, when the blog’s founder was lucky enough to catch them kicking ass, and eardrum – as Lemmy put it – at a rare Manhattan club gig. But if the New York Music Daily Museum ever expands to a real public space beyond very small, by-invite-only confines, the world will get to see a Motorhead box set high above the other artifacts.

Thanks to loudwire for spreading the word about the memorial.

Advertisements

The 100 Best Songs of 2015

Welcome to the secret history of rock music, 2015 style. This playlist is designed to be bookmarked and revisited as your spirit of adventure requires. There’s enough here to get you through almost a day’s worth of work or playing hooky. And there’s streaming audio for every song here, mostly at Bandcamp or Soundcloud so there’s no stress about having to mute stupid ads. And all the youtube links came up ad-free when this page was created…but you know how youtube can be.

As amazing a year as it was for music, the elephant in the room is the unreleased songs. Even in an age when somebody’s upload to youtube or archive.org constitutes a de facto “release,” the number of transcendent moments from a relatively tiny sliver of the thousands and thousands of concerts in this city this past year towered over the actual number of recordings, official or otherwise, that made it onto the shortlist for this page. If noir Americana songwriter Erica Smith‘s harrowing Veterans of Foreign Wars, the doomed retro soul of LJ Murphy’s Comfortable Cage, Karla Rose & the Thorns‘ murderously marauding border-rock bankster parable Battery Park, or Linda Draper clearing the yuppies out of Rockwood Music Hall with the title track from her forthcoming album Modern Day Decay – about negotiating “a world full of assholes” – are any indication, we’re in for an even better 2016 and 2017.

Like the last couple of years, there was one song released in 2015 that rocketed straight to the top of this list…very quietly. Vanity’s Curse, by accordionist/multi-instrumentalist Rachelle Garniez, doesn’t go straight to the root of “luxury fashioned by bludgeon and blade” – she takes her time. The song opens as an Elizabethan-tinged guitar ballad, a view of a dotty old lady’s tchotchke collection, and it mushrooms from there. In a completely un-political way, it captures the dynamic that’s kept a ruling class at the top of the food chain, yet bearing the seeds of its own long overdue destruction. And at this point in history, there’s no alternative. From her album Who’s Counting – which also topped the list of best albums of 2015 here. Watch the video

Like this year’s Best Albums and Best New York Concerts pages, beyond the choice of #1, there’s no ranking. If a song’s good enough to make the cut out of many, many thousands, you should hear it, whether it’s at the beginning or the end here. Trying to weigh which might be better – an irresistibly catchy ragtime-flavored hit by Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear, or the hair-raising psychedelic metal of Greek Judas‘ This Is Why I Smoke Cocaine – is apples and oranges. The rest of this year’s crop is too diversely amazing to put in any kind of order.

Sweet Soubrette – Ghost Ship
A new wave Motown existentialist pop masterpiece from the soul-infused band led by the ubiquitously eclectic Ellia Bisker (also of the carnivalesque, latin-tinged Kotorino, menacing parlor pop duo Charming Disaster and the boisterous Funkrust Brass Band). From the Live at Joe’s Pub album. Listen here

The Sideshow Tragedy – Capital
The title track to the savagely lyrical Austin gutter-blues band’s latest album works a dusky midtempo slide guitar groove, a caustically aphoristic parable of the 21st century going back into the dark ages in a hurry. “You listen to the police scanner as your write your report, better fill your quota while you got time…you can’t see the horizon ’cause it don’t matter right now, so rob the beggars blind,” frontman Nathan Singleton snarls. Listen here

Karla Rose & the Thorns – Mexico
Seedy seaside resort cast as logical destination for a surreal and possibly deadly endgame, set to deceptively lilting Veracruz-tinged acoustic rock. The band slayed quietly with this at the Mercury last month. Their unexpectedly lush, wounded cover of the Motels’ Only the Lonely at Hank’s back in July was pretty awesome too. Listen here

Los Wemblers – Sonido Amazonico
The slinky, creepily chromatic “national anthem of chicha” first hit these shores when Chicha Libre covered it in 2008, inspired by the hit by Peruvian psychedelic cumbia band Los Mirlos. But these guys –  now in their seventies, and absolutely undiminished – wrote it. They played two long, trippy versions at their New York debut in Red Hook back in July. Watch the whole concert here

Jeanne Jolly – California
This spare, Tift Merritt-ish nocturne is about dead dreams, and walking away from defeat, and the consequences of bad timing. Unselfconsciously deep and one of the most shattering songs of the year. From the album A Place to Run. Listen here

Ember Schrag – Iowa
This early song from the Great Plains gothic songstress’s deep catalog builds slowly, like the killer storm it portends, looming in over the barns and windmills. Flyover America never got hit so hard, metaphorically or otherwise. From the live Folkadelphia Sessions album. Listen here

The Bright Smoke – On Ten
Singer/guitarist Mia Wilson’s throaty, wounded wail channels equal parts unease and crushing cynicism as she contemplates the struggle to get by among the rich and would-be famous who’ve invaded our neighborhoods over the past few years. From the album Terrible Towns. Listen here

Desert Flower – Traveler
A menacing 6/8 art-rock epic from charismatic singer Bela Zap Art and her ferocious twin-guitar band. They slayed with this at Paperbox back in September. Watch the video

Big Lazy – Night Must Fall
Part scampering Romany jazz, part furtive crime theme, part horror surf, guitarist/composer Stephen Ulrich finally launches into an axe-murderer flurry of tremolo-picking, then goes into jazz, then back to slasher mode here. From the Don’t Cross Myrtle album. This blog caught more shows by Big Lazy than by any other band in 2015…maybe, ever. They’re that good and creepy. Listen here

Regular Einstein – The Good Times
The most unexpectedly savage and arguably best track on ever-more-diverse songwriter/guitarist Paula Carino’s band’s latest album Chimp Haven, a noirish 6/8 soul anthem that reaches haphazardly toward some better future that doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon. Listen here

Carol Lipnik – The Things That Make You Grow
A darkly exhilarating anthem for embattled individualists. the iconic singer working every inch of her vast four-octave range over Matt Kanelos’ incisively stately piano. From her album Almost Back to Normal. Listen here

Les Sans Culottes – DSK
The faux-French Brooklyn psychedelic powerpop band at the top of their satirical game, frontman Clermont Ferrand casting a dubious eye on rapacious would-be presidents. Lyrics in French, of course. From the album Les Dieux Ont Soif/The Gods Are Thirsty. Listen here

The Shootout Band – Walking on a Wire
Frontwoman Erica Smith outdid Linda Thompson’s original vocal on a shattering take of the Richard Thompson breakup classic at the Mercury this past March. Watch the video (this version is from the Treehous at 2A in 2014 and has Ward White rather than Dave Foster on harmonies)

Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair – I’m a Stranger Here
This bitter reminiscence of high school alienation first took shape as a pulsing new wave tune. But the crooner keyboardist took it to the next level as noir swing. Alto saxophonist Jason’s Reese’s shadowy lines over eerily tiptoeing piano, with contrasting guitar jangle and wail from guitarists Ross Bonadonna and John Sharples, make this the high point of the album Side Effects. Watch the video

Lorraine Leckie & Pavel Cingl– Climb Ya Like a Mountain
The incredibly prolific, dark New York rock chanteuse and the popular Prague violinist offer an eleganly bluesy art-rock shout-out to the noted mountain climber Aleister Crowley. From their album The Raven Smiled. Listen here

