New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: blues music

One of the Year’s Best Triplebills at Drom Last Friday Night

“We don’t play with horns that much,” Big Lazy frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich told the crowd late during their show headlining one of the year’s best triplebills at Drom Friday night. “Horns are,” he paused – and then resumed with just a flash of a menacing grin – ”Evil.” Then guest trumpeter Brian Carpenter and trombonist Curtis Hasselbring added a surreal acidity to the slow, ominous sway of a brand-new, ominously resonant film noir theme, Bluish.

“I wrote those harmonies to be as dissonant as possible,” Ulrich confided after the show. Which is ironic considering how little dissonance there actually is in Big Lazy’s constantly shifting cinematic songs without words. The trio’s sound may be incredibly catchy, but Ulrich really maxes out the ten percent of the time when the macabre  bares its fangs.

Case in point: the wistfully loping big-sky tableau The Low Way, where a single, lingering, reverberating tritone chord from Ulrich’s Les Paul suddenly dug into the creepy reality lurking beneath blue skies and calm, easygoing facades.

Drummer Yuval Lion and bassist Andrew Hall held the sometimes slinky, sometimes stampeding themes to the rails as Ulrich shifted from the moody, skronk-tinged sway of Influenza to the brisk Night Must Fall, finally firing off an offhandedly savage flurry of tremolo-picking to bring the intensity to a peak in a split-second. From there the group took a turn into tricky tempos with the surrealistic bounce of Avenue X and then the crushingly sarcastic faux-stripper theme Don’t Cross Myrtle, the title track from the band’s latest album (ranked best of the year for 2016 here). Big Lazy’s next New York show is Dec 4 at 10 PM at Barbes.

As the leader of the Ghost Train Orchestra, Carpenter is known as a connoisseur of hot 20s swing and obscure, pioneering jazz composers from the decades after. This time he played mostly organ and guitar with his brilliant noir rock band the Confessions, second on the bill: it’s hard to remember two groups this good and this dark back to back at any New York venue in recent months. Guitarist Andrew Stern played murderously reverberating, sustained lines in a couple of long, suspenseful introductory buildups in tandem with violinist Jonathan LaMaster, bassist Anthony Leva and drummer Gavin McCarthy keeping a taut pulse through a mix of songs that sometimes evoked Tom Waits’ brooding Americana or the uneasy chamber pop of the Old Ceremony.

Frontwoman Jen Kenneally worked every offhand wiggle in her vibrato to add to the songs’ distantly lurid allure, often harmonizing with Carpenter’s brooding baritone. A relentless gloom pervaded the songs, rising to a peak in the tensely stampeding City on Fire and then hitting a high note at the end with Blinding Light, which ironically described darkness closing in as the band stomped into the chorus. Fans of Lynchian sounds shouldn’t miss this crew, who hark back to Carpenter’s early 90s circus rock days.

Opening act the Claudettes have gone in a completely different direction since ripping the roof off Barbes on a twinbill with Big Lazy a couple of years ago. These days, gonzo saloon jazz pianist Johnny Iguana has muted his attack somewhat: the band came across as a sort of Windy City counterpart to Lake Street Dive. Which isn’t a bad thing at all – Lake  Street Dive are a great blue-eyed soul band.

New frontwoman Berit Ulseth channeled brass, ice and brittle vulnerability through the sarcastic I Expect Big Things and then the cruel punchline that followed, Declined. In yet another of the evening’s many strokes of irony, the group’s biggest hit with the audience was a Debussy-esque, low-key tone-poem of sorts about discovering a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The bandleader brought to mind New York beatnik jazz cult hero Dred Scott in the sardonically frantic barrelhouse instrumental You Busy Beaver You and then the slyly bluesy cautionary tale Creeper Weed, about how to avoid getting blindsided by one hit too many. They wound up the set with the understatedly gloomy The Show Must Go On (Then the Show Must End), part Waits, part early Steely Dan. The Claudettes tour continues; the next stop is back in their Chicago hometown at 9 PM on Nov 17 at the Hideout; cover is $12.

And as always, Drom – downtown New York’s most consistently diverse music room – has some cool upcoming shows. One especially interesting one is on Nov 25 at 10:30 PM, and it’s a rare free event there, with Polish crew Nasza Sciana doing vintage Slavic turbo-folk hits.

