New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: blues music

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.

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.

Witheringly Smart, Cynical Oldschool Soul, Gospel and Funk From Fantastic Negrito

Multi-instrumentalist Fantastic Negrito a.k.a. Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz has been pumping out fearlessly populist, cynically amusing, pro-freedom songs that span the worlds of oldschool soul, hard funk, hip-hop and gospel music since the zeros. His deliciously layered, often witheringly lyrical latest album Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? is streaming at Spotify. It’s funny, it’s sharp, it’s a clinic in vintage soul music, the layers of guitar and organ are killer, and you’ll see it on the list of the best albums of 2020 here at the end of December. If you miss Prince, this guy picks up where he left off.

The first track is Chocolate Samurai, a gritty ba-bump roadhouse blues theme mashed up with some psychedelic hard funk and swirly gospel organ: a sly message to free ourselves from mental slavery, as Bob Marley put it.

I’m So Happy I Could Cry is a similarly high-voltage minor-key gospel hip-hop number complete with passionate guest vocals from Tarriona Ball of Tank and the Bangas. How Long? is next, a brooding, savagely wise soul tune in a bluesy Gil Scott-Heron vein:

To alll the baby Al Capones
Out there screaming all alone
Full of shit, full of hope
Holding on
We can repeat the same old lies
That make us feel all right
Try to escape
But but we gotta fight the scary ones
…moving so fast, spitting out hashtags
But the lynch mob’s ready to kill

The saturnine guitar solo midway through packs a wallop.

Searching For Captain Save A Hoe features golden age Bay Area rapper E-40, in a darkly organic, soul-infused reprise of his surreal, sarcastic 1993 stoner classic. Your Sex Is Overrated is more subtly amusing than you would think – and the expertly guitar-infused, darkly jazzy early 70s soul ballad atmosphere is spot-on.

These Are My Friends is a strutting, gospel-tinged chronicle of the shady characters Fantastic Negrito surrounds himself with. “Things that don’t kill you in this lockdown will only make you stronger,” he reminds. Easier said than done!

“You want me kissing your ass and you know I never could do that,” he explains in All Up In My Space, an eerie mashup of noir 60s soul and hip-hop, with a slithery organ solo. He brings in a harder funk edge in Platypus Dipster, the album’s most psychedelic number – the ending is priceless. He winds up the record with King Frustration, blending vintage soul, searing Chicago blues and early 70s Stevie Wonder in a fervently detailed message to the masses to wake up. We’ve never needed music this good as much as we do now. 

The Sideshow Tragedy Take an Embittered Detour into Powerpop

Over the past decade or so, Austin duo the Sideshow Tragedy have done everything from unhinged, electrified country blues, to feral hillbilly boogies and savagely lyrical, hip-hop influenced political punk rock. Their masterpiece, and their most political release by far, is the searing 2015 album Capital. Their latest one After the Fall – streaming at Bandcamp – is a breakup album, sometimes allusive, sometimes completely grim.

They open with the title track, a departure into vintage 70s-style CBGB powerpop, guitarist Nathan Singleton’s surprisingly lushly layered guitars and bass over drummer Jeremy Harrell’s syncopated drive. “Wore a mask so long it became my face/I went in circles for years just to get to this place,” Singleton recalls. Prophetic, huh?

Ben Senerfit’s baritone sax punches in on the lows in Easy Action, which comes across as a mashup of Jon Spencer and Marcellus Hall. Guest lead guitarist Marc Ribot plays sizzling, noisy blues over Kenny Siegal’s blustery layers of keyboards in Hold On It: “I only walk on eggshells ‘cause I like the way it sounds,” Singleton snarls.

He channels Lou Reed, both musically and vocally, in The Lonely One, then he goes back toward the gutter blues of the band’s early years in the resolute Capital Crime. They hit a surprisingly funky pulse in the album’s best, most aphoristic and Dylanesque track, Same Thing:

Edge of the water at the end of time
You can see the other shore on the horizon line
It’s a trick of the light, it’s not too faraway
I’m at the bottom of the bottle next to the bay

Singleton’s Blood on the Tracks reference later on packs a wallop.

“Nothing to live for, it’s something to do,” Singleton muses in What I Mean, a stomping, stark, hypnotic blues anthem in a Jesus and Mary Chain vein. He goes back to Lou Reed mode over Harrell’s simple, steady stomp in Forty Days and the album’s cynical closing cut, Young Forever.