Matt Keating – They’ve Thrown You Away
Nobody writes catchier or more piercingly spot-on Flyover America narratives than this veteran dark Americana guitarslinger. From the album This Perfect Crime. Listen here

Raya Brass Band – Mirage
With its minor-key edge, accordionist Max Fass’ hints of dub, Greg Squared’s aching alto sax solo and a menacingly fluttering twin-horn outro, it’s the high point of the Brooklyn Balkan band’s latest album, simply titled Raya. Listen here

Tipsy Oxcart – The Sheikh
It may sound as Arabic as a Hungarian freylach, but it’s a supremely tasty minor-key romp, accordionist Jeremy Bloom and clarinetist Connell Thompson raising the energy to redline as bassist Ayal Tsubery takes a familiar ba-bump groove and walks it. From the album Upside Down. Listen here

Charming Disaster – Secretary
A luridly pouncing, blackly funny noir narrative that this superstar NYC parlor pop duo – Jeff Morris from Kotorino and Ellia Bisker from Sweet Soubrette – does better than just about anybody else in that demimonde. From the album Love, Crime and Other Trouble. Listen here

Mike Rimbaud – Friend
Another of the funniest tracks here, a ssnarling, reverbtoned new wave update on Highway 61 era Dylan and a viciously accurate slap at social media addicts. “Your BFF is only BS,” Rimbaud snickers. From the album Put That Dream In Your Pipe and Smoke It. Watch the video

The Glass House Ensemble – Dirge
Legendary trumpeter Frank London joined forces with his Hungarian multi-instrumentalist pal Béla Ágoston to lead this sizzling, jam-oriented band, who reinvent old pre-Holocaust Jewish melodies. This video is their whole show recorded last January in Hungary; you’ll have to fast forward about twenty minutes in. Or just blast the whole thing, it’s a spine-tingling ride.

Rachel Mason – The Werewolf of Wisteria
That’s the name that serial killer Hamilton Fish was known as on Staten Island, before he was captured and eventually executed. Mason sings it with a brooding knowingness on her latest album The Lives of Hamilton Fish, tracing the strangely interwoven lives of the scion of a New York political fortune along with the  psycho’s far more fascinating career. Listen here

Marianne Dissard – Oiseau
The haunting French songwriter/chanteuse intones her loaded images of the unlucky creature hitting the window and then collapsing with a wounded understatement that permeates the richly textured web of electric and acoustic guitars underneath, like the early Velvets if they’d been tighter and raised on the Arizona/Mexico border. From her album Cologne Vier Takes. Listen here

Molly Ruth – My Hometown Ain’t Where I’m Really From
A harrowing C&W ballad that pulls the sentimental rug from under every country cliche. What hellish place would make a young Molly Ruth remember that “As a kid I couldn’t make no friends, I wanted to be sent back?” The version she played with her careening band at the Mercury last March was devastating. Watch it herw

Goddess – Begins
Singer Fran Pado leads the song’s soaring, stately, gorgeous vocal harmonies over what could be a horror-film piano theme. “Like a finger in the palm, like the death of remorse,” the women intone. From the theatrical, phantasmagorical New York band’s new album Paradise. Listen here

Twin Guns – Trigger Jack
The explosive, reverb-addicted noir garage rockers deliver a creepy, stalking desert rock tableau, like Big Lazy on crank. From the album The Last Picture Show. Listen here

Sarah Kirkland Snider – The Witch
Bernard Herrmann as My Brightest Diamond might do it, shivery strings over elegantly tumbling beats. From the brilliantly allusive indie classical composer’s latest, most direct and troubling album, Unremembered, a wise and sadly accurate antidote to sentimental childhood reminiscences.. Listen here

Bobtown – Kentucky Graveyard
A grisly, Gorey-esque noir cabaret catalog of the weirdos who end up pushing up daisies there, along with the various ways they found their way under. From the album A History of Ghosts. Listen here

Bliss Blood & Al Street – No One Gets It All
One of the great voices in noir torch song teams with flamenco-inspired guitarist Street in one of the duo’s most lushly Lynchian moments. From their album Unspun. Listen here

The Whiskey Charmers – Parlor Lights
The Michigan noir country band mashes up a moody lowlit depressed Lynchian sway with ominous trainwhistle slide guitar: “Turn off the open road, there’s an end in sight,” frontwoman Carrie Shepard intones. From the band’s debut album. Listen here

Fernando Vicioconte – White Trees
The gloomiest number on the Argentine expat noir rocker’s brilliant, darkly psychedelic new album Leave the Radio On builds a spare, rustic, metaphorically charged tableau. Listen here

Orphan Jane – Mansion Song
A scampering mashup of Brecht/Weill noir cabaret and Hawaiian swing. It’s a cautionary tale: be careful when you shoot for revenge on hedge fund types- they can afford to hire thugs. From the album A Poke in the Eye. Listen here

The TarantinosNYC – Korla’s Theme
An artfully nebulous, ominously crescendoing Dick Dale-style Red Sea stomp with all kinds of cool variations from one of the most cinematic instrumental bands around. From the album Surfin’ the Silver Screen. Listen here

The Monophonics – Too Long
Cinematic noir soul with a long crescendo from Yonatan Gat’s trippy psychedelic band. From the Sound of Sinning album. Listen here

Dalava – Vyšla Devcina
Ancient Moravian folk reinvented as a creepy circus rock waltz, guitarist Aram Bajakian’s icepick guitar paired against nebulous strings and singer Julia Ulehla’s calmly enigmatic voice. From their debut album. Listen here

Patricia Santos – Little Boat
An absolutely knockout, creepy, noisy cover of Kotorino‘s brooding noir rock narrative by the charismatic cellist/singer and Whiskey Girls frontwoman. Kotorino axeman Jeff Morris adds his most murderous guitar solo ever. From her album Never Like You Think. Listen here

Jon DeRosa – High and Lonely
A spare, hypnotically apocalyptic anthem: “I want none of your fleeting wealth, I want none of your earthly fortune,” is the mantra. From the ominous baritone crooner’s album Black Halo. Listen here

Dawn Oberg – Mile Rock Man
The most harrowing track on the typically jaunty and irrepressible pianist/chanteuse’s  new album Bring takes its inspiration from the time she went out on a run along the perimeter of San Francisco Bay and ran across the body of a suicide who’d shot himself in the head. Listen here

Cleopatra Degher – Rebecca Wood
The California acoustic songwriter contributes arguably the funniest song on this list. See, Rebecca sometimes wonders what it would be like to be alone. But as Degher told it, she never is. “She gets to know all her friends on Facebook through all the pictures that they took.” She absolutely slayed with this at the Rockwood last July. From the album Pacific. Listen here

Fireships – Fantasy
Here’s another really funny number, caustically chronicling how people fall for celebrity culture: “Are you meant to hang from a velvet rope?” Americana/chamber pop guitarist/frontman Andrew Vladeck taunts. From the band’s debut album. Listen here

The Honeycutters – Ain’t It the Truth
This could be the Wallflowers with a pedal steel and a woman out front, a study in the psychology of domestic abuse. From the North Carolina Americana rockers’ album Me Oh My. Watch the video

Ben Von Wildenhaus – The Knife Thrower Pt. 1
A fast, shuffling, surfy take on a noir bolero, veering between tremoloing Lynchian twang and surfy staccato phrases, a smudgy loop taking the place of the drums. From the noir guitar instrumentalist’s characteristically cinematic new album, II. Listen here