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The Legendary Shack Shakers Validate Their Legend in Brooklyn

Saturday night in downtown Brooklyn, the Legendary Shack Shakers lived up to their legend with a marauding, macabre performance. How does frontman JD Wilkes stay in such great shape? By playing shows like this one. Midway through the set, he left his feet for the umpteenth time, spun in midair and did a full 360 with a perfect Olympic landing. And this was after he’d really worked up a sweat. Athletic stage moves go back long before Chuck Berry, but the Colonel still pushes himself as hard as he did twenty years ago.

When he wasn’t spinning across the stage or frisbeeing a heavy-duty red wooden tambourine into the crowd, he was blowing feral but wickedly precise, Little Walter-ish blues on a chromatic harp, or burning through similarly menacing chromatics on his banjo. He ran his vocals through two separate mics, one straight into the PA along with an old ribbon mic turned up to the point of distortion for a bullhorn effect. Somewhere Lux Interior is stewing with jealousy.

But while the Cramps seem to be one obvious influence on this band, the Shack Shakers are a lot wilder, a hell of a lot faster – they sped up several of their numbers past breaking point – and a lot of the time they sound a lot more Middle Eastern than American. Then again, Wilkes – a respected musicologist and historian of Kentucky mountain music – would probably cite a lesser-known strain of Irish music that made its way to the Bible Belt without losing any of its creepy edge.

And the rest of the band are phenomenal. Drummer Preston Corn kept the express-train-to-hell shuffle going at full throttle, bassist Fuller Condon provided a cool serpentine slink and guitarist Rod Hamdallah burned through the ominous changes with a calm, precise savagery, letitng the blasts from his vintage hollow-body model linger and resonate before firing off another volley of twisted rockabilly or blues.

The Shack Shakers have a new album, After You’ve Gone, out recently, and Wilkes and his conspirators drew heavily on it. Their witheringly cynical, allusively political new take of Worried Man Blues came across like CW Stoneking on crank, while the rapidfire War Whoop gave Wilkes a platform for some extra snazzy stage moves. And like so much of the rest of the set, the dirty blues of Curse of the Cajun Queen were packed with the surreal fire-and-brimstone imagery that’s been Wilkes’ signature since the 90s. You’ll see this show listed on the best New York concerts of 2017 page here at the end of the year.

The Legendary Shack Shakers’ tour continues; the next stop is Dec 1 at around 10:30 PM at the Outland, 322 South Ave. in Springfield, Missouri; cover is $12. 

The Hooten Halllers Bring Their Funny, Edgy Southern Soul and Americana to Town This Weekend

Columbia, Missouri band the Hooten Hallers play purist southern soul and Americana with a sense of humor. On one hand, the growling baritone sax and grooves are totally retro. On the other hand, their songs are completely in the here and now. If there’s any group who can get the gaggles of tourists stuffing their faces at Hill Country to shut up and listen, it’s this crew. They’re there this Saturday night, Oct 28 at 10 PM and then at the restaurant’s much more listener-friendly upstairs room at the downtown Brooklyn branch on Monday the 30th at 9. Let’s hope the PA there is working because it’s been a mess lately.

The Hooten Hallers’ latest album  is streaming at Spotify. As the opening track, Charla, gets underway, frontman/guitarist John Randall rasping away over Kellie Everett’s ever-present, smoky bari sax, it could be the latest in a long line of Dr. John ripoffs. But as this twisted tale set in Lupus, Missouri (population 29) unwinds, it’s clear it’s not. Somebody rolls “The biggest smoke I’ve ever seen…I’ll pas out on the floor and sleep until the  morning light.” And it gets better from there.

The second track, Dig, is a biting minor-key blues that goes after the kind of money-grubbing smalltown boss we’ve all had to deal with at some point. Ryan Koenig, moonlighting from Pokey LaFarge’s brilliant pan-Americana band, bolsters the snarling guitar edge in Further From Shore, a tale of drifting a little too far out. Knew You’d Come Around is more optimistic, a wry stoner’s attempt at seducing a girl with soul food and booze.

Rhythm and Blues is a Texas boogie as the Sideshow Tragedy might do it, with the bari sax (of course), rippling minor-key blues harp and a little ghoulabillly. Drummer Andy Rehm’s leadfoot stomp propels Albatross, a noir blues stomp that wouldn’t be out of place in the Legendary Shack Shakers catalog, spiced with some creepily spiraling electric piano.

Everett’s devious sax takes centerstage in the go-go instrumental Garlic Dream. The band hint at doom metal in Gravity, a terrified stoner’s realization of the way objects with varying degrees of mass interact in the cosmos.

