New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Month: December, 2020

The Original Cast Recording of the Tina Turner Musical Packs a Punch

The lavish 24-track original London cast recording of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical – streaming at Spotify – is a risky project. Covering an icon like Turner is a potential minefield: mess up and you will be held accountable. But singer Adrienne Warren, in the lead role, shows off a strong, throaty, versatile delivery. The band behind her are superb, particularly on the vintage soul numbers, and the supporting cast rise to the occasion as well. It’s not often that a Broadway pit band can school other musicians on how to play much of anything, but they do here. And the script doesn’t shy away from what a creep and an abuser Ike was.

The music doesn’t follow a chronological narrative, with songs from Turner’s big 80s comeback mingled within material that spans from edgy blues to high-voltage vintage soul to the poppier stuff of her later career. Sending out a shout to her gospel beginnings, the first version of Nutbush City Limits has a lavish, ecstatic choral arrangement. The band add a welcome raw edge to Shake a Tail Feather; likewise, Daniel J. Watts, whose salacious rasp makes a great fit in Ike’s Innuendo-fueled hit The Hunter.

Tina enters in the background in Matchbox, done here as a swinging jump blues. Her dad warns Ike what’s going happen if he strays from Tina in a witheringly cynical take of It’s Gonna Work Out Fine over some delicious guitar textures. In context, the angst-fueled intro to A Fool in Love packs a punch.

With a beefy rhythm section and bright spacerock guitars, Better Be Good to Me is a vast improvement on the original. The whole crew shift gears seamlessly back to a blue-flame, unexpectedly psychedelic take of Higher, the first song the Turners – battling hard behind the scenes by now – played on national tv.

River Deep Mountain High has a lavish intensity that rivals the record. Be Tender With Me, Ike’s plea for forgiveness, has a simmering intensity from both sides of the battle. Smartly, the version of Proud Mary here draws on the epic album version rather than the single – or Creedence, for that matter.

The group do their best to add an elegant, harder-rocking edge to I Don’t Wanna Fight, a good setup for Private Dancer, which is arguably even more weary and worn than the original even if it is a tad faster. And the cover of the Trammps’ hit Disco Inferno is practically punk rock.

Warren does a more-than-decent imitation of original singer Ann Peebles in Can’t Stand the Rain. After a low-key, starry version of David Bowie’s elegaic ballad Tonight, What’s Love Got to Do With It rocks a lot harder than the techy original, commemorating Turner’s first post-comeback New York appearance.

Likewise, Warren and the band reach toward Pink Floyd angst and grandeur in We Don’t Need Another Hero. Simply the Best may be epically cheesy no matter how epically you play it, but the decision to go back to Nutbush City Limits in the 1960s for the finale pays off mightily. There are only a couple of duds here: covering Al Green was ill-advised, and that odious Journey song is a real buzzkill. That’s why we have the mute button.

Elephant Tree’s Stygian, Smoldering Set in Brooklyn Last Year Immortalized on a New Album

The Day of Doom Live series – featuring the bands who played last year’s festival of dark psychedelic rock at St. Vitus in Greenpoint – continues today with a crushing set by Elephant Tree, streaming at Bandcamp. The British four-piece have more of a sense of humor than most of the bands who play dead-serious heavy psychedelic sounds: listen closely for a couple of great WTF moments.  Said it before, time to say it again: more bands should make live albums, and this is a prime example why.

The groups on the bill weren’t all doom metal acts, either, although Elephant Tree’s stygian fuzztone attack is more evilly chromatic than, say, Horsehunter. They open with Aphotic Blues, which isn’t particularly bluesy but it is anthemic and and hypnotic, the twin guitars of Jack Townley and John Slattery over the heavy sway of bassist Peter Holland and drummer Sam Hart.

The band follow a similar pattern – octaves and simple, sharp blues riffs – in Dawn, with a couple of fat, sustained guitar solos and a goofy wah bass break. The riffage gets slurrier and the guitar strings bend achingly in Wither, down to a bass-and-drums interlude that could be Joy Division at halfspeed.

The textures get fuzzier and denser in Surma, with its downtuned bass intro. Then the group roar and shriek but also get surprisingly quiet for a minimalist bass solo midway through In Suffering.

Likewise, they shift from fuzztone crunch to spare, gloomy folk noir and finally some icy spacerock in the longest song of the set, Attack of the Altaica. They drift through the end of the set with the windswept art-rock waltz Circles, Slattery’s piano awash in a haze of reverb. Much as this is plenty enjoyable to listen to on headphones, wouldn’t it be great to be able to actually be at St. Vitus to feel the bass rattling the roof? In that sweet spot about ten feet past the sound booth, along the wall where the bands stash their gear? Are we really going to resign ourselves to raising a generation of kids who will never experience a blissful moment like that?

