New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Wildly Popular New York Cult Artist Releases a Dark New Single

Singer/personality Anna Copa Cabanna had a big hit with a monthly punk cabaret residency at Joe’s Pub that lasted for years. She was a familiar presence at the legendary first incarnation of Freddy’s Bar before it was razed illegally to built that hideous, already-rusting Brooklyn arena. Most recently, she’s become the frontwoman of Big Balls, the hilarious AC/DC cover band.

Her new single is We Don’t Sleep, an expansive departure into lingering noir pop.

An Auspicious Live Improvisational Series in Prospect Park

As musicians are busting out all over the place to play, there’s an intriguing new series of early Tuesday night shows in Prospect Park, close to the 11th St. entrance at the top of the slope. The theme is conversational improvisation. This isn’t free jazz for people who like awkward bursts of spastic noise: this is for people who want to see tunes being pulled out of thin air. On April 14 at 5:30, the series features the cross-generational trio Becoming and Return with veteran Daniel Carter, most likely on sax, trumpet and maybe clarinet too, with Roshni Samlal on tabla and Dan Kurfirst on drums. It’s a good lineup because Samlal is just as much about subtlety as she is about fire, and Kurfirst is a colorist with a mystical, Middle Eastern side. There may be a point where the whole band turns into a quietly shamanic drum circle.

Carter has appeared on a million albums over the years. The most recent one, it seems (although you never know) is Telepathic Mysteries Vol. 1, by the aptly named Telepathic Band, streaming at Bandcamp. This group is similarly cross-generational, with Patrick Holmes on clarinet, Matthew Putman on piano and electric piano, Hilliard Greene on bass and Federico Ughi on drums. The level of interplay and calm imagination here is stunning, the group slowly conjuring a vast panorama of tunes.

They open the record with Nun Zero, a steady, swinging ballad that begins springing leaks and then the center gives way. The effect is irresistibly funny, too good to give away. The rhythm drops out for brooding piano and a pensive twin-clarinet interlude before an impatient pulse returns. There are swirls and ripples and a quasi-qawwali groove with spacy keys as Carter gently holds fort. Holmes’ clarinet returns to shadow Carter’s sax, then heads skyward, falling away for waves from the drums washing the shore. The creepy, tinkly, echoey electric piano makes a comeback, Carter a morose microtonal ghost in the background, until a long, bell-like, minimalistically insistent interlude with a relentless chill, Carter switching to trumpet. They take it out with calm echoes and flutters. Wow!

Track two, SignGhost Theatre, opens with what sounds like a lustrous allusion to Mood Indigo. Holmes leading the way, Carter’s trumpet shadowing him, the harmonies follow a lingering, rubato descent: that slow clarinet glissando over Ughi’s cautious tumbles will take your breath away.

Greene’s sly bends contrast with Putnam’s glittery piano and soaring clarinet in the barely two-minute While You Snap. The band go back to epic mode for S-Cape Cinemagic, opening with desolate twin clarinets over Ughi’s misterioso toms and Greene’s spare, solemn bass. Putnam’s steady, echoey Rhodes enhances the mystical, kaleidoscopic ambience, Holmes fueling a big rise to a steady, enveloping sway. The way Greene brings back the rhythm is just plain hilarious.

They close on a more hypnotic note with Lore Levels, clarinets wafting with the keys, bass and toms looming quietly in the distance. Putnam’s piano springs into action as Holmes leaps around, Carter’s trumpet signaling a clustering forward drive that goes out in a shimmering sunset. Who needs compositions when you have a crew who can improvise like this?

Grimly Lyrical, Darkly Jangly Americana Rock Tunesmithing From Janet Simpson

The ramshackle, embroidered cover art for Janet Simpson‘s new album Safe Distance – streaming at Bandcamp – is pure American gothic, a cowboy trying to lasso a snake. That speaks volumes for Simpson’s worldview and irreverent outsider persona. Her songs draw a straight line back to the glory days of the so-called “paisley underground” rock of the 80s: Americana twang, punk spirit, psychedelic ambience. Simpson’s tales of hard times on the forgotten fringes are starkly lyrical and often chilling. She plays guitars and keys and has a great band behind her: Will Stewart on guitars, Robert Wason on bass and Tyler McGuire on drums. This is one of the best rock records of the year.

The opening track, Nashville Girls sounds like the Dream Syndicate with a woman out front, a clanging, vampy, wickedly catchy, caustically picturesque sendup of the kind of clueless trust fund kids you see in any gentrified neighborhood. Stewart’s uneasy chorus-box guitar solo wafts in, a fresh breeze straight ouf of the 80s; Simpson overdubs some whooshy synth on the way out. It’s a hard act to follow, but the rest of the record holds up.

The blend of jangle and clang in the second cut, Slip, is just as delicious: it could be the Gun Club at their most focused mid-80s peak, taking a stab at a hypnotic, nocturnal waltz. Alcohol permeates these songs like George Jones’ breath: Simpson’s battlescarred narrators medicate 24/7. Case in point: Reno, a pulsing, honkyonk-flavored tale that turns far much darker than you would ever think.

Simpson layers hazy keys and spare guitars for suspenseful, nocturnal ambience in Awe & Wonder, a brooding, completely ambiguous look at trying to rekindle what seems to be a pretty dead romance.

She wails to the top of her range over a steady, tense backbeat iu I’m Wrong: “I wander off sometimes it’s so easy to let myself fall through the cracks,” she muses. The baritone guitar solo out is an unexpected treat.

As an offhand portrait of despondency while everybody’s out having fun, Aiu’t Nobody Looking packs a calm wallop: and that fretless bass is a trip. The album’s title track is not a snide lockdown reference but a sobering account of a blackout hookup set to a marching waltz beat:

Dancing the line as if it was straight
A callous ballet, the border so fine
On the border so fine between two awful states

Simpson goes back to portraits of terminal depression in the spare, fingerpicked Black Turns Blue:

I’ve been drinking all my feelins it’s so much easier than dealing
The world’s so pretty when I’m reeling I’d rather stay where I can’t see

The album’s most hauntingly allusive song is Double Lines, a Nashville gothic drinking-and-driving tale right up there with Ninth House’s Follow the Line. Simpson offers up the spare, mostly acoustic Silverman as a mea culpa to someone who could have been a safe harbor.

Mountain, a Memphis soul tune, is an unexpectedly optimistic scenario. The album’s final cut is Wrecked, a subdued but defiant, distantly Tex-Mex flavored tune:

Maybe I’m barely hanging on
Maybe I’m wrecked, but I’m not too far gone
Maybe the edge is right where I belong
I’m not a fighter but I’m a dancer
And it might be a grave I’m dancing on