New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

A Gorgeously Jangly New Album by the Corner Laughers

The Corner Laughers play a sharply lyrical, catchy blend of jangly psychedelia, to richly arranged folk-rock and Americana and several other styles from th enew wave era. Their latest album Temescal Telegraph – streaming at Bandcamp – has some of the most gorgeous guitar work of any rock record released in recent months: clanging twelve-string lines, burning distortion, jaunty 80s British riffage, purist Americana, you name it, this band can play it.

The first track is Calculating Boy, an emphatic new wave number with jangly twelve-string guitar – that’s KC Bowman and Khoi Huynh switching off on guitar, bass and piano behind frontwoman/ukulele player Karla Kane’s cool, inscrutable vocals. This could be an older Pulp song with a woman out front, with a pair of doomed narratives about what sometimes happens to nonconformists: “Ever since she was a child she often smiled, mind over matter,” Kane intones.

Changeling, a backbeat soul tune with gospel organ, could be a well-produced Grateful Dead studio track. In The Accepted Time, Kane traces an impending breakup, from hope against hope, to a graveyard gate, over a lush bed of jangling, clanging guitar multitracks,

The Lilac Line is a blithe janglepop song, 90s Hoboken transplanted to the Bay Area. Loma Alta, a slow, summery 6/8 tableau, has piano chiming through the mix: the Jayhawks at their late 90s/early zeros peak come to mind. Then the band pick up the pace over a soul-clap beat with the new wave-tinged Sirens of the Pollen.

Wren in the Rain has hints of a Kinks classic amid the distantly uneasy, lusciously jangly, watery guitar textures. The lone cover here is a cheery, Beatlesque take of Martin Newell’s Goodguy Sun, swaying along amiably over drummer Charlie Crabtree’s coy flurries.

Skylarks of Britain is a lavishly arranged take on 60s British psych-folk – Sandy Denny-era Strawbs on steroids, maybe – with a trippy lyric that could be an inside joke. The band stay in Britfolk-rock mode to close the album with Lord Richard.

Purist, Brilliantly Produced, Anthemic Tunesmithing From Petey & the True Mongrel Hearts

From the early zeros through the mid-teens, guitarist Pete Cenedella fronted an anthemic and fearlessly woke two-guitar band, American Ambulance, who blended Stones snarl with oldschool country twang. They made some great records and played their last Manhattan full-band gig in the fall of 2015 at the Treehouse at 2A. Since then, Cenedella has led Petey & the True Mongrel Hearts and has continued to write as prolifically as he did with his old band.

They’ve got a couple of singles out this year: Cenedella’s game plan is to put them all out on vinyl until there’s enough of them to fill a double album. If what he has out there now is any indication, it’s going to be a hell of a record. The first single is Turning of the Wheel, which with the twin keyboards of Charles Roth and Tom Lucas has more of a classic Born to Run Springsteen feel. Graham Norwood’s sizzling, spiraling guitar solos toward the end are the icing on this angst-fueled ballad of loss and desperation.

The b-side, Little Leeway is an acoustic country kiss-off anthem. The rhythm section of bassist Ed Iglewski and Dave Anthony is much more lithe here, Cenedella’s metaphors following a would-be gambler to where the deal goes down, hard.

The newest single is Home in the Wind, which has an Abbey Road Beatles vibe and otherworldly vocal harmonies from Lisa Zwier, Erica Smith and Rembert Block along with perfect George Harrison-style analog chorus box leads from Norwood. The b-side, Darkness of a Brand New Day is a stark acoustic duet between Cenedella and Zwier, the brightness of the melody contrasting with the song’s surreal carnival scenario. At a time when there’s never been more of a shortage of rock music being made in this city, there’s never been more of a need for bands like this. If all goes well, this could be the start of something great.

Undercover…Sort of….on the Breadline

[Editor’s note: not exactly music-related, but worth knowing about]

The scariest part of being on the breadline was how absolutely ordinary everyone looked.

I’d never been on a breadline before. I’d found out about it from a flyer posted on a church door in my neighborhood. Expecting to be surrounded by crackheads and crazy street people, I’d dressed down. But as I joined the line, which was already almost all the way around this particular city block, it was reassuring to see who else had showed up a half an hour or more earlier.

To my surprise, this turned out to be a gathering of random New Yorkers. Like the people you work with – if you still have a job that people actually go to – and ride the train with, if you have reason to ride the train these days. This particular crowd was on the older side, meaning forty-plus, with plenty of seniors pushing old-lady carts. Some of the younger parents had brought their heavy-duty models. People of color were in the majority, mirroring this city’s current demographics, although I noticed a smartly dressed Asian girl in her twenties and a well-coiffed, mature white woman in a sharp black sundress reading the New York Times. I stood out for the very reason that I thought would help me blend in.

“No picture taking!” The beefy latino guy in front of me scowled at the black man crouched at the edge of the sidewalk. Slung around his neck were two big cameras, each with a zoom lense. I turned my back and kept my back to him. Ten minutes later, the line hadn’t moved; I glanced over my shoulder to find that he was gone.

After an hour and a half standing in the hot sun, when I finally reached the area where the Food Bank of New York was staging the handout, I noticed a sign with the same legalese disclaimer that’s commonly posted at the doors of corporate music venues: “By entering, you consent to be photographed and/or videotaped and that your image can be used for promotional, social media and other purposes,” etcetera.

There was another guy with a camera here, and this dude was obviously out for promo pix. Families with kids, babies, pregnant women and cute girls were all getting plenty of attention. He seemed very friendly; the black guy who’d been snapping pix a few blocks away had been all business. He didn’t interact with anybody. Undercover cop? Homeland Security? Rent-a-pig?

A lady asked me in Spanish if I wanted a mask; “No, gracias,” I demurred. Some of the volunteers were pleasant, some less so. Nobody was asked to sign in, or answer any questions, something I’d expected after my one experience at a food bank several years earlier. That story idea died on the vine when the guy running the program turned out to be a Nazi, or given to false assumptions about race and class, or suffering from the kind of battle fatigue that one would expect at his job – or all of the above.

This was more than a story idea. Until the lockdown, I did almost all my shopping in the far reaches of the outer boroughs, where food is plentiful and cheap. Not having a job to go to or events to cover, good produce at less than ridiculous prices has been hard to find without walking for hours: for the record, this walk took me over a hundred blocks.

But it paid off. The fresh produce was delicious. A couple of crispy apples; a trio of oranges; a handful of big, sweet carrots; impressively fresh romaine lettuce; a bag of spinach that hadn’t yet lost all its crispness; a few small potatoes, rot-free; a pair of huge cucumbers, ripe for pickling; and a pint of Florida grape tomatoes. Thanks, Food Bank of New York!

The rest of what was available was more in keeping with my expectations – at my lone previous food bank experience, I’d managed to escape with a bag of almost-rotten bananas, a loaf of inedible bread and a bag of shallots. So it was nice to get bunker food: peanut butter, corn flakes, a little bag of rice and a can of beans. It was disheartening to find that a lot of the canned fruits and vegetables were from China. On the way home, I noticed many people leaving those cans along the sidewalk. A quart of milk turned out to be skim. There were also huge bags of frozen chicken being handed out, but the idea of raw meat sitting in ninety-degree heat for minutes on end scared me off.

If this experience is typical, nobody on line with you is going to shame you, or look at you with distrust, if you need to be there. Just watch your back if you see a camera.