The album’s most epic track is Scrapper’s Lament, an amped-up oldschool country ballad, snide testament to the fact that one man’s trash could be something else completely. The album winds up with Staying Away From Joe, an unfashionably uncaffeinated country soul tune spiced with mandolin and fiddle. You’ve heard the tempest in a teaspoon about film and tv characters needing to be likable? It’s hard to imagine anybody not liking this band – anyone with a sense of humor, anyway. And they go well with waffles at two in the morning – it’s true!

Tuneful, Purposeful, Original Acoustic Blues from Rust Dust

Jason Stutts, a.k.a. Rust Dust is a first-class acoustic blues guitarist and a connoisseur of oldtime Americana. He typically plays in open tunings with a slide on a vintage resonator model in the Mississippi delta style, but doesn’t limit himself to that. He sings in a laid-back Midwestern twang rather than trying to fake a southern drawl. His debut album Diviners and Shivs, recorded with an imaginative array of spatially placed mics on the grounds of an upstate New York farm, is streaming at Spotify. He’s become a staple of the similarly first-class Friday night shows at the American Folk Art Museum, where he’s playing the album release show for his new one this Friday, Oct 27 at 5:30 PM.

Stutts bookends the album with a pensive, spaciously bluesy take of Amazing Grace. The second track is the brisk, purposeful Side of the Road Blues, which is over in less than two minutes, like a lot of the songs here: Stutts really doesn’t waste notes!

The plainspoken, melancholy Nothing Hurts Worse is an original folk tune: “I’m a forty-year-old bundle of nerves…my swagger is becoming a swerve,” his narrator laments. Stutts plays the tantalizing, bracing miniature Blackberry Nightmare, a mashup of British folk and country blues, through an amp with the distortion turned all the way up. Then he slowly fingerpicks the surreal, slow Strange Cake, a stoner folk tune: “Hey Strange Cake, why you chasing rabbits you’re never gonna catch?”

By contrast, Heaven to Hell is stark and uneasy, an antiwar/antiviolence number: “Now we got AK’s at home, just for fun,” Stutts dryly observes. The stark Just Can’t Keep From Crying, with the vocals doubling the guitar line, brings to mind delta great Fred McDowell. Coming and Going is a similarly spare banjo instrumental that’s over in barely a minute;

The album’s title track, another really short one, is a bizarrely successful mashup of late-period John Fahey and hip-hop. Stutts also offers a brief take of the hymn Down in the Valley and a surprisingly bristling, gothic version of Wayfaring Stranger with full-on reverb and just the hint of a tremolo effect. Stutts likes to jam, so you can count on him taking these songs to a lot of different places onstage.

Bobtown Foreshadow Halloween at This Year’s Brooklyn Americana Festival

It’s impossible to think of a better band than Bobtown to kick off Halloween month. The stars of the Saturday portion of this year’s Brooklyn Americana Festival last week put on a spellbinding show that ranged from the brooding folk noir they got their start with back in the late zeros, through the starkly rhythmic chain gang sounds they were exploring earlier this decade, to a handful of new tunes where the band’s frontline became the Andrews Sisters’ evil twins.

There’s no other Americana band with three voices as distinctive and gleefully sinister as this Brooklyn crew. Frontwoman/drummer/accordionist Katherine Etzel probably has the most range, and seems to draw the most on austere 19th century gospel sounds. Guitarist Karen Dahsltrom, with her powerful alto, can also belt out a gospel tune with anybody – she could probably get a stone sphinx to levitate if she really cut loose with everything she’s got. Jen McDearman has the highest voice of the three and writes the most blithely sinister songs of anyone in the band. Guitarist Alan Lee Backer channeled fifty years of classic C&W, bluegrass and honkytonk behind the three women, switching to banjo on one of the later tunes as the bassist anchored the soaring, often otherworldly harmonies.

Their songs are more eclectic than ever, and this show followed suit. Dahlstrom took the lead vocal on their opening number: outlaw stoner bluegrass wouldn’t be a completely off-the-wall description. The women’s voices delivered a cynical round-robin exchange in Rumble Seat, a chronicle of drudgery and debauchery in what could be just about any dead-end town on the planet, Brooklyn included.

