New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: April, 2019

Eli Paperboy Reed Reinvents Classic 60s-Style Soul Music with a Brass Band

The idea of a soul singer backed by a brass band is less radical than it might seem, considering that so much of the style has roots in New Orleans. Beyonce may have gotten all the press for what she did at Coachella, and on one hand, in an ideal world that mighty feat would have triggered a paradigm shift. That it didn’t attests to how intractable – and cheap – what’s left of the corporate pop machine remains.

And to say that Eli Paperboy Reed is an infinitely better songwriter doesn’t mean much. But he’s done the same thing Beyonce did, if on a much less lavish scale, with his album Eli Paperboy Reed Meets High & Mighty Brass Band, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a greatest-hits collection rearranged for singer and brass. The blue-eyed crooner has never sounded more vital. and the brassy Brooklynites have never sounded so tight and purposeful. It’s a party in a box wrapped up in some of the cleverest sweetest horn charts you’ll ever hear outside of Memphis. Reed is playing the Poisson Rouge on May 2 at 8 PM; advance tix are $15 and still available as of today.

The album’s opening track, As I Live and Breathe comes across as a much brighter, brassier take on what could have been a big Wilson Pickett hit from the 60s. Interestingly, the arrangements here are more spacious than the band typically use when they’re by themselves, giving Reed – and sometimes his guitar – plenty of wiggle room.

The mashup of early James Brown and early Allen Toussaint in WooHoo is kind of awkward, but The Satisfier gets an epic, blazing chart that can stand alongside The Horse or any other classic groove from soul’s golden age – the latin percussion makes up for bass frequencies being pretty much lost in the mix. The tuba takes care of that over a slinky shuffle groove in the vintage Motown-flavored Name Calling, one of the album’s catchiest tracks.

You can pretty much tell from the song titles which ones are the ballads and which are the dancefloor joints. The band move with purist 60s-style imagination from the brisk stomp Well Allright Now – with an aggressive trombone solo – to the Lee Dorsey-flavored Walkin’ and Talkin’ (For My Baby), with its dixieland-style exchange of solos. Likewise, Take My Love With You has an oldtimey gospel arrrangement. The Motown/Crescent City mashup of Love on Top is rousingly successful, while Explosion is as rapidfire as the title would like you to believe. The album’s final track is the full-band Come and Get It. catchy vamps, guitars and all.

A Stone Residency This Week by One of the World’s Greatest, Most Relevant Pianists

Pianist Satoko Fujii made headlines by releasing an album a month last year. That brings her discography to over seventy releases as a bandleader. That’s B.B. King territory -and is even more astonishing since King was in his late eighties by the time he hit that mark. Fujii, who just turned sixty, has never sounded more relevant, or more powerful than she has lately. Her harrowing Fukushima Suite with her Orchestra New York – a venomous indictment of duplicity and greed on the part of the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company for covering up the ongoing effects of the world’s first mass-scale waterborne nuclear disaster – was picked as best album of 2017 here. Her most recent flurry of releases since then are not as overtly dark but are all worth hearing, for the sheer depth of her melodies, her prowess and conversational sensibility as an improviser, and value as a jazz magnet: so many people want to play with her. She’s got a weeklong residency at the Stone at the New School starting tomorrow night, April 30 and continuing through May 4, leading a different ensemble every night at 8:30 PM; cover is $20.

Opening night, with her Orchestra New York, is an obvious choice, but the May 1 duo set with bassist Joe Fonda is just as tempting. The two have recorded two live albums together. The first, simply titled Duet – streaming at Bandcamp -is a real landmark, especially considering that the two had never even met before their late 2015 performance to a small but rapt crowd at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland, Maine. Fonda floated first floated the idea to Fujii, who at the time only had an inkling of who he was (this is what happens when you spend all your time making albums and playing shows).

The concert features two improvisations. The first, titled Paul Bley, clocks in at almost 38 nonstop minutes. The second, JSN – meaning Joe, Satoko, Natsuki (Fujii’s husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura) is two-thirds less epic. Since Fonda initiated the collaboration, he gets to starts the first number solo, with a dancing pulse. Fujii joins him and follows as he gravitates toward a funky lope, but then she starts dancing outside the lines, leaping and quickly adding one of her signature tropes, a saturnine glimmer. Insistent piano chords lead to scrambling phrases; Fonda stays steady and emphatic to the point where Fujii leaves him to carry the tune. Her re-entry, falling through a nighty sky with a steady, fast exchange of righthand and lefthand chords, is stellar in every possible sense of the word.