Naked Roots Conducive – Happy Things
The most surprisingly direct, and cruelly sarcastic, and catchiest number on the edgy chamber-rock duo’s latest album Sacred521.: Finally, seven tracks in, violinist Natalia Steinbach lets down her guard: “I need you to know this pain is for real…I can’t take any more bruises.”Don’t worry – this sounds nothing like emo. Listen here

Raquel Vidal & the Monday Men – Leather Trunk
A methodically creepy bolero-rock groove in the same vein as Karla Rose & the Thorns, set “On a shore where your dreams lay dying,” as Vidal puts it: a more retro, literate spin on Nancy Sinatra Vegas noir. Listen here

Joanne Weaver – Summer Kisses, Winter Tears
An icy deep-space Lynchian lament from the New York noir singer’s absolutely brilliantly-produced album Interstellar Songbook II (the first one’s a little more jazz-tinged and just as good). Listen here

The Grasping Straws – Your Face
The edgy New York power trio kicks this off as a hauntingly spare reflection drenched in natural reverb, then rises to a shatteringly epic peak – singer/guitarist Mallory Feuer’s multitracked screams midway through are bone-chilling! Listen here

Insect Ark – The Collector
Bassist/keyboardist/composer Dana Schechter’s moody dirge builds from a creepy tritone synth loop with a minimalist bassline that brings to mind early Wire, picking up steam as it bends and sways, then goes back into the murk. From the album Portal/Well. Listen here

Summer Fiction – Dirty Blonde
With its kinetic pulse fueled by BC Camplight’s piano and a deliciously watery guitar solo midway through, it’s like Elliott Smith without the drugs. From the album Himalaya. Listen here

Todd Marcus – Tears on the Square
The Baltimore bass clarinetist/big band leader’s elegaic Tahrir Square narrative evokes muted anguish, horror and outrage at the Egyptian government’s deadly assaults on the revolutionaries there,. Centerpiece of the album Blues for Tahrir. Watch the video

Lions – Lions
It’s the name of the song and also the slinky, psychedelic Israeli-American Ethiopiques band that recorded it. This one takes a classic, creepily chromatic bati riff and builds a mighty anthem out of it, all the way up to a mighty, stomping peak. From the group’s debut album. Listen here

Litvakus – Propoisk Suite
A haunting waltz that picks up with a characteristic feral, rustic intensity, from hotshot clarinetist Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch’s album Raysn: The Music of Jewish Belarus, which collects rare and seldom recorded material once assumed to have been lost to the Holocaust. Listen here

Mondo Drag – Pillars of the Sky
The stately slide guitar and organ intro to this instrumental epic is as good as any Richard Wright/David Gilmour collaboration – Atomheart Mother, for example – and then the newschool psychedelic/art-rock band brings to mind the gorgeously bittersweet spacerock of Nektar’s It’s All Over. From their self-titled album, listen here

Fly Golden Eagle – [the last track on the Quartz album]
This wryly untilted epic follows a slow, slinky Country Joe & the Fish acid rock trajectory, plaintive guitar and keys echoing over funereal organ. LSD is scary! Listen here

Ruby the Hatchet – Tomorrow Never Comes
A gloomy flamenco metal epic from the ferocious female fronted Philadelphia psych-metal band. From the album Valley of the Snake. Listen here

The Dolomites – Why
The Japanese-Romany band makes a slinky cumbia out of a carnivalesque Balkan tune and almost imperceptily accelerates to warp speed. From The Japan Years: Volume 1 ep. Listen here

Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear – Silent Movies
In terms of pure catchiness, this tops the list here, a jaunty blend of ragtime, front-porch folk and strummy 60s Laurel Canyon pop from the genre-defying, lyrically brilliant Kansas City mother-son duo. The song is a lot more uneasy than it seems on face value. From the album Skeleton Crew. Listen here

Jennifer Hall – Beverly Road
A tantalizingly fun, allusively lyrical psychedelic pop mashup of Jeff Lynne chamberpop, insistent oldschool soul and Orbison noir from the Chicago singer-bandleader’s debut album. No relation to the Brooklyn thoroughfare, which is spelled with an extra “E.” Listen here

Eleni Mandell – China Garden Buffet
This gorgeously simmering, uneasily balmy, improbable portrait of an unlikely liaison is sort of a musical Edward Hopper tableau. From the LA noir songwriter’s latest album Dark Lights Up. Listen here

Los Crema Paraiso – Tanto Que La Quise
A cinematic bossa-psych/chicha/Gainsbourg mashup that’s a dead ringer for Chicha Libre, right down to the keening, trebly, wah-wah synth. From the Venezuelan-American psychedelic band’s album of new film themes for old Venezuelan movies, De Pelicula. Listen here

The Balkan Clarinet Summit – Pitagorino Oro
An allstar global clarinet orchestra assembled by Wolfgang Pöhlmann of the Goethe Institute in Athens winds up their album with band member Slobodan Trkulja’s sizzling feast of microtonal melismas, chromatics and dizzying counterpoint. Listen here

Figli DI Madre Ignota – A Me Non Piace Niente (I Don’t Like Anything)
Sung in the “spaghetti Balkan” band’s native Italian, this Beatles-tinged tarantella punk number is a riotous broadside directed at reality tv, social media, “dj culture,” trash fiction, plastic surgery, you name it. “The truth about stupid people is that you can measure them in inches,” frontman Stefano Iascone observes. From the album Bellydancer. Listen here

The Frank Flight Band – Unrequited
The British psychedelic rockers take their time making albums, and more time to release them: four in twenty years, all of them absolutely brilliant. This is from The Usual Curse, the latest from their archives, from an earlier version of the band. Then-frontman Maurice Watson croons ominously over an anguished, Middle Eastern-tinged clave groove. Listen here

Greek Judas – This Is Why I Smoke Cocaine
The New York band make wild, Middle Eastern-flavored heavy psychedelia out of Cypriot Greek gangster narratives from the 1920s and 30s. This is a creepy. chromaticversion of a grisly ghetto narrative circa 1930 or so. Listen to the original here

King Raam – Salvador
The pseudonymous, revolutionary expat Iranian art-rock band’s mini-epic rises from a rather upbeat, guitar-fueled neo-Motown drive to a swing groove and then pure Lynchian menace.From the album, A Day & a Year. Listen here

The Mekaal Hasan Band – Sindhi
A shapeshifting, uneasy, rhythmically tricky art-rock anthem from the Punjabi psychedelic band, frontwoman Sharmistha Chatterjee’s wildly melismatic Bollywood-tinged vocals soaring overhead. From the album Andhola. Listen here

George Usher & Lisa Burns – If It Ever Comes to Pass
A snarling, darkly minor-key new wave-tinged gem fueled by Mark Sidgwick’s lead guitar. The guy/girl harmonies of Usher and Burns bring to mind legendary late 90s/early zeros New York band DollHouse. From the album Last Day of Winter. Watch the video

Terakaft – Karambani (Nastiness)
The Malian desert rockers – a side project of iconic Tamashek band Tinariwen – drive this savage minor-key shuffle with a menacing baritone guitar riff that speeds up to a horrified sprint. From the intense, wartime-themed album Alone. Watch the video

The Universal Thump – Cockatoos
Frontwoman/keyboardist Greta Gretler Gold at her most brooding and plaintive, a briskly strolling tone poem of sorts: “I never fell so hard, I never fell so far.” From the otherwise deviously funny psychedelic pop album Walking the Cat, recorded at Abbey Road Studios. Listen here

Jenifer Jackson – All Around
The stunningly eclectic Austin Americana songwriter came up with this metaphorically-loaded, adrenalizingly anthemic, Steve Wynn-esque seaside tableau after coming within inches of a giant predatory bird on a Cape Cod beach one winter. She killed with this at a Manhattan house concert in October. From the album Texas Sunrise. Listen here

Paula Carino – Salad Days
The plush-voiced Regular Einstein guitarist/bandleader’s assertive take of the Young Marble Giants’ cult favorite bedroom pop song was one of the highlights when an allstar band covered the iconic Colossal Youth album in its entirety at Hifi Bar back in August. Watch the concert here (the song is about 28 minutes in).