Edgy, Oldschool Electric Florida Blues From the Wailin’ Wolves

The Wailin’ Wolves come from blues country: deep down in Florida, as Muddy Waters used to sing. They’ve been a mainstay of East Florida roadhouses for years. There’s been some turnover in the band in the wake of the death of co-founder and guitarist Bert Calderon, but they continue to soldier on, and put on an often electrifying, unpredictable show. They’re playing a free outdoor gig at 3 PM on Oct 25 at Fish Camp, a burger joint at 12062 Waterfront Drive on Lake Lamonia in Tallahassee; there’s no cover.

Some blues bands go into the studio and make rushjob albums (Rounder Records was notorious for doing that throughout the 80s and 90s). Not the Wailin’ Wolves. They’ve got more than an hour of frequently feral live audio at their music page, a mix of classics and originals.

The group’s latest lead guitarist, Lenny Widener is the rare blues player who doesn’t waste notes, although he takes a lot of chances: he’s always thisclose to going over the edge, whether with his wah-wah on or just an icy, gritty tone on his Strat.

Frontwoman Brittany Widener is a brassy belter: imagine Susan Tedeschi but with more sass and simmer. Keyboardist Jim Graham holds the group together throughout the solos, and seems just as home playing honkytonk and blues piano in a swinging pocket with bassist Adam Gaffney and drummer Deb Berlinger.

Hit their music page and give a listen to Bert’s Bolero, a haphazard minor-key blues written by Calderon, which sounds like early Santana covering the Doors. Taxi Man, with a sultry vocal from the group’s frontwoman and some wry wah guitar, is another original, which they follow with the slow boogie Help Me. Some choice covers include a careening take of Hey Bartender, an unexpectedly energetic version of The Thrill Is Gone and a growling, upbeat, Stonesy reinvention of the Howlin’ Wolf classic Built For Comfort. This is how people play the blues in the parts of the world where it’s still party music.

For those who might why a New York music blog would suddenly take an interest in places like Tallahassee, or Sioux Falls, that’s because both of those cities have live music. And thanks to a power-mad dictator in the New York state house, New York City has little more than buskers in city parks and jazz groups phoning in sidewalk cafe gigs. Much respect to the people of Sioux Falls and Tallahassee for keeping the arts alive when they’re all but dead in Manhattan.

A Brand New Protest Song

Why are so few people outside the jazz world writing protest songs these days?

Because we’re so overwhelmed? Because events have become so chaotic that a topical song is almost dated from the time it’s written?

Or because people are too afraid?

Here’s a brand new one this blog heard recently:

New Abnormal Blues

Computer salesman put on his boogieman suit
Said if anybody moves around here just shoot
People stand in line, six feet apart
You’re going back to the plantation for a brand new start

Go down, go down Moses
Go down, go down Moses
Go down, go down Moses
Crossroads is calling to you

Like Julian Assange, a rocket from the tombs
I’m hearing other voices from many other rooms
Fake news twenty four seven, three sixty five
Nonstop limousine liberal pledge drive

Go down, go down Moses
Go down, go down Moses
Go down, go down Moses
Crossroads is calling to you

Sheeple walking round in their muzzles and veils
Can’t see the express train coming down the rails
Mad doctor gonna get you before you pull the lever
Gonna vaccinate you from any further endeavor

Go down, go down Moses
Go down, go down Moses
Go down, go down Moses
Crossroads is calling to you

Every last little Hitler kissing up to the boss
Get a good job working for the Holocaust
Death camp duty, surely pay the bills
From the Javits Center to Forest Hills

Go down, go down Moses
Go down, go down Moses
Go down, go down Moses
Crossroads is calling to you

Teachers screaming at kids, they can’t hug their friends
Parents won’t tell ‘em how all this ends
Call the snitch hotline, tell ‘em everything you saw
You know divide and conquer, that’s the law

Go down, go down Moses
Go down, go down Moses
Go down, go down Moses
Crossroads is calling to you

You better catch that tablet flying past your head
Take it to the mountaintop, tell us what it said
Better read that writing bleeding through the wall
Hear that trumpet, that’s your wakeup call

Go down
Crossroads calling to you

Tunewise, this is a fast shuffle blues in G – but you can sing it in any key that works for you. The four lines of the verse follow a G-G-C-G progression. Likewise, the chorus is G-G-D-G. And watch the very end of the song, the chorus is just those two lines, starting with the D and then back to the G – or the fifth and back to the root if you do it in a different key.