Some scampering up to a twisted, staccato boogie, a wry conversation with Fujii doing nails-down-the-strings inside the piano, and Fonda growling and blooping around follow in turn. Fujii hits a momentary bumblebee flight; there are some scrapes and scrambles and shuffles and more of that surreal quasi-boogie. There’s also a long passage where Fujii plays bad cop versus Fonda’s goodnatured leaps, accents and occasionally warpy drollery – except in a rare moment where he switches to flute for balmy contrast.

Fujii hints at grimness and austere Debussy-esque lustre, then branches outward, lightheartedly as Fonda ‘s sometimes sputtering, sometimes balletesque phrasing subtly echoes her. They hammer and bustle and suddenly freeze. The coda is unexpectedly starry and gamelanesque.

Tamura opens the second number with a coy, distant, loopy muted phrase; both Fujii and Fonda move with slow deliberation toward modal eeriness. Fujii turns more of that Debussy enigma phrasing into a funhouse-mirror paraphrase of Chopsticks; Tamura leads the trio into a Keystone Kops in the Rainforest tableau. Who would expect so much almost outrageous humor after all that intensity? Yet they leave the ending with a aching lack of resolve, whistling across a vast, intimidating steppe. All of this and more will probably be conjured up at the Stone this week.

Up Close at Legendary Cuban Singer Omara Portuondo’s Farewelll Tour

At this point in her career, Omara Portunondo can do whatever she wants. The legendary Buena Vista Social Club singer has roots in Afro-Cuban music as deep as pretty much anyone ever has. Being Cuban, she hasn’t had the chance to spend as much time playing in this country as other artists of similar stature from elsewhere around the globe. That’s downright tragic, especially since her current tour is billed as a farewell.

But she doesn’t sing like she’s on her way out. Sure, she’s in her eighties now  and there’s more flint in her voice than there was ten years or so ago. And she gets an escort onstage, sits when she sings and takes a break midway through the show. But she still has power in the lows and brightness in the highs.

Portuondo distinguished herself as one of the most elegant singers to come out of latin music, and salsa in particular, a long time ago. Her delivery is as articulate and nuanced as ever: even if Spanish is not your first language, she’s very easy to understand. If you manage to catch her on this “Ultimo Beso” tour,, there will be people in the crowd singing along: if you don’t know the words, just wait for the chorus, you’ll get it.

If Friday night’s show at a swanky, semi-new sub-basement boite in the Times Square area is the blueprint, expect pianist Roberto Fonseca to open the show and then lead the band – Andres Coayo on percussion, Ruly Herrera on drums and Yandy Martinez  on bass- through what could be a long, very eclectic ,mostly instrumental interlude midway through. These guys are equally skilled at guajira, rhumba, cha-cha and boleros, and  like their leader can shift effortlessly between those styles.

Although she stays in her seat for most of the set, Portuondo may practically do the limbo from her chair when she’s not setting off singalongs with the audience. Beyond what the band are playing, the musical backdrop may include synthy orchestration and samples emanating from a loop pedal or a sequencer in Fonseca’s collection of keyboards. Martinez will switch between electric and acoustic bass and really dig in on the lows when he bows. Coayo will be as subtle as the singer, since most of the material is on the slow and melancholy side, as he switches from bongos to chekere, but he’ll really energize the crowd and draw them into a fiery timbale solo.

Portuondo will engage the crowd more if she senses that most of them know the material. Friday evening, the bttersweet Adios Felicidad was a highlight: holler for it if the band doesn’t play it early on. They don’t make singers like Portuondo anymore: this is a fleeting chance to be glad that the two of you are alive at the same time when she can sing your disappointments away.

A Rare South Slope Gig By One of This Era’s Great Soul Songwriters

You wouldn’t expect one of this era’s great soul singers to play Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground on a dobro. But that’s what Alice Lee did at Pete’s Candy Store late last month. She’d picked up the old 1930s model in Alaska last year and decided to put it to use, if not the way anybody would expect her to. Not to say that Stevie Wonder did a bad job with the original, but she gave it extra bite, and extra 21st century flavor: we’ve really got to keep on reaching now, even more than we did in the 70s.

Other than the occasional Nina Simone tune, Lee isn’t even known for playing covers, but she did another to close the set. “If I ever start a cover band, we’re going to do Sade,” she grinned, then sang an energetically plaintive version of King of Sorrow that brought to mind the Nigerian-British chanteuse’s live energy a lot more than the misty boudoir soul she made in the studio. Lee played that one on her big hollow-body electric rather than the dobro. And she did a stark take of Love Is a Thief straight out of Twin Peaks.