Algiers – Remains
Politically-fueled postpunk soul, ominous synth buzzing low beneath singer Franklin James Fisher’s impassioned indictment of “careless mistakes” and westernization as it rises to towering, cinematic proportions. From the band’s debut album. Watch the video

The Steep Canyon Rangers– Blue Velvet Rain
Just the title alone makes you want to hear this one, rigtht? Stormy imagery shifts through this morose, morbid country waltz with biting solos from fiddler Nicky Sanders and mandolinist Mike Guggino: “Soaked to the bone and burning alone, a fire without any flame.” From the popular newgrass band’s Radio album. Listen here

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats – Pusher Man
This dark metal track springboards off of Iron Maiden’a most scorching, wide-angle minor-key mid-80s intensity and strips it down for a searing, unrelenting sway that’s impossible to turn away from. From the album The Night Creeper. Watch a live video here

Lazy Lions – I Don’t Think It’s Going to Stop
Frontman Jim Allen channels vintage early 80s Graham Parker in this characteristically sardonic, smartly lyrical new wave/powerpop gem. From the album When Dreaming Lets You Down. Listen here

Curtis Eller – Albatross
Earlier this year, the charismatic noir bandleader and banjo player teamed up with fellow dark Americana band the New Town Drunks for Baudelaire in a Box, a deluxe volvelle-packaged collection of new translations of classic Baudelaire poems set to new music. This is the creme de la creme, a cruelly jaunty retelling of the tale of the hopeless bird crippled and tortured onboard a ship of fools. Listen here

Karina Denike – Stop the Horses
A menacing, plaintive bolero-soul ballad with reverb-drenched guitar and vibraphone echoing in from the shadows. From the album Under Glass. Listen here

Tracy Island – Land of Opportunity
This telling New Depression narrative is part early 70s pastoral Pink Floyd, part Richard & Linda Thompson, part new wave: “This is not the first time life has let me down,” singer/guitarist Liza Garelik Roure sings plaintively. From the album War No More. Listen here

Davina & the Vagabonds – I Try to Be Good
A noir Vegas cha-cha – sort of a more retro take on what Clairy Browne is doing – fueled by bandleader Davina Sowers’ eerily marionettish piano. From the album Sunshine. Listen here

Elisa Flynn – A House Called Merciful
An uneasy, starkly banjo-driven escape anthem that harks back to the Reconstruction-era milieu of some of the crystalline-voiced art-rock songwriter’s best work. From her album My Henry Lee. Listen here

The Amphibious Man – Halloweed
This creepy psychedelic number by the haphazardy menacing Connecticut band rses out of the swamp, from reverbtoned noir cinematics toward murderous desert rock but never makes it quite there. From the album Witch Hips. Listen here

Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders – Come On Back This Way
The Australian lounge lizard crooner weaves a good mystery tale over an icy, 80s Leonard Cohen synth-goth backdrop; Sharon Van Etten guests on vocal harmonies. From the album Playmates. Listen here

Katayoun Goudarzi and Shujaat Khan – Whirling Tree
The nuanced, haunting Iranian-American singer teams with her sitarist bandmate to build a sense of unease amid the tranquility until Khan takes the music skyward, matter-of-factly and optimistically.: It’s the most dramatic track on the duo’s album Ruby. Listen here

Cricket Tell the Weather – Remington
New England is underrepresented in the current Americana explosion; this song, a look back to hard times in firearms manufacturing in late 19th century Connecticut, is a breath of Industrial Revolution air, singer Andrea Asprelli’s astringent fiddle sailing over the intricate web of banjo, guitar, bass and mandolin. From the New York newgrass band’s debut album. Listen here

Underhill Rose – The Great Tomorrow
The title track of the latest album by the popular all-female Americana/newgrass trio is a bittersweetly gorgeous banjo-and-steel-guitar-driven narrative about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Watch the video

Fanfarai – Touchia Zidane
The Algerian-hrockers reimagine an ancient Andalusian classical piece as a distant, darkly microtonal dirge, violin and flute taking turns leading the slow procession as it gathers steam up to a majestic peak – and then goes for a sprint. From the album Tani. Listen here

Katie Brennan & the Bourbon Express – Which Wine Goes with My Heartache
More of a drinking song than a sad ballad, it follows a droll, Amy Allison-style storyline: honkytonk singer Brennan might not be the most likely person to answer that question, considering that her poison is whiskey. From the album One Big Losing Streak. Listen here

Caroline Cotter – Champagne
Another drinking song! The eclectic Portland, Maine Americana singer goes for a less over-the-top Peggy Lee Fever approach, with an artful arrangement and wee-hours muted trumpet. As she tells it, she wants some bubbles on her brain because “these are the things that keep me sane!” From the album Dreaming As I Do. Listen here

Kelley Swindall – Heartsick
The Georgia-born Americana songwriter keeps going deeper into the noir and this is a prime example. Romany jazz-flavored rock is seldom this pissed off. She killed with this at a solo show in Queens last September. This full-band video isn’t quite as good but it’s close

Heather Maloney & Darlingside – 1855
If there’s only one remaining photo of someone, or of a couple, do they exist less than others with better visual documentation? The Massachusetts Americana  singer slayed subtly with this pensive Americana rock number at Joe’s Pub back in May. From the album Making Me Break. Watch the video

The Dustbowl Revival – Bright Lights
A strutting oldtimey swing take on narcocorrido music. The old gangsta doesn’t want to go out easy – it’s as funny as it is disquieting. From the album With a Lampshade On. Listen here

Charenee Wade – Home Is Where The Hatred Is
The rising star jazz singer delivers a furtively scampering, salsafied take of Gil Scott-Heron’s 1971 classic, in her hands an even more chilling portrait of ghetto abandonment and alienation. From the album Offering – The Music of Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson. Watch the video

Mamie Minch – Fortified Wine Widow
The Brooklyn blues reinventor is a badass resonator guitarist and a charismatic, frequently straight-up hilarious presence onstage: this blog caught half a dozen shows this year where she was either headlining or on the bill somewhere. This track is uncharacteristically low-key and brooding, a look at what kind of havoc that fun stuff can create if you overdo it over and over again. Listen here

Lizzie & the Makers – Too Late
Intense blues/Americana belter Lizzie Edwards airs out her powerful pipes on this part noir soul, part low-key psychedelic Led Zep track from her band’s album Fire From the Heart of Man. Watch the video

Caitlin Canty – The Brightest Day
A slowly simmering, brooding, doomed Americana rock anthem, pairing growling Jeffrey Foucault guitar against spare banjo and dobro. From the album Reckless Skyline. Listen here

The Dan Band – Three Way
Another really funny one, a faux-sensitive Damien Rice-style ballad written with a guy from one of the kind of top 40 bands that comedic bandleader Dan Finnerty harshes on at his harshest. You want politically incorrect? From The Wedding Album. Watch the G-rated video

Fable Cry – Set Me Loose
The Nashville circus rock band waltz you down the rabbit hole and then back out again with this scampering, shiveringly phantasmagorical escape anthem. From the album We’ll Show You Where the Monsters Are. Listen here