Mess around with the chords and you’ll find a melody – try starting on the D with the first line of the verse and make your way down to the G. And the chorus is a gospel call-and-response – if you can start with a high G on the first “go down” and then hit the low one on the next “go down,” give that a try.

This blog sees this as more of a lowdown, chugging take on what Dylan did with Subterranean Homesick Blues, or the kind of shuffle Nick Lowe would do with Rockpile. If you’re going to play a solo, after the next-to-last chorus seems like the logical place. But like any other folk song, how you do it is really up to you

A Brilliant, Erudite New Blues Album and a Webcast From Mamie Minch

Mamie Minch hit New York in the early zeros while still in her teens and quickly got a reputation as a force of nature in the oldtime Americana scene. Almost two decades later, she’s earned herself a place among the greats who influenced her. Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Muddy Waters, look out, you’ve got company. Minch may be best known as an erudite, imaginative guitarist, but she also has a hauntingly nuanced alto voice and writes in an oldtime vernacular that can be raucously funny, or profoundly sad. 

Minch has a characteristically brilliant, sharply lyrical new album, Slow Burn streaming at Bandcamp and while she doesn’t have any shows scheduled at the moment, she is playing a webcast on Aug 20 at 6 PM on the Barbes youtube channel to celebrate.

It’s been an awful lot of fun watching her work up the material on the album onstage over the past few years: in the tradition of her predecessors over the past hundred-plus years, these songs have gone through many different incarnations. The first one, Deep Footsteps could be a hokum blues classic from the late 20s: Minch’s defiant, endless series of innuendos are irresistible. Drummer Dean Sharenow gives the song an emphatic swing; Minch close-mics her National Steel guitar to catch every available microtone resonating from her spiky fingerpicking

Fortified Wine, a slow Indian-summer front-porch lament, is another number that’s taken on a different shapes in the past few years. Here she’s joined by both members of Kill Henry Sugar, Sharenow and guitarist Erik Della Penna, who nails the mood with the the subtlest of slide guitar washes. The point of the song seems to be that being stuck with an addict is a bitch, whether in on some forlorn plantation in 1920, or in the here and now.

No More Is Love, a gentle, understatedly haunting Carter Family-style waltz, is an urban oldtime country song with more atmospherically drifting slide work from Della Penna. Big Bad Maddie is a remake of RL Burnside’s Poor Black Mattie with new lyrics which transform this character from downtrodden victim to total badass: she’s got “big dick swagger to keep those boys in line.” Logan Coale holds down a terse, minimalist bass pulse; it’s a revelation to hear Minch put her own spin on Mississippi hill country blues guitar.

The album’s other sort-of cover is Wee Midnight Hours, based on the version by Blind Wille McTell and Curly Weaver; Sharenow gives it an easygoing swing that recalls an even earlier time. The gorgeously bittersweet, even more bucolic True Blue was inspired by a New Yorker article about the unique properties of the color blue. CJ Camerieri adds spare, resonant french horn over Minch’s fingerpicking.

She winds up the record with the venomously bristling You Don’t Lift Me Up, a kiss-off to negative people, both specifically and in general, with echoes of Iggy Pop’s The Passenger. Della Penna’s sparse incisions are a perfect complement to Minch’s propulsively strolling groove. The band could have gone on for five more minutes and that wouldn’t have been too much. This record’s on the shortlist for best albums of 2020 in any stye of music.

The DriverX Soundtrack: A Crazily Diverse College Radio Style Playlist

, Lili Haydn and Marvin Etzioni‘s soundtrack to the 2018 film DriverX – streaming at youtube – is a long one, with a grand total of twenty tracks. Even for a film score, it’s especially eclectic, everything from soul to powerpop to uneasy set pieces. Etzioni plays mostly the good-cop role here, showing off his multistylistic erudition, while Haydn gets to be bad cop with her stark, troubled instrumentals.