The carefree lilt of Magilla Lee and Resurrection Mary contrasted with the macabre lyrics about ghosts and those soon to be. Dahlstrom went back to lead the group through the most enveloping church-in-the-wildwood number, Across the River. They also ran through a bouncy pastoral number that might have been about a public execution, and a triumphant arsonist’s anthem – although that could be strictly metaphorical. Bobtown recently put together the first annual Hudson West Folk Festival at Cathedral Hall in Jersey City this past month; watch this space for future shows, and a long-awaited follow-up to their brilliant 2015 album A History of Ghosts.

Everybody’s Favorite Americana Harmony Trio, Red Molly, Make a Triumphant Return to City Winery

Is there another Americana band with as individualistic and spine-tingling a blend of voices as Red Molly? Actually yes – Bobtown, who played the Brooklyn Americana Festival on Saturday. More about them later.

Red Molly’s first New York show in two years last night at City Winery was epic. The harmony trio of dobro player Abbie Gardner, guitarists Molly Venter and Laurie MacAllister really give you a lot of bang for your buck. In two long sets, bolstered by bassist Craig Akin and Roosevelt Dime guitarist/percussionist Eben Pariser, they played a wickedly fun, dynamic mix of originals and a bunch of choice covers.

Each group member has a solo album in progress: MacAllister fretted about how the trio would be able to “shoehorn the songs into a Red Molly show,” but everything worked seamlessly. As usual, the women took turns on lead vocals, often in the same number. Venter took centerstage on one of the best of the new songs, Cold Black Water, a portrait of an indomitable single mother making a new start on the rugged Oregon coast, rising from an enigmatic, quiet suspense on the verse to a ferociously anthemic payoff on the chorus. Another standout was a hauntingly muted ballad by Gardner, told from the point of view of a war veteran’s wife who’s watching her wounded warrior trying to keep himself together.

And the voices were sublime. Gardner has jazz bloodlines and Venter is a connoisseur of Texas Americana, with blue notes peeking out from every secret corner. MacAllister contrasts with a disarmingly direct delivery. And while there was plenty of the usual banter between the group and what seemed to be a sold-out crowd, MacAllister came across as the ringleader in this merry band. Introducing a rousing number inspired by a gig in Alaska that wound up with a dude in the crowd throwing a taxidermied fox onto the stage, she related how, for a woman in a state with a gender imbalance, “The odds were good, but the goods were odd.”

The best song of the night was When It’s All Wrong. Gardner’s dobro slid and slithered through every macabre passing tone in the scale as her voice channeled a bitterness and menace that Lana Del Rey and all the other wannabe noir pinups would die to have written.                   

The covers were choice, beginning with the famous Richard Thompson tune from which they take their name. Gardner drew lots of chuckles with a sly little dobro lick on the intro to Crazy, which Venter sang with a nuance that would have made Patsy Cline proud. The three-part harmonies, backed by just bass, on The Fever were a lot of fun, while the group’s most calmly rapturous moment was their a-capella take of their original May I Suggest. As long as Red Molly are still together and touring – something that didn’t seem likely a couple of years ago – maybe, despite the madmen in the White House, we are truly living in the best years of our lives. The darkest times sometimes produce the greatest art. Red Molly’s current tour continues on Oct 6 at at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, CA; advance tix are $25.

Next month is a particularly good one at City Winery, Just for starters, Willie Nile – the world’s most obvious choice to sing Dylan – does that on the 10th at 8 PM: tix are expensive, $30, but this could be an awful lot of fun. And then there’s a killer twinbill on the 15th at 8 with blue-eyed soulstress and fiery guitarslinger Miss Tess followed by one of the great songwriters in noir Americana, Eilen Jewell, for $20.

And Gardner has a solo show at Pete’s on Oct 17 at 8:30 PM

Joshua Garcia Brings His Harrowing, Relevant Tunesmithing to a Cozy West Village Spot

When describing a singer-songwriter, the term “troubadour” is typically misused to the most ridiculous extent possible. Most of the culprits are part of the corporate publicity  machine, or those who still kiss up to it, probably because they’ve been kissing up to it for so long that they’ve forgotten that it has nothing left for them. But that’s another story.

In the Middle Ages, the troubadours – a French word – were the CNN of Europe. Making their way precariously from town to town, through thickets of bandits – with whom they undoubtedly shared more than we’ll ever know – they carried news, and rumors, and often outright falsehoods about what was going on in the wider world. For some mead and a meal and a bed, they’d keep the night going with drinking songs and sex songs, and maybe there’d be a jam session at the end. Relics of this ancient ritual persist in bars around the world.