But her own songs hit the hardest. The best was Last Night on Earth. The version on her Lovers and Losers album is a hypnotic, starry, lushly arranged nocturne: this one was much more stark and hauntingly apocalyptic. Likewise, Letter to No One was a lot more strikingly direct and alienated than the bittersweetly, seductively bouncing album version.

Your Blues, a slinky, catchy, defiant shuffle from her latest album The Wheel, was another really good one: “An unrevised history in an unsteady world…can’t look me in the eye as you take your shot, the blood on your hands will come out in the wash,” she railed. Not bad for someone nursing a sore ribcage, having played for hours the previous night. “Never bring an accordion to a bluegrasss jam,” she cautioned the crowd.

She also did a bunch of new material, no surprise since she’s back here, at least for a time, after spending the last few years in Guatemala. In the few years since she first left New York, the singer-songwriter scene has evaporated along with the venues that supported it. Lee can play the oldtimey stuff if she wants, but her own music is too much in the here and now for the Jalopy scene. And it’s way too edgy for the corporate bland-fest that the Rockwood has slowly morphed into. But you can catch her this Sunday night, April 28 at 9 PM at Freddy’s, where she’ll be leading a band with the great Tony Maimone from Pere Ubu, a frequent collaborator, on bass. Just be aware that because there is no R train to Prospect Ave, the closest station, you’ll have to take the F to 7th Ave and walk.

The Tuneful, Funny CarvelsNYC Headline This Weekend’s Best Rock Show…That You Can Get To

Just about every year, right around Labor Day, there’s a big Sunday evening party at Otto’s Shrunken Head. Last year, one of the bands playing happened to be the CarvelsNYC. Although it was strange to see these nocturnal creatures onstage so early in the evening, it didn’t matter. Frontwoman Lynne Von Pang has an unearthly roar that seems to rise out of the murky depths of the NYC infrastructure – or the bedrock below, What a rare treat it was to witness that kind of gale-force power in such an intimate space. Her guitar was loud, but she barely needed a mic.

It’s not likely that anybody in the CarvelsNYC was older than a toddler, at the most, when CBGB was in its glory days, but their music looks back to that era without imitating it. Punk rock may not have always been revolutionary, but at least it was about being unafraid to be your own person. In a social media-infested age, a band like the CarvelsNYC stands out even more.

Their music blends influences of late 70s New York punk and powerpop, but it’s also not a ripoff. The cover illustrations of their latest 7” ep Life Is Not a Waiting Room – streaming at Bandcamp -shows a jealous-looking blonde woman surrounded by a martini glass, pills, a phone and a wad of cash. Make of that what you will: satire, or daily struggle?

“Life is not a waiting room, til you find out you’re at the end of the line,” Lynne belts on the chorus of the title track. It’s like turbocharged earky Blondie, with biting riffs from lead guitarist Brian Morgan and sax player David Spinley. Scarcity has a delicious blend of countryish jangle and chime, hints of noir and a funny video that slags status-grubbing and desperate-housewife lifestyles. Drummer Steve Pang and bassist Mike Dee give it a solid four-on-the-floor stomp.

The ep also includes a Spanish-language version of the title cut: Lynne sings it as fluently as she does in English. .There’s also an amusingly punked-outcover of Antony & the Johnsons’ I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy

The band are also playing the best rock show of this weekend that you can actually get to tomorrow night, April 27 at 10 at Shilleleigh Tavern, 47-22 30th Ave. in Astoria. Cover is $10, take the R to Steinway St. Giftshop – the missing link between Blondie and the Distillers – open the night at 8, followed by sardonically catchy powerpop/janglerockers the Hell Yeah Babies

Darkly Catchy, Intense Kreyol Psychedelic Rock at Moonlight Benjamin’s US Debut at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center impresario Jordana Leigh saw Moonlight Benjamin a couple of months ago and was “completely blown away.” So she teamed up teamed up with the World Music Institute to stage the Haitian-born “voodoo blues” singer’s sold-oud American debut this past evening.