Her brief main title theme is a surreal mashup of Central Asian folk and sinister oldtimey swing. Etzioni pulls a first-class oldschool soul band together for Oh Glory Be, sung with gospel passion by Helen Rose. The Model rip through a brief powerpop sprint; a little later, Etzioni plays a grimly amusing Dylan spoof on ukulele.

Talon Majors sings a turbulent, Amy Winehouse-ish neosoul tune. The Satellite Four prance through a long series of variations on a famous Shadows surf theme. Danny Peck takes over the mic on Haydn’s breathy, Orbisonesque Nashville noir ballad I’m Here, which she reprises at the end, Julee Cruise style.

Etzioni’s tense soul-blues epic Trouble Holding Back slowly rises to a jaggedly haphazard guitar solo; then he goes into low-key, flinty olschool C&W with Hard to Build a Home. He sticks with gloomy Americana in Miss This World.

Haydn’s other contributions include a brooding violin and acoustic guitar interlude; a hazy trip-hop tune; a bit of psychedelic baroque pop; a dubby, twinkling nocturne; some haunting instrumental folk-rock and a ridiculous descent into EDM.

Karmic Payback Via Video

Catherine Russell‘s new video You Reap Just What You Sow reinvents the Alberta Hunter gospel/blues classic as oldtimey string band music, with Larry Campbell on acoustic guitar and Howard Johnson on tuba. But as impassioned as Russell’s vocals are – karma is a real bitch –  this is even more noteworthy since it’s her first-ever recording on mandolin. Little-known fact: the famous jazz chanteuse is also a first-class bluegrass musician.

Elizabeth Cook’s Perfect Girls of Pop is a ballsy satire of corporate radio cheesiness. The big joke is when the chorus kicks in – and she’s got the autotune dialed up all the way to hideous. Yeah, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel – but it’s still fun to hear the carnage.

Sinister Musical Mini-Movies and Murder Ballads From Ben Da La Cour

Dark Americana crooner Ben De La Cour‘s 2016 debut Midnight in Havana made the 20 best albums of the year list here. His latest album, Shadow Land – streaming at Bandcamp – is longer and considerably more twisted: it was very  tempting to save this for the annual Halloween celebration here. De La Cour spins a hell of a yarn, and his expressive baritone has more unhinged energy but also more nuance this time around. If murder ballads are your thing, this is your guy.

The album opens with the briskly shuffling outlaw ballad God’s Only Son. This guy is a total psychopath: he gives his kid brother the shiv, and it just gets more grisly from there. Likewise, the slow, simmering High Heels Down the Holler seems to be a retelling of the Ed Gein story.

The devil is always in De La Cour’s details. “Her words trailed off like cigarette smoke underneath the door.” Talk about saying volumes in a few words! That’s a line from The Last Chance Farm, a delicately fingerpicked ballad which could be set in a prison, or a pretty awful workplace, or somewhere else. Tom Shaner’s classic Lake 48 comes to mind.

De La Cour picks up the pace with the snarling, open-tuned electric blues In God We Trust – All Others Pay Cash, a surreal, cynical update on Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan. Is there a Hendrix quote in Amazing Grace (Slight Return)? Nope, but it’s a killer narrative, a hushed, stunningly detailed generational clash with an ending that’s way too good to give away.

Musically, the album’s title track is more lightheartedly Dylanesque, but De La Cour’s gloomy surrealism is unrelenting: “The more I talk, the less I have to say; the more I listen, the less I understand,” he grouses. Then he and the band hit a raucous post-Chuck Berry roar in The Basin Lounge. There’s a David Duke poster on the wall of this joint: get out of Denver, baby, GO!!!

The wistful, Celtic-tinged waltz Swan Dive opens on a grim Brooklyn streetside murder and just gets more interesting from there. The even more muted From Now On is the ringer here, a momentary break from all the killing. The album’s funniest number is Anderson’s Small Ritual, a bizarre character study.

De La Cour recounts an opium dream in the slow fire-and-brimstone blues Harmless Indian Medicine Blues. He winds up the record with flurries of fingerpicking throughout the hauntingly anthemic, apocalyptic Valley of the Moon. Telling stories with sharp lyrics over a catchy tune may be a neglected art these days, but nobody’s working harder than De La Cour to push that envelope. You’ll see this album on the best-of-2020 page if there’s still reason for a music blog to exist by the time we hit December. If we hit December.