The obvious conclusion is that in the age of CNN, there’s hardly a need for troubadours. But in an era when so much news is no more reliable than the apocryphal tales spread by well-traveled, hardworking guys picking up bits and pieces of information here and there and weaving them into a semi-plausible whole, maybe we need to rethink that conclusion. That’s where somebody like Joshua Garcia comes in.

Garcia sings in a strong, confident baritone that harks back to the more purposeful folk voices of the 1950s folk revival: in other words, he isn’t trying to be Dylan or, for that matter, John Mayer. Likewise, his guitar picking is steady, and fluid, and fluent in several bluesy styles. He writes in images: rather than telling you what’s going on, he gives you an audio movie to figure out. He’s got a deadpan sense of humor that can be very grim, which makes sense considering who’s in the Oval Office right now.

At his show at the American Folk Art Museum a couple of weeks ago, you could have heard a pin drop. “I’m not used to playing for so many of you,” he grinned, but that will change. His songs are topical, but in the style of a Spike Lee movie rather than a news program. The best one was That’s the Way You Drop a Bomb, a matter-of-fact, picturesque account of what the crew of the Enola Gay were told to expect on their way to and back from killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese civilians. An old story, no question, but one with immense relevance when fire and fury drip from greedy lips at White House news conferences.

Garcia opened his set with an aphoristic catalog of things that he was going to buy. Some were concrete, many of them were grandiose, and eventually he came to the point where he’d mention a few of the things he wasn’t going to buy. Those, he’d leave to you. Guess what they were.

He also played a couple of brooding narratives about immigrant life. The first and more allusive one looked at the dismal daily routine of his Mexican-American immigrant grandmother, a California factory worker in the 1950s. The more harrowing one, a chronicle of spousal abuse was unselfconsciously tender and dedicated to his mom. Obviously, domestic violence is hardly the exclusive domain of immigrants or working people, but there’s no question that societies where prosperity is not monopolized by a robber baron class have lower rates of violent crime. Garcia didn’t say any of that outright: he let his song speak for itself. He closed the set a-cappella, a brave move that worked like a charm on the crowd.

His next gig is a short set at 7 PM on Sept 2 at Caffe Vivaldi followed eventually at 8 by Jeremy Aaron, a good acoustic guitarist who writes socially aware topical songs, and then clever, playful swing/oldtimey Americana accordionist-singer Erica Mancini at 8:30. 

And the weekly Free Music Fridays series at the American Folk Art Museum – Manhattan’s best and arguably most popular listening room for pretty much all styles of acoustic music – resumes on September 22 at 6 PM with acoustic Americana tunesmith Rodrigo Aranjuelo. and gothic Americana duo Thoughtdream 

The Bumper Jacksons Bring Their Hot, Eclectically Swinging Americana Party to the Bleecker Street Strip

The Bumper Jacksons play irresistible oldtimey toe-tapping music. If you got priced out of the Squirrel Nut Zippers reunion tour shows, this band will put the bubbles in your Moxie. Their latest album I’ve Never Met a Stranger – streaming at their music page – expands the band’s adventures of all sorts of Americana even further, embracing oldschool country and soul music as well as the swing they’ve made a name for themselves with. They’ve got an enticing show coming up at the Poisson Rouge on August 24 at 7 PM; $15 advance tix are highly recommended.

Guitarist Chris Ousley sings the jaunty opening track, Many Paths, over Dave “Duckpin” Hadley’s soaring pedal steel and the bouncy rhythm section of bassist Alex Lacquement and drummer Dan Samuels. Clarinetist Jess Eliot Myhre, trombonist Brian Priebe and trumpeter Joseph Brotherton join in a joyous dixieland raveup at the end.

Myhre takes over the mic for Find it Say Amen, a brisk mashup of country gospel, folk-pop and vintage C&W in the same vein as New York’s own Demolition String Band. I Sing the Body, a New Orleans cha-cha, features snazzy horns over resonant big-sky pedal steel, with a tantalizingly brief muted trumpet solo. Then Ousley sings the aptly titled, subtly hilarious western swing shuffle Get on Up, a showcase for Hadley’s sizzling chops.

The whole band join voices on the album’s brisk honkytonk title track: “I’ve never met a stranger at the bottom of a bottle, just like the friends all around me whose names I’ve forgotten,” is the chorus. Then they flip the script and take Hank Williams’ Ramblin’ Man down to St. James Infirmary.