Totally gothed out in a slinky black-and-amber lace outfit, Benjamin belted in a powerful, vibrato-infused alto voice, first over a minimalist gutter blues stomp from guitarist Matthis Pascaud – of acerbic postrock band Square One – and drummer Bertrand Noel. The rest of the band then joined them for an eclectic, hard-hitting mix of songs that transcended any kind of blues or Haitian label. If anything, the closest comparison was the early Patti Smith band, at their most psychedelic. This show was at least as much about the guitars as the vocals, maybe more.

Benjamin punctuated a few numbers with a handful of otherworldly whoops, so high that for a second it seemed that the PA was feeding back. With both guitarists playing Fender Jaguar models, using plenty of reverb, they blended eerie, tone-bending spaghetti western sonics with brooding French stadium rock on one of the earlier numbers. Then they went from a pounding hard-funk groove to a scampering outro with more than a hint of Malian duskcore. the petite, muscular Benjamin running in place onstage behind the twin axemen when the guys went down into the crowd.

Her insistent, defiant deliery contrasted with Pascaud’s lingering, sunbaked slide work throughout a long intro that the band finally picked up with a menacing gallop. The guitar duel afterward was like ZZ Top underwater: a surf boogie, maybe

As th show went on, guitar synth effects paired off with lingering, Lynchian clang over a punchy, circling bass riff. Benjamin;s voice took on a fierce, imploring tone as the slow, garagey riff-rock tune afterward built to a guitar inferno. She often takes her Kreyol lyrics from Haitian poetry and literature, known for its allusiveness: when the censors can shut down a lot more than just your career, sometimes you need to signify

She sent most of the band away for a slow, spacy, emotive guitar-and-vocal duet with Pascaud, then Noel enegized the crowd with a surf drum solo. From there they took a pouncing minor-key detour toward Marc Ribot Cubanos Postizos latin-punk territory, A minimalist take on Misssissippi hill country blues was followed by the most lyrically torrential, Patti Smith-like anthem of the night. They clanged and stomped their way out as anthemically as they came in and encored with a diptych that began with slow, Brian Jonestown Massacre-like psychedelia and then picked up with a French Caribbean bonce.

The next free concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St is on May 2 at 7:30 PM with the Minguett String Quartet playing Beethoven. The classical concerts here are very popular with a neighborhood crowd, as much if not more than the rock shows, so if you’re going, get there early

Stark, Almost Shockingly Catchy String Tunes and Improvisations From Allstar Trio Hear in Now

Violinist Mazz Swift, cellist Tomeka Reid and bassist Silvia Bolognesi all have busy careers as bandleaders, but they also occasionally play in an edgy, often stunningly catchy trio they call Hear in Now. The project is bracingly and deliciously uncategorizable: ostensibly the music is string jazz, and there’s a lot of improvisation, but also more than a hint of Italian folk, the blues and even string metal. Their latest album Not Living in Fear is streaming at Bandcamp. Reid may be airing out any material from it in two sets at the Jazz Gallery on April 26, the first a duo with drummer Tomas Fujiwara, the second with her quartet including Fujiwara, guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Jason Roebke. Cover is $25.

The trio open the album with a jam, rising from hints of a stately march to shivery squall…and then Frankenstein looks in the window but keeps going. Leaving Livorno is every bit the lament the title suggests, Bolognesi’s stark bowed lines taking centerstage over a whispery backdrop.

Transiti has a staggered staccato pulse, errie close harmonies and a sharp, acidically emphatic cello solo. Requiem for Charlie Haden is unexpectedly catchy, despite the astringency of the circling strings. The aptly titled Circle is even bouncier, bordering on parlor pop in the same vein as groups like the Real Vocal String Quartet: it’s neat how the group shift from punchy to a balletesque strut.

Bolognesi’s steady bowing anchors the sailing melody overhead in the miniature Billions and Billions, another strikingly direct, catchy number. Swift sings the album’s title cut, its message of indomitability set to keening high string harmonies and plucky chords over growly bass.

The album’s second improvisation, interestingly, is just as memorable, waltzing intricately around a circling, blues-tinged hook. Terrortoma is the most darkly bluesy track, with its tight, bracing haronies. The longing in Prayer for Wadud – a diptych – is visceral, Swift’s spare, resonant riffs, Reid and Bolognesi joining underneath with a brooding, bowed riff.

They open Cantiere Orlando with neo-baroque elegance, then hit a spiky interlude and artfully bring the main theme back. They close with the liltingly anthemic waltz Last Night’s Vacation and then the showstopper Cultural Differences, shifting gears hard through minimalism, some atmospherics and then shivery, metal-tinged phrasing. There’s really nothing like this out there.