Deep Space Glimmer From Alicia Enstrom

Art-rock violinist Alicia Enstrom has a background in circus music. But on her most recent album Monsters (an anagram of her last name), she tackles immersive spacerock and chamber pop. Her lates single is Bardo Tide, a swirly, deep-space instrumental, which could be a backing track to a Julee Cruise hit from a David Lynch soundtrack. Kill the lights and enjoy.

Edgy, Restless Tunesmithing and a Playful New Album From Anne Mette Iversen

Bassist Anne Mette Iversen’s new quintet album Racing a Butterfly is streaming at Bandcamp. Her themes are translucent but her structures are unpredictable, and her signature sense of humor is a welcome presence in a world where artists often take everything too seriously. This is also one of this year’s great drum records: Otis Brown III’s counterintuitive drive and wry flash are irresistibly entertaining.

The first track, Triangular Waves opens with a playful but bracingly kinetic exchange between John Ellis’ tenor sax, Peter Dahlgren’s trombone and Danny Grissett’s piano. The bandleader’s spare, dancing, loopy lines anchor a contrast between Grissett gravitas and a boisterously amusing, New Orleans-tinged drum solo from Brown.

The title track is a vintage 60s postbop tune at heart, spiked with amiable, conversational counterpoint between the horns and sudden tempo shifts, Dahlgren’s soaring solo handing off to Grissett’s spacious but energetic wee-hours tableau.

Parallel Flying is a diptych. Iversen takes a rare and subtle solo as a pensive intro, Brown meeting her with whispery brushes on the snare, Grissett and the horns entering on a similarly moody note. Dahlgren and then Grissett bring in lyricism, both sunny and more distinctly unsettled. He leads the segue into the conclusion, which after a little dramatic foreshadowing takes off at a racewalking pace.

Dancing Butterflies gets a brief, uneasy full-band intro, then the band follow an edgy, deliciously acidic series of harmonies to an achingly crescendoing soprano sax solo from Ellis and an unexpectedly waltzing interlude fueled by Grissett’s rippling lines.   

Clustering is a jaunty update on stark, modal McCoy Tyner-style anthemcs, bright horns over a stern, emphatic backdrop, Brown having fun hitting the clave and then breaking it for loose-limbed hints of funk.

The group stay in lyrical, upbeat 60s mode with Reworking of a Butterfly, with resonant, ebullient trombone, sailing soprano sax and Grissett’s emphatic close harmonies. They wind up the record with Butterflies Too, its wary intro slowly expanding to fond ballad territory. This album really grows on you: the camaraderie is contagious and the band are obviously having fun with these smart, purist tunes.

The Goners Mash Up Garage Rock and Powerpop with Classic Heavy Riffage

The Goners play an individualistic brand of heavy rock that’s slinkier and more focused than most bands in the style. Unlike most heavy bands, their rhythm section – bassist Aaron Miller and drummer Aaron Smith – really swing (although Geezer Butler and Bill Ward swung like hell too). And the group don’t use a lot of guitar effects: just overdriven amps and some growly treble on the bass, and that’s pretty much it. Their latest album Good Mourning – streaming at Bandcamp – is a blend of doom metal, garage rock and more opaque indie sounds.

The first track, Are You Gone Yet is basically a garage rock tune souped up with some tasty chromatics and a sunbaked wah guitar solo. High Low and Never In Between is a chunky riff-rocking Sabbath homage, more or less, with a couple of pinwheeling, doublespeed guitar solos.

They go back to a garage rock stomp for World of Decay, then hit a gallop with Evil Is Not Enough, a twisted tale of hooking up with a groupie. After that, they take an unexpected and successful detour into loping southwestern gothic with Good Ol’ Death and return to swaying riff-rock with The Sickening, with a nasty, tremolo-picked guitar solo out.

The most bizarre song here is Down and Out, a mashup of the Ventures and early Iron Maiden, with a spacy interlude for trumpet. Likewise, the mashup of Stooges and crunchy Sabbath in You Better Run is pretty weird, up to the album’s best and most allusively menacing guitar solo. With its punchy changes and watery analog chorus-box solos, The Little Blue reminds of Da Capo-era Arthur Lee.

The band go back to a surreal mix of spaghetti western, surf rock and hints of Radio Birdman to close the album with Dead in the Saddle (Dead Moon). Some fans of heavier sounds are going to hear frontman/guitarist Nate Gone’s flat, off-key vocals and the lithe, supple grooves of this music and find it insubstantial. But leave your mind open and you just might get into this.

Spot-On Protest Songs and Spare, Eclectic Guitar Instrumentals From Austin Legend Matt Smith

Multi-instrumentalist Matt Smith is one of the great guitarists in Americana, among many other things. These days, most importantly, he writes protest songs.