Spanglish Fly – Return of the Po-Po
Written during the peak of the stop-and-frisk era in New York – before the Village Voice expose of racisst quotas employed by the NYPD in ticketing for minor infractions – this darkly bubbly latin soul groove is somsething that an entire generation here can relate to. From the album New York Boogaloo. Listen here

Ike Reilly – 2 Weeks of Work, 1 Night of Love
The four-on-the-floor lyrical Midwestern rocker builds a vividly wry, bleak teens New Depression milieu over honking blues harp. From his album Born on Fire. Watch the video

Adventures in Bluesland – Watching the Traffic Flow
Languid, morose, jazz-infused ambience and mournful foghorn harp bring to mind late 50s Sinatra at his most noir as frontman/guitarist Phil Gammage croons. From the album American Dream. Watch the video

Pete Kennedy – Gotham Serenade
When the Kennedys‘ cult hero guitarist wrote this song back in the zeros, it was a shout-out to his beloved hometown. These days, this triumphant Celtic rock anthem feels more like an epitaph. From his gorgeously evocative, anthemic solo album Heart of Gotham. Watch the video

Fizz – Sea of Heartbreak
This is the funnest track here. In this video from their killer show at Pete’s Candy Store last October, songwriters Fiona McBain and Liz Tormes take a sad old Don Gibson country hit and make a jump-rope rhyme out of it. Goes to show these two haven’t lost any of their reflexes since they were kids on the playground. It’s kind of adorable. Watch it here

You Mean That Really Wasn’t Pink Floyd at B.B King’s Last Night?

If B.B. King’s wasn’t sold out last night, it was close to capacity. The crowd was multi-generational: there were at least two tables with grandparents, parents and grandchildren. Dads with college-age daughters were everywhere, and there was a lot of Spanish being spoken: south of the US-Mexico border, art-rock never went into eclipse. Many of those concertgoers spent part of the set with their eyes closed, which made sense. Without watching the band onstage, it was as if Pink Floyd was up there. That good.

Since the 80s, the Machine have made a living on the road playing the complete Pink Floyd catalog. They are revered among musicians. Many of their peers had come out on one of the few truly cold nights of this young “winter” for inspiration and to be swept away by a chillingly spot-on recreation of the towering angst, epic grandeur and improvisational flair of the world’s most iconic art-rock band. The Machine opened with the complete Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Pt. 1. More than three hours later, they ended with the complete second part, plus a long jam midway through where the individual members got to color the music with their own erudite personalities and irrepressible deadpan humor. Like everything else they did, it was in keeping with the spirit of Pink Floyd, subtle and distinctively British. All this from a bunch of native New Yorkers.

Forget having the perfect, unmistakeable collection of vintage keyboard patches and guitar effects: to effectively recreate Pink Floyd takes fearsome chops., which this band has coming out their pores. In deference to the brilliance of David Gilmour, the Machine had two guitarists – frontman Joe Pascarell, and Ryan Ball, who doubled on pedal steel – taking turns with the lead and rhythm parts, channeling sepulchral vibrato, lightning blues and trippy intensity. It was good to hear bassist Adam Minkoff up in the mix, playing Roger Waters’ terse, purposeful lines with a little more treble than Waters typically used, and usually with a pick, as Waters typically did. Drummer Tahrah Cohen perfectly captured Nick Mason’s stately grace, subtle swing and playful counterintuitivity with the occasional well-placed cymbal splash or funereal tom-tom flurry on an elaborate, oversize kit. Scott Chasolen negotatiated Richard Wright’s lavish keyboard orchestration with split-second precision and made it look easy. Surprisingly, the band relied on him as the prime mover during the jams, as much or even more than the guitars. His animated, good-naturedly spiraling phrases brought to mind Genesis’ Tony Banks more than they did Wright.

After the richly lingering opening number, Pascarell tackled the evening’s lone “deep album cut,” Fat Old Sun – from the Atomheart Mother record – running his Strat through an acoustic patch, Ball on pedal steel, Chasolen channeling Richard Wright at his most austerely spiritual with spacious gospel piano licks. They followed with album-precise versions of Breathe and Time, establishing that the band had the essential organ and guitar tones, Ball using the steel to recreate Gilmour’s anguished slide guitar riffage. What was clear by now was how much this band plays up Pink Floyd’s psychedelic side – and notwithstanding how many hundreds of times they’ve played these songs onstage, how much fun this band has after all this years. “It’s good to smoke a bone beside the fire,” Pascarell intoned at the end of Time, resulting in a wave of raised joints, one-hitters and vape thingys down front.

Early in a matter-of-fact, aptly brooding, low-key take of Mother, Pascarell turned the mic over to the audience. “Mother do you think they’re going to break?…” got the appropriately ballsy response, nobody missing a beat. Later during the second set, he and the rest of the band teased the crowd with a succession of riffs: what was it going to be, Careful With That Axe, Eugene, or Astronomy Domine? It turned out to be a searing yet comfortably relaxed Lucifer Sam.

As hard-driven as much of the material was – a snarling Not Now John, complete with “Fuck all that” chorus, and blistering takes of Comfortably Numb and Run Like Hell – the high point was a hypnotically pulsing, enveloping, potently crescendoing full-length version of Dogs. Otherwise, this was the classic rock radio set. Chasolen’s warpy synth solo on Money was a vast improvement on the awful sax solo on the original, and his washes of white noise on Hey You just as unexpectedly welcome. The band’s choice of riding a slow build through most of side one of The Wall up to big radio hit – where they reveled in the song’s inner funk – was a revelation. There was also a take of Wish You Were Here with a long twelve-string acoustic intro and audience singalong. Pink Floyd may be history, but that doesn’t stop a new generation of alienated kids from discovering them, and being transformed by them, every year. It’s a good thing that we have the Machine to keep that vast body of work alive onstage. And they have a similarly vast archive.org page, where you can treat yourself to enough concert material to keep you in more-or-less new Floyd for literally weeks.

A Good Noisy Punkish Night Coming Up This Saturday at Hank’s

There’s a cool quadruplebill at Hank’s on Saturday night, the second of January. It’s as if somebody said, “Let’s find four bands who know who the Dead Kennedys and Joy Division were, but don’t rip them off wholesale.” Creepy chromatics, minor keys and no fear of noise seem to be the themes this particular evening. The Heaps – who aren’t as hard to find on the web as you might think, and do a cool, noisy post-DKs thing, and have an organ in the band – open the night at 8:30, followed at 9:20 by the funniest and most original act on the bill, Sex Scheme, then ominously swirling lo-fi keys/guitar/drums unit the Hot Solids at around 10, then speedmetal band Elefantkiller at 11. Shows like this are reason to stay optimistic in the midst of ongoing real estate bubble-related devastation: that there are four punkish bands like this still in town, and that there are still places to see them (in this case for a measly five dollar cover) testify to the tenacity of the people of this city. Just wait til after the bubble bursts – gonna happen, folks!

The Heaps have a cool “demo tape” available as a free download at Bandcamp, although the cassette is worth owning. They like short songs. Funeral parlor Eraserhead organ kicks off the first cut, Amoeba Brain, then the bass and guitar punch in and blast up to doublespeed and back and forth. Deranged is a really good, hard-hitting mostly instrumental number where the drums gather steam and then everything suddenly falls apart. Kid Sin sounds like Metallica if that band could swing and their albums didn’t have such sterile production. Wool – which might or might or might not be about crack – has a really catchy, tumbling verse, then hits a slow, doomy interlude.