A Southwestern Gothic Masterpiece and a Williamsburg Show by the Revitalized Beat Circus

Beat Circus‘ lavish new album These Wicked Things – streaming at Bandcamp – is a soundtrack to an imaginery western. It’s the hardest-rocking record the esteemed Innova Records label – a destination for some of this era’s most vital serious concert music – has ever put out. Rock is a new thing for them, but they couldn’t have picked a better group than this. Beat Circus were the real thing: they played under a big tent. And they’re back, over twenty-five years later, with a characteristically cinematic southwestern gothic concept album, arguably the best thing bandleader Brian Carpenter has ever put out. They’re playing the release show at around 8 PM on April 25 at National Sawdust. Coyly psychedelic, cinematic, faux-Italian instrumentalists Tredici Bacci open the night at 7; advance tix are $20, and even if the show goes two hours – which it probably will- there’s still time to get to the Bedford Ave. train station before the L shuts down.

Frontman/multi-instrumentalist Carpenter has turned back in a dark direction recently, after focusing on another project, the far more blithe and upbeat Ghost Train Orchestra for several years. This album is a delicious return to form. The album cover pretty much gives it away: a man and woman in black silhouette, standing under stormclouds between a highway billboard and a 1970 Ford Mustang convertible.

The core of the band comprises Andrew Stern on guitars, Paul Dilley on bass and Gavin McCarthy on drums. The opening track, Murieta’s Last Ride, is an oscillating, loopy, Peter Gunne Theme-ish instrumental. The title track has a menacing bolero sway enhanced by the swirling orchestral arrangement: that’s Abigale Reisman on violin, Emily Bookwalter on viola, Alec Spiegelman on bass clarinet and Brad Balliett on bassoon.

“I wonder what she was involved in,” Carrpenter croons, regarding the dead woman in Bad Motel, a pulsing, retro-60s garage-psych number “If you need some help, it’s the last place to go.” Just a Lost, Lost Dream comes across as a scampering, slide guitar-fueled tale on the Gun Club, with a better singer. Hey – that ghost on the highway reference won’t be lost on those who remember good 80s music. They follow that with the jaggedly orchestrated syncopation of the instrumental Crow Killer, which brings to mind fellow noir luminaries Big Lazy.

Spiegelman’s crescendoing tenor sax flurries offer slight hope for the hitchhiker in the briskly shuffing Gone, Gone, Gone. The Girl From the West Country comes across as a Morricone spaghetti western homage, as do the two Rosita themes here, a defly orchestrated tango, and then a swaying huapango with a defly spiraling acoustic guitar intro: imagine Giant Sand backed by a lush mariachi band..

“It”s 2 AM on the side of the road, looks like we’re not moving – I’ll take the wheel if you turn the key,” Carpenter suggests in the Lynchian waltz The Key. All the Pretty Horses is a tumbling instrumental for reverb guitar and drums. Bill Cole’s Chinese suona oboe gives Childe Rolande to the Dark Tower Came a keening, quavering eeriness, then goes absolutely nuts along with the guitars in The Evening Redness in the West.

The band hit a skronky sway in The Last Man ((Is There Anbyody Out There), a surreallistically swinging Lynchian blend of beat poetry and a Balkan-tinged chorale set to menacingly orchestrated desert rock. The concluding instrumental, Long Way Home is a similarly astigmatic mashup of spaghetti western sonics and loopily orchestrated minimalsim. Watch for this on the best albums of 2019 page here if we make it that far.

Psychedelic Middle Eastern-Flavored Improvisation and a Brooklyn Show by Nadah El Shazly

Multi-instrumentalist singer Nadah El Shazly isn’t the only musician to explore the connection between highly improvisational, classic Egyptian music and American free jazz, but she’s one of the most purposeful and distinctive. El Shazly’s latest release Carte Blanche – streaming at Bandcamp – is an ep featuring Lebanese improvisational ensemble Karkhana. She’s headlinng an intriguing twinbill on April 24 at around 9 at Brooklyn Music School at 126 St Felix St, up the block and around the corner from BAM. Stefan Tcherepnin and Taketo Shimada’s dirgey duo project Afuma open the night at 8. Cover is $20; be aware that if you’re coming from outside the neighborhood, the closest train, the G, is not running, but the Atlantic Ave. station is just around the corner.