Check out How We Got to Here, a spare, fingerpicked, dobro-infused number from his most recent album Being Human. In under four minutes, he paints a grim picture of recent American history, from the coup d’etat in 2000, up to the lockdown and how social media has paralyzed so many of us when we’re needed most:

We all saw it coming but we’re too self-involved to stand
Against the ones back in the shadows who wait to implement the plan
When they told us this was normal and did not believe the news
We took pictures of our dinnes and proselytized our views

Smith finds optimism in historical rebellions against past tyrannies: let’s hope he’s right.

The rest of the record – streaming at youtube – mirrors Smith’s long career as a bandleader, sideman to the stars and owner of a recording studio, the 6 String Ranch, revered as one of the go-to spots if you really want a vintage Americana sound from across many decades. There’s another great protest song here, Sanctuary, a dusky minor-key Robert Cray-style blues about the xenophobia that South American refugees run up against once they cross the US border.

“Why does it feel like the sky is falling?” Smith asks in the cynical, loping title track. After that, Smith channels a vast range of styles ranging from early 80s Midnight Starr stoner funk, to the Who.

Smith also has a charming all-instrumental solo acoustic album, Parlor – streamin at Spotify – where he plays a beautifully restored heirloom 1890’s Thompson and Odell parlor guitar. Most of the tracks are on the short side, some less than two minutes. Blind Blake-inspired ragtime fingerpicking, Piedmont and delta blues, Yorkshire-style balladry, Indian music, Leo Kottke wizardry, and, improbably, indie rock all figure into Smith’s distinctive, sometimes stark, sometimes opaque compositions.

The Kolotov Mocktails Play Dynamic, Interesting, Subtly Amusing Cross-Genre Instrumentals

As you would imagine, instrumental jamband the Kolotov Mocktails have a sense of humor. The mocktail part of the band might be a characteristically wry admission of how many styles and ideas they appropriate; and yet, they are absolutely unique. Their songs tend to be upbeat, the solos are purposeful and the tunes are catchy. Their latest album Ivy Hall is streaming at Spotify.

They open with Between the Ranges, a lively Grateful Dead-style instrumental by drummer Rob McKendrick. Violinist George Mason’s wildly spiraling solo is a highlight; the southern rock quotes at the end are predictably amusing.

Mason and pedal steel player Dave Easley take centerstage in Dancing on the Wall, McKendrick and bassist John Lang giving it a tight jazz waltz beat. Lang contributes Mr. Pants Pants, which could be the Alan Parsons Project with a more organic groove, guest Allan Walters’ Scottish smallpipes mingling with the layers of keys.

Easley contributes A Visit to the Zoo: with his percussive hammer-ons and ambiguously lingering lines, along with Mason’s long, moody solo, this seems to reflect the inhabitants’ unease rather than a joyous family outing. The shift toward a marching raga, with Mason on guitar sitar, makes for an unexpected coda.

The group shift back toward newgrass rock with Acoustic Alchemy, a brisk number in an Old Crow Medicine Show vein. Fueled by Lang’s strutting, circling bassline, Coming to an Alley Near You is a bizarrely entertaining mashup of Jean-Luc Ponty, Kraftwerk and maybe Dave Tronzo in a particularly terse moment. Likewise, imagine Ponty trying his hand at Meters funk in, say, 1974 – with a pedal steel – and you get The Fuzz.

Mason and Easley trade punchy riffs in Raw Eel Sheets, a similarly mind-warping blend of Django Reinhardt and New Orleans funk. The Crack of Noon features Walters on the pipes again: it could be a Greer Coppins tune, or the Dead taking a stab at a highlands air. The band segue from there to close the record with Time Ebbing: the guitar/violin duel is pure Terrapin Station. If you smell something skunky and smoky coming from under your neighbor’s door, it might be this album.

Shapeshiftingly Electrifying Indian-Inspired Big Band Jazz by the Modern Art Orchestra

Irrepressible, paradigm-shifting Hungarian ensemble the Modern Art Orchestra‘s latest album is an electrifying blend of Indian music and big band jazz. Bandleader and trumpeter Kornél Fekete-Kovács’ epic 21-track suite Foundations – Yamas and Niyamas is streaming at Spotify. One of his primary intentions in creating this was to demystify current-day Western cliches relating to yoga, as well as underscore the meditative commonalities shared by yoga practice and musical improvisation.

Throughout the suite, dramatically forceful passages contrast with hypnotic ambience, livened with trippy electronics, spoken word, Márton Fenyvesi’s spare acoustic guitar and Veronika Harcsa’s impassioned, usually English-language vocals. The Brooklyn Raga Massive‘s similarly vast reinterpretations of John Coltrane classics are a good point of comparison, although this is the reverse image of that group’s work, Indian music through the prism of jazz rather than jazz themes played as ragas. And this is typically much more energetic.