Wrist/Willows sounds like a catchier Sex Scheme, finally reaching the point where the band just lets their haphazard vamp implode. Ruin kicks off with some delicious Bach organ and then makes swaying punk rock out of it – how cool is that? The concluding cut, Magnet is the shortest and most hardcore thing here.

Sex Scheme also have a couple of free eps at Bandcamp. The most recent one follows a recent live setlist, the songs segueing into each other with a noisy, careeningly menacing early Joy Div/Warsaw feel. Have My Child is pretty twisted, screeching with feedback as the band stomps along. “Push your head into the mattress and have my child,” the singer insists. Hey Jesus follows the same kind of vamping, feedback-infested stomp : by now, it’s obvious that the dude is either completely trashed or trying hard to sound drunk and doing a pretty good job of it. Put Your Priest on My Leash – a song that needed to be written, huh? – has fuzzier bass and a twisted story that slowly comes together. Gratification is like the Joy Div cover of Sister Ray, but about a tenth as long. The final cut, Sleazy Doctor circles around a catchy. trebly blues hook that the early Stooges could have used: this creep likes to watch, maybe do something more. It’s a fun song.

The Hot Solids, led by vocalist Drea Mantis and multi-instrumentalist Michael Merz, have a Reverbnation page with several tracks that bring to mind jagged postpunk bands like Live Skull, Come and Pere Ubu. Likewise, Elefantkiller have a few machinegunning tracks up at Reverbnation – and a welcome awareness of how messed up the world is.

Ancient Instruments, Magically Enveloping New Tunes: Matt Darriau Blends Ouds and Reeds at Barbes

If you go to Barbes on the right night, you can catch the debut of a new band that might be pretty amazing…or just a fun one-time-only sonic adventure. The Park Slope hotspot isn’t just a friendly watering hole and music venue, it’s a lab for a long list of elite musicians intent on working up new projects. Just this past year, groups who debuted there include wild remebetiko art-rock band Greek Judas, droll Soviet psychedelic pop band Svetlana and the Eastern Blokhedz and last night, entrancingly intricate Middle Eastern jazz group Du’ud. There have probably been others.

Du’ud – pronounced “dude” – take their name from the two ouds in the band, played by Brian Prunka and Brandon Terzic. Bandleader Matt Darriau spun from low and brooding on the small but magical kaval, wafted gracefully dancing phrases skyward on alto sax and spiraled animatedly and soulfully on what sounded like an alto flute, when he wasn’t circling hypnotically on what he called a “faux clarinet.”The grooves tended to be on the slow, slinky side, hypnotically dirgey on one opaquely enveloping Prunka number, although the percussionist – playing mosty daf frame drum and a single cymbal – picked up the pace on a couple of West African-influenced Terzic numbers. The interplay between the two oudists was more matter-of-factly congenial than it was heated, although that could change, and it probably will, once this unit gets more time together.

Prunka told a funny story about how he’d been called away from a gig, so he got Terzic to sub for him. Turns out there’s a video of that gig online that credits Prunka for Terzic’s performance. Both oudists are pushing the envelope in terms of where the ancient African low-register lute can go. At this show, Terzic moved further afield from somber, otherworldly Middle Eastern modes, often evoking an African kora harp, while Prunka hovered mostly in the lower registers, resonant and often plaintive while Darriau soared overhead. The night’s most memorable song was the slow Prunka piece that made it to video, featuring long, contemplative ascents from both ouds. Darriau’s material included a mystically kinetic number that alluded to, yet flew animatedly beyond the confines of the klezmer music that he’s best known for. The percussionist made it look easy as he negotiated between all sorts of tricky time signatures, playing with his eyes closed half the time. He was on to something: it was music to get lost in, and despite this being a sleepy Sunday right after Xmas, there was a big crowd in the house and everybody seemed to agree that they’d just seen something pretty amazing. Darriau plays a lot of Barbes gigs; his next one is Saturday night, January 2 at 8 PM where he plays Balkan bagpipe in his larger. two-guitar Gaida Electrique ensemble.

Jack Grace Puts on a Clinic in Latin-Inflected Surrealist Americana Tunesmithing and Entertainment at Barbes

Jack Grace was a good lead guitarist ten years ago. He’s a brilliant one now. Twenty years of constant touring will do that to you. Grace is best known for his surreal, LMFAO sense of humor and his funny songs that veer from exuberant vintage C&W, to Waits noir blues, to simmering southwestern gothic anthems. Leading a trio last night at Barbes, Grace put on a clinic in sizzling guitar and Americana songcraft. This was his latin set, propelled by drummer Russ Meissner’s expertly accented shuffle grooves. A flick of the cymbals, a rattle of the traps, a sudden gunshot rimshot, he made them all count. And maybe just coincidentally, it was a bittersweetly nostalgic show, at least as far as evoking the days ten years ago when Grace was booking the old Rodeo Bar, and could be found playing Lakeside Lounge on random Saturday nights when he wasn’t on the road.

They opened with Put on Your Shoes, Moonshine, a pensive, lyrically torrential desert rock anthem. Next was a boisterous trucker song peppered with filthy CB slang, the song’s chatty narrator wasting no time in explaining that the parking lot he’s spending the night is is so lame that the only hooker working it is a guy. “People that I can’t relate to don’t understand my ways.” Grace groused in Don’t Wanna Work Today, an uneasy, bluesy, minor-key Tex-Mex number.

“This next song is about snorting cocaine in the bathroom. There are plenty of places where you can do cocaine…but here in New York, the bathroom is where we do it,” Grace deadpanned in his cat-ate-the-canary, Johnny Cash-influenced baritone and then launched into Cry, a brooding minor-key cha-cha that swung from sly drug-fueled optimism to the despondency that sets in like a giant cat over the city the afternoon after a night of too many lines and too much tekillya. Speaking of which, he played his own version of Tequila – a dancing border-rock tune, not the surf rock instrumental – where the “lie, lie, lie” of the chorus spoke for itself.

The trio moved methodically from the muted country anomie of South Dakota to the sparse minor-key Waits blues strut Sugarbear. Throughout the set, Grace segued into deadpan country verses of familiar Led Zep songs, a trope he’s been working for years, more now since his side project Van Hayride – known for their even funnier covers of pre-Sammy Hagar Van Halen and other loud, cheesy stuff from the 80s – is temporariliy on the shelf. One of the night’s funniest moments was when Grace his his flange pedal, and without missing a beat, segued into a note-for-note cover of Pink Floyd’s Breathe, complete with a searing, doublespeed, savagely tremolo-picked guitar solo that would have made David Gilmour jealous.

The title track to Grace’s forthcoming album Everything I Say Is a Lie turned out to be a slowly swaying mashup of doo-wop, early 70s Willie Nelson and late 60s Jimmy Web balladry. Been So Long Since I Bothered to Think, an unselfconsciously haunting ba-bump bolero reminded just how dark and intense Grace can get when he’s in the mood. “In middle school I learned to criticize, the world’s broken down and compromised, “ he lamented – and then took a hit of beer and gargled a couple of choruses. Nobody can ever say this guy’s not entertaining.

The band went back to pensive, rustically bluesy ambience with Rotary Phone, a brooding, metaphorically loaded tale about getting old and out of touch, then some comic relief with a wry medley of Zep, Nirvana and Doors riffs. The set continued with a seriously bizarre C&W version of a Talking Heads song, then the absurdist mariachi funk of It Was a Really Bad Year – “A song that gets a lot of airplay this time of the year,” Grace mused – then a moody, pretty straight-up cover of Hank Williams’ I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. They closed with Big Bear, an electrified bluegrass tune from the film Super Troopers. Grace is at Coyote Ugly Saloon on First Ave. just south of 10th St. – who have bands now – on December 29 at around 9, then he’s playing a New Year’s Eve show in Saratoga Springs and returns to Coyote Ugly on January 5.