The album opens with the allusively creepy Prends-moi un Photo Pendant Que Je Pleure (French for “Take a Picture of Me While I’m Crying”), a blend of loopy, high, bubbling textures with gamelanesque ripples and pings. In between, El Shazly’s otherworldly, tectonic vocalese and stark, surreal oud spike the midrange. The second track – whose title translates roughly as “Lift the Sidewalk, I Can’t Figure Out Where to Go From Here” – begins with a gentle, deft series of exchanges – more of that gamelesque twinkle, plus elegant guitar clang, buzzy synth, and a backward masking effect. From there, it grows more emphatically percussive and surreal. Imagine Carol Lipnik, tied and muzzled, in a Cairo funhouse mirror.

The English translation of the title of the final cut is In My Mouth, Another Mouth, an electroacoustic trip-hop number with disembodied vocals and pulsing, insectile layers arranged around a simple, echoey sample. While there’s nothing distinctly Middle Eastern about the melody, such that there is one, remember that trip-hop is a rai beat that originated in Tunisia. El Shazly, an erudite oudist with a passion for early 20th century Egyptian improvisation, would probably want something like that to be acknowledged.

 

A Radical, Relevant Revival of a Witheringly Insightful, Hilarious Broadway Artifact from the 1930s

If you think a Broadway musical from 1937 couldn’t possibly have much relevance to this century, you haven’t seen Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock. In this era, most people haven’t. Created under the New Deal auspices of the Federal Theater Project, the Feds notoriously closed it down on the eve of its initial Broadway premiere for being too radical. One can only imagine what the Trumpies would make of something that FDR’s people found too subversive.

The Classic Stage Company‘s current revival – continuing through May 18 – couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Beyond John Doyle’s masterfully smart direction, getting the absolute max out of a minimalist set and a multi-talented cast, what’s most stunning is how well Blitzstein’s uproariously spot-on piece of agitprop has aged. Quaintness only arises in its many historical ironies – like the once-ubiquitous reality of steel made by American union labor, rather than by Chinese slaves.

This show is all about co-optation, and duplicity, Without spoiling the plot (for those who missed the 1999 Tim Robbins film of the same title), be aware that there’s considerable irony in the costumes. Blitzstein’s relentless satire spares no one, other than protagonist and union organizer Larry Foreman, played by a tireless, ebullient Tony Yazbeck, who, interestingly, appears in only about ten percent of the dialogue. He’s looking forward to what appears to be an across-the-board victory for the workers of Steeltown, USA. Only local steel magnate Mr. Mister (David Garrison, who gives him a glowering Lionel Barrymore menace), stands in the way. But he’s making it really hard for everybody. Before the curtain falls, there will be more than one shooting; at least one hapless employee gets caught in the machinery.

Most of the action takes place in song. That those numbers have held up so well over the years testifies to Blitzstein’s reliance on Kurt Weill-style noir, Cole Porter cleverness,, and tinges of gospel and klezmer rather than Depresssion-era vaudeville schlock. Period references abound: lockouts, sitdown strikes, strikebreaking violence. It’s no wonder the censors were so frightened. Everybody sings and plays multiple roles, including three of the cast showing off better-than-average chops at the piano. Rema Webb gets the big arioso vocal moment and hits it out of the park. Kara Mikula distinguishes herself with her voice, on the keys, and also in a fleeting, completely unexpected acrobatic bit. Lara Pulver has brassy poignancy as a hooker in jail, as well as a completely contrasting, savagely ironic alter ego of sorts.

Sally Ann Triplett plays Mrs. Mister with a hilariously relsolute, clueless determination. As her ditzy, heavy-lidded slacker kid, Larry Cooper is even funnier: fauxhemianism goes back a lot further than Bushwick. Benjamin Eakeley is priceless as a mercenary violin virtuoso who gladly lets Mr. Mister buy him off, as pretty much everybody else who might be instrumental in keeping the unions of his mill does. Some have qualms – a doctor, a professor, the publisher of the local newspaper – but eventually pretty much everybody falls in line. Ken Barnett and Ian Lowe impressively negotiate roles on both sides of the divide.

Yet as corrosively cynical as this show is, it’s also a feel-good story. As the protagonist explains, sure, he gets thrown in jail for passing out leaflets – “inciting a riot” was the 1930s equivalent of “terrorism” – but he’s perfectly content to be one of many, standing on the shoulders of giants. Victory really seems inevitable – and in an era that would create union representation for almost thirty percent of American workers, it’s easy to see how contagious that optimism would be. In the meantime, let’s wish the best to the Mexican maquiladora workers in their struggle for something approaching a living wage.