The band open the suite with a morning prayer tableau, a steady, suspenseful drone that rises with big swells and ripples from throughout the instruments. As a portrait of ahimsa – the concept of nonvolence – a series of fluttering, circling, aggressive riffs gives way to calm. The bandleader provides a warmly triumphant intro, echoed by soprano saxophonist Kristóf Bacsó’s optimistic, sailing lines over a lush, luminous backdrop in their exploration of satya (truthfulness).

A delicious bass trombone loop foreshadows an utterly surreal jazz poetry piece featuring the starry pianos of Béla Szakcsi Lakatos and Gábor Cseke. János Ávéd’s bluesy bansuri flute solo, as the majesty behind him decays to rapt stillness to close the first disc, is one of the album’s high points.

The second disc begins with a contrast between sparse calm and barely controlled mass chaos, Áron Komjáti’s acoustic guitar a centering point. There’s no shortage of irony in how Bacsó and Harcsa channel trippy contentment in the album’s iciest, most echoey interlude.

Circling, tense Darcy James Argue-like phrases intertwine as the atmosphere grows even more hypnotic but energetic. Fekete-Kovács delivers his most lyrical, overtly Indian-tinged solo as the band waft their way into Tapas (referring to the yogic concept of self-discipline rather than Spanish snacks). From there János Ávéd’s ebullient, dynamic tenor sax makes a bridge to brooding svadhana (i.e. introspection). The group wind up the album with Fekete-Kovács’s muted trumpet drifting through the mist and then a benedictory jazz waltz sung by Harcsa.

Get Lost in Domkraft’s Day of Doom Live Album

The latest in the Day of Doom Live series – immortalizing the performances at last year’s festival of dark psychedelic rock at St. Vitus in Greenpoint – is Domkraft’s searing set, streaming at Bandcamp. This what separates real musicians from wannabes. Anybody can sound like a million bucks in the studio, but onstage, you have to bring it, and Domkraft don’t disappoint. As with the other bands who played the festival, their influences range beyond metal to sledgehammering postrock and swirilng dreampop.

They get epic right from the start with The Rift, a hypnotic, mostly one-chord jam punctuated by hypnotic, insistent upward waves, guitarist Martin Widholm slowly dialing in the wah to make things even trippier. Bassist/frontman Martin Wegeland’s downtuned axe buzzes behind Widholm’s uneasy resonance as they launch into Through the Ashes, which is more doomy and chromatic, with a gloomy interlude where the guitar drops out midway through.

The tasty, evil riff that opens the studio version of Watchers gets lost here: this is more about dense head-bobbing atmospherics as drummer Anders Dahlgren drives it into doublespeed. But the version of Flood here has more menace and textural bite than the original.

Meltdown of the Orb is the set’s most hypnotic moment, like the early Black Angels at their loudest. They close with Landslide, slowly bringing up the eerie opening riff and then hitting a vikings-in-space groove in 6/8 time.

It should go without saying that nobody wants to live in a world where shows like this are against the law: just ask Domkraft, who come from Sweden, which never locked down this past year. Time to get busy, people: the US Supreme Court handed down a temporary injunction overturning New York dictator Andrew Cuomo’s ban on religious gatherings. Concerts – the kind outside of houses of worship – should be our next order of business!

Darkly Lingering, Lynchian Atmosphere From Lucas Brode and Kevin Shea

Guitarist Lucas Brode went to the well for inspiration from David Lynch films and Paul Motian compositions, drank deeply, and came up with his new album Vague Sense of Virtue. A duo recording with brilliant, purposeful drummer Kevin Shea (famously of Mostly Other People Do the Killing), it often brings to mind Bill Frisell, Cameron Mizell or Don Fiorino at their darkest. It’s streaming at Bandcamp.

The two open with There Is Someone Softly Singing in the Other Room, a pensive, reverb-drenched pastoral jazz theme over Shea’s mist of cymbals and muted rumbles. Train-whistle slides emerge mournfully out of a fog as the duo slowly gather steam in We All Missed & Are Missed, rising to a spacious, twangy soundscape that could be a very long outro in the Big Lazy catalog.

The album’s most epic number is You Will Be Remembered Simply As an Idea. Here as everywhere else, Shea’s looming ambience and judicious use of his hardware are masterful while Brode runs variations on a simple, catchy, tremoloing, distantly Lynchian riff.

The title track comes across as a more ambient take on Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky, with some of Brode’s most unexpectedly lively work here. The album’s fifth number, a triptych, begins with a somber, slowly drifting song without words, Brode spiraling and squiggling around with his slide, hitting his distortion pedal as Shea prowls the perimeter. The twinkling, loopy outro is a surprise touch.

Shea supplies the uneasy energy in the spare nocturne Movement or Motionlessness, One and the Same as Brode parses his deep bag of riffs; he brings the album full circle at the end. This is a quantum leap, creatively speaking: he’s really found his muse in this immersively shadowy music.