Dynamic Singer Lara Traum’s Debut Album Channels the Deep Jewish Influence in Decades of Russian Music

Too many artists conflate their own experiences with those of others, or their generation, or their fellow citizens. Singer Lara Traum, on the other hand, sees herself as one of many – and she’s right. Although vocally speaking, it wouln’t be an overstatement to call her one in a million. To get a sense of that, dial up her youtube channel and listen to her debut album Crypto Jewish Melodies: Semitic Sounds of Russian Extraction, one of the most beguiling and relevant releases of 2015.

Ir’s a concept album. As a second-generation Russian Jewish New Yorker, Traum noticed that Jewish expats from the former Soviet Union found themselves between two worlds: a Russian-speaking milieu where anti-Semitism was prevalent, and a Jewish world that, at best, was a demimonde there and, at times, just as or even more insular here. Let’s not forget that there was also a Holocaust under the Soviets.  Jews would seder away from the window so as not to incite nosy neighbors: “If you see something, say something” goes back a long, long way back before Dick Cheney. Traum’s album collects songs that illustrate that unease, yet also brings to light the deep Jewish influence in Russian music across the decades. It’s a celebration of a vast transcontinental legacy.

From the opening track, an a-cappella version of the ancient nigun Av Harachamim,, it’s striking how much depth there is in Traum’s voice. It’s the sound of an old soul: knowing, bittersweet, wary yet ultimately optimistic. Traum’s background is in choral music, as both a conductor and soloist. Although she sings in character here and varies her delivery according to the demands of the lyric, there’s a consistent warmth, even a maternal quality to how she relates to a song and to an audience. That’s evident right off the bat, as she goes way up the scale on a lively take of Vasily Lebedev’s famous 1930s tango, Serdtse,. Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch shows off the same flair and incisive intensity on piano that he does on clarinet in his rambunctious klezmer party band Litvakus, film composer Ljova Zhurbin playijng stark viola against the terse bass of Jordan Morton.

Traum takes a turn into plaintive territory with the familiar klezmer hit Papirosen, Slepovitch firing off neoromantic glimmer underneath: back in those days, a hit of nicotine was sometimes the only pleasure you could look forward to. Likewise, an English-language take of Bei Bir Mist Du Schoen takes Molly Picon coyness back to its roots in late 1800s cosmopolitan parlor pop. Then Traum flips the script with a klezmer blues take of Ain’t Necessarily So, spiced with Alex Greenleaf’s rustic blues harmonica. Her take of the standard Blue Skies, counterintuively , looks forward jauntily to Jeff Lynne and ELO.

Traum sings the WWII era Soviet hit Dark Is the Night in Russian, as hybrid neoromantic swing: like so much of that era’s music, and before, it’s easy to hear a klezmer influence and vice versa. The patriiotic. i.e. anti-Nazi anthem Katyusha ventures even further toward proto art-rock territory, yet at heart, it’s shtetl soul music. By contrast, it’s harder to hear a distinctive Jewish flavor in Yan Frenkel’s 1968 Soviet art-pop hit Zhuravli (Cranes), a post-Hiroshima reflection on mortality, although Slepovitch and Traum team up with a quietly harrowing intensity. The same is true, on a more muted take of a vocal number based on a Tschaikovsky lullaby.

Perhaps the most telling number here is an elegant version of the theme to the Soviet cartoon Gena the Crocodile. Traum offers some dignity to the droll, accordion-wielding, rather stock character who plays klezmer music for the masses during an era when such a thing was not only samizdat but also possibly lethal for anyone who tried it. The album winds up with a lighthearted take of the klezmer standard A Glazele Yah and a bouncy dance that pairs Morton’s austere bowed bass against Slepovitch’s ebullient piano – the guy just cannot resist a glisando when he can squeeze one in. As insight into Jewish-Russian cross-pollination, this is an important musical document, yet ultimately it transcends that historical value: it packs an emotional wallop. Traum is currently in law school, so she’s busy; watch this space for upcoming gigs.

Bliss Blood and Al Street Bring Their Eclectically Lynchian Torch Songs to Freddy’s

Bliss Blood isn’t your typical Lynchian chanteuse. She’s as subtle as she is eclectic. With her coolly enigmatic, nuanced alto delivery, she brings to mind low-key cult favorites from the 50s like June Christy and Chris Connor. Retro as she is, she’s also completely in the here and now, putting her own simmering, low-flame spin on sinister, seductive songwriting, but also on purist pop that draws on artists as diverse as Ray Davies and Lee Hazlewood. Her latest album, Unspun, with longitime guitarist and collaborator Al Street, made the top albums of 2015 paage here. The two are playing an intimate Brooklyn show on December 29 at around 7:30 PM at Freddy’s. Another tunesmith who draws on more rock-oriented, similarly purist if somewhat more recent influences, the  sardonically lyrical Scott Phillips a.k.a. the Monologue Bombs opens the night at around 6. It’s a rare opportunity to see Bliss Blood’s duo project outside of her usual swanky haunts like Hamptons hotspots and the Soho Grand Hotel.

This blog most reently caught the duo in Wiilliamsburg at the well-loved and badly missed Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club (yeah, it’s been awhile). Blood played her trusty ukulele while Street aired out his bottomless bag of jazz, flamenco and blues licks., sometimes adding fiiery surf tremolpicking, occasionally anchoring the songs with biting, trebly basslines. Blood has lent her voice to more diverse projects than most singers with her command of distant menace – noise-punks the Pain Teens, acoustic blues band Delta Dreambox and one of New York’s original oldtimey swing bands, the Moonlighters being just a few – but this show was pure, Lynchian noir. The scampering swing number they opened with turned out to be a red herring, followed by a proto-Vegas noir tune, evoking an era when the casinos were still desert sand. The slowly swaying tune after that mashed up oldschool 60s soul and bittersweet 30s swing…then they hit the afterburners and took it doublespeed, Street firing off volleys of circling Sam Langhorne-style 60s blues riffage.

Blood’s tunesmithing shifts keys constantly, and counterintuitively: you never know what’s coming next, but it’s a good bet that the song’s going to be a real haunter. As jaunty and fun as Blood can be, there aren’t many songwriters who can channel longing and despondency as vividly yet distantly as she can. One prime example at this show was a gorgrously pouncing ballad that wound up with a rain-drenched Street janglerock solo. Their cover of Secret Love put the original Doris Day version to shame while alluding to the C&W guitar of the Loretta Lynn hit. After that, they did a waltz lit up by Street’s hornets-nest chord-chopping. He did the same thing on the sultry, misterioso Entropy, one of the new album’s standout cuts.

Another of the album’s best numbers, No One Gets It All came off as part restrained, lurid 60s Henry Mancini noir pop, part opaque janglerock, with an oldtime swing shuffle groove. From there the duo ran through blues, and flamenco tinges, alluded to Lady Day’s I Cover the Waterfront, veered toward more straight-up jazz, took a high-energy detour into Tex-Mex and then back to wounded, lowlit Twin Peaks territory with a chilling take of Palace of the Wind. It was a night of lots of styles and lots of stylish picking, a good indication of the depth of this duo’s troubled and alluring catalog.

An Epic, Majestic, Transcendent Carnegie Hall Concert by the China National Traditional Orchestra

Prosaically speaking, the China National Traditional Orchestra play both old folk themes and new works on traditional instruments, using western-style symphonic arrangements. Sunday night at Carnegie Hall, the mighty, majestic group performed a riveting, dynamically rich program of both ancient and contemporary music that was as vast and historically rich as China itself, a paradigm-shifting and potentially life-changing experience. This was not safe, self-congratulatory, doctrinaire state-sponsored music. It was as avant garde as anything staged in this city this year…yet pretty much everybody in the house knew the source material, and by the final sprint through a blustery coda, the majority of the crowd was clapping or singing along.

While this group’s setup is modeled on the typical European symphony orchestra, the timbres are uniquely Chinese, subtly spiced with overtones and microtones that don’t typically exist in the western classical canon. The choice of instrumentation alone creates a brand-new genre, considering that traditional Chinese ensembles tend to be smaller and more focused on either strings or winds. In place of oboes and clarinets, this group substitutes the high midrange suona, along with bamboo alto flutes and a series of shengs, giant counterparts to the harmonica. In place of cellos, the magical, overtone-generationg low-midrange erhu, but also a section of Chinese zhongruan guitars. Other plucked textures, from harp, pipa lute and yangqin zither added alternately delicate and spikily sizzling sounds that grounded the music in centuries of tradition. In the back, in place of timpani, an entire row of big bass drums and gongs which on occasion were employed to deliver torrentially roaring washes unheard of in the most explosive western symphonic music.

Several works by the ensemble’s visionary composer-in-residence, Jiang Ying, took centerstage. The most stunning, slinky, suspenseful one was the opening mini-suite, Silk Road, which set the stage for much of the rest of the concert as it built suspense from a hushed conversation between Wu Yuxia’s pipa and Wang Ciheng’s xiao flute. With titanic swells and dips, a graceful pipa solo and constantly shapeshifting variations on a swaying caravan pace awash in edgy Middle Eastern-tinged tonalities, it was the most cinematic of all the material on the bill.

Ying’s Impressions Suite was hilarious. From one of the second-tier boxes close to the stage, a lively birdcall began to warble, answered from the center section, and then the whole venue came alive with the chattering of flutes. We had been infiltrated by flutists! Suddenly the forest was flickering with what seemed to be hundreds of species, in a constantly mutating stereo swirl! Conductor Liu Sha spun and beamed and tackled the daunting task of keeping the flock together with seamless aplomb.

The second half of the program began with a bellicose, wildly atonal, chord-chopping pipa duel between Zhao Cong and Yu Yuanchun, augmented by similarly kinetic percussion: it was the most improvisational and challenging piece of the night. An ancient fishing boat song brought to mind a blustery if successful days’ worth of hauling in a catch, fueled by Wu Lin’s graceful, balletesque harp. Hua Yanjun’s The Moon Reflected on the Spring for erhu and orchestra, as its title would imply, contrasted stark, stately strings against a balmy, plushly nocturnal backdrop.

Zhongruan player Feng Mantian seized the role of frontman and lead guitarist on Ying’s arrangement of the traditional Rhapsody of Xintianyou, sort of a Chinese counterpart to a Richard Thompson Britfolk anthem. The program closed with a soaring, ecstatically galloping take of the 1939 Xian Xinghai suite Yellow River, a defiant narrative of Chinese resistance and triumph over the brutal Japanese invasion. For the encores, the orchestra went into similarly rousing, stampeding Mongolian folk territory, leaving the audience breathles and on their feet. It’s too bad that there weren’t more non-Chinese speakers in the crowd: this music embraces tonalities far beyond traditional Asian scales and would resonate with just about any global audience, if only they could hear it.

Rachelle Garniez Releases 2015’s Best Album, a Harrowing, Richly Detailed Portrait of the Here and Now

Dichotomies run deep throughout Rachelle Garniez’s latest album, Who’s Counting, streaming at Spotify. Optimism and despondency, irresistible laughs and corrosive anger sit side by side. The music is spare, uncluttered and for the most part unhurried. Everything counts for something, even the subtlest touches. Funny/creepy hospital room sonics channeled via the highest stops on her accordion; faux sleigh bells that could be cruelly faux-Christmasy, or maybe just guardedly festive. Even the jauntiest tracks have a dark undercurrent, while the darkest ones are understated, even gentle. While the music draws on many retro styles – saloon blues, Louis Armstrong torch song, Brecht/Weill cabaret, 19th century Celtic New York balladry – it’s irrefutably in the here and now, an artifact of a year of refugee death marches, tribal bride murders and the devastation of Garniez’s beloved Manhattan as the stampede to cash in on what’s left of the real estate bubble leaves entire neighborhoods trampled and crippled. Garniez relates all those narratives in many voices: an innocent, a bawdy belter or a shellshocked witness, sometimes a parade of personalities in the same song. As a bittersweetly accurate portrait of the here and now, it is unrivalled in 2015 and for that reason is the best album of the year, maybe the best album in a career that includes more than one brilliant one.

Garniez’s work over the past fifteen years or so is not an easy read. Very often, the window of interpretation hangs open, as far as the degree of subtext or sarcasm lurking in the shadows underneath. On the surface, Medicine Man – a remake of a sultry hokum blues strut originally released on her 2003 Luckyday album – builds a steamy atmosphere fueled by the gusty brass of Hazmat Modine, of which Garniez is also a member. A closer listen reveals a thinly veiled plea for some relief from a lingering angst. Little Fish – a Cajun-flavored duet featuring the Hazmats’ banjo player Erik Della Penna, originally released on Garniez’s eclectic 2000 album Crazy Blood – is addressed to a missing person who might be missing for keeps. And the album’s most irrepressibly dancing number, Flat Black – a simple bass-and-vocal duet that looks back fifty years to Sarah Vaughan’s work with Joe Comfort – is a blackly droll look forward to the singer’s funeral, where everybody’s going to “sit shiva by the river, have a little chopped liver.”

That’s the bright side of the album. The dark side is harrowing, even devastating. Garniez plays spare gospel-tinged piano against an ambered horn chart on the title track, in the moment in every conceivable sense of that phrase. She maintains that mood, taking it up a notch for awhile, on the vivid, photorealistic New York Minute, on one hand a fond reminiscence of a Manhattan childhood in the days before helicopter parenting, on another a very uneasy portrait of a budding eight-year-old existentialist. And Manhattan Island – one of several miniatures interspersed enigmatically between songs – grounds the current speculative crisis in centuries of history.

The album’s highest points are also its most brooding. The Elizabethan Britfolk-flavored Vanity’s Curse opens as a suspensefully crepuscular portrait of a dotty old lady’s well-appointed lair but quickly moves to illuminate the sinister source of all that luxe: it’s impossible to imagine a more relevant song released this year. The haunting, starkly quiet A Long Way to Jerusalem follows an ages-old Talmudic tale, recast as a shattering chronicle of women abused and tortured over the centuries. And It’s a Christmas Song (watch the cool video) offers a contrarian view that will resonate with anyone whose tolerance for corporate holiday cheer has maxed out. As the song swings and bounces along, Garniez has no problem with revelry. “If you gotta shop, please support the mom & pop,” but:

Let’s celebrate the birth
Of redefining worth
Start a full-scale reconstruction
Of a flawed global economy
Take down corporate tyranny
Promote local autonomy

It figures that Garniez would wait til the album’s last song to finally drop her guard and let her message resonate, pure and simple. That’s a Christmas present worth sticking around for. Garniez plays Barbes on January 7 at 8 PM, then she’s back there on January 17 at 7:30 PM.