Looming trombone and soaring pedal steel frame the matter-of-factly swaying, wistful Technicolor Waltz, an incongruous but richly successful blend of Bob Wills and Crescent City brass. Likewise, the pedal steel adds unexpectedly tasty texture to the vintage Memphis soul anthem Over Your Head. “Some of us will never grow up, never grow old, just ask those who tell us to do so,” Myhre sings in Old Birds, the album’s catchiest, most understatedly joyous, defiant track, the band shifting deftly between distantly gospel-inspired front-porch folk and New Orleans soul.

“If i called your name, would you answer, this city’s noise grow like a cancer,” Myhre broods in in the spare, bitter soul nocturne Waiting ‘Round Here. Gimme a Pigfoot (and a Bottle of Beer) is just as slow but a lot more upbeat, risiing to a horn-spiced hokum blues party. The band winds up the album with a bouncy second-line version of Corina, Corina and then the blue-flame boogie Dirt Road Blues. It’s a party in a box.

The Auspicious Future and Gloriously Melancholy Past of Americana Rock at Lincoln Center

For the last several years, the Americana Music Association has partnered to book the closing night of Lincoln Center Out of Doors. Yesterday’s festivities began with multi-instrumentalist Amanda Shires and her similarly brilliant band and closed soaringly and bittersweetly with the unselfconsciously gorgeous harmonies of the Jayhawks. There were other acts scheduled throughout the day, some of them rambunctious, one of them absolutely putrid, but if these two are the foundation and future of Americana, New York’s default listening music is in good hands.

Shires doesn’t exactly play violin like your typical Americana fiddler. From song to song, she’d fire off savage Romany chromatics, venomous tarantella riffs and stark blues along with plenty of extended technique, from muted pizzicato harmonics to slow, eerily surfacing glissandos. She’s also a hell of a storyteller, chooses her words and sings every song differently, in character. A brittle ingenue, wounded valkyrie and wistful red-dirt Texas songbird were just three of them.

She has a hell of a band. Her lead guitarist wove his way from biting minor-key blues, through menacingly Lynchian twang, often sparring with the bandleader. The bassist played what would have been new wave if the drummer hadn’t swung the music so hard: all those steady eighth notes and the occasional emphatic chord on the low end gave the music extra majesty.

They opened with My Love (The Storm), more or less a remake of Wayfaring Stranger, and brought the show full circle at the end, taking out Look Like a Bird with the day’s most searing guitar/violin duel. After a noir bolero and an amped-up romp through the sharp, bitter The Way It Dimmed, Shires told a funny story about an encounter with a Florida fan aromatic with “an herb that is legal in Colorado and other kind states.” He gave her a bag that turned out not to be filled with the obvious but with bits and pieces of a dead Siberian tiger – or so he said. “It’ll make you bulletproof!” he explained.

With that, Shires lit into  the song he inspired, which was funny for an instant but got dark quickly, a catalog of what might be worth protecting from gunfire, personal to political. A spare, lingering take of  Harmless, a cheating song that underscored dashed hopes rather than the potential fallout, contrasted with a loud, enigmatic rocker that brought to mind the Throwing Muses, then a loping, simmering Tex-Mex ballad that slowly crescendoed into growling psychedelia.

The Jayhawks have held up stunningly well since their glory days in the late 90s and early zeros. Frontman Gary Louris, pianist/organist Karen Grotberg and drummer Tim O’Reagan still blend voices for the most glistening harmonies this side of the Balkans, and bassist Marc Perlman still makes his slinky, seamlessly melodic lines look effortless. Meanwhile, the band’s newsboy-capped latest addition filled out the sound, switching between mandolin, airy violin lines, acoustic guitar and Telecaster.

In the years since the band’s legendary turn-of-the-century triptych of albums – 1997’s Sound of Lies, 2000’s Smile and 2003’s Rainy Day Music – Louris has grown into the lead guitar god he was struggling to be then. He’s switched out most of the screeching, Stoogoid dry-ice attack for a precise, meticulously dynamic, texturally rich volleys that varied from Mick Ronson heavy blues, to many subtle shades of clang and twang, enabled by fast footwork on a pedalboard. His signature sound – a little Beatles, a little Bowie and a whole lot of Big Star – has held up as well as the band.

They opened with the mighty, indomitable powerpop anthem I’m Gonna Make You Love Me and followed with an appropriately towering version of the evening’s best song, the angst-fueled individualist anthem The Man Who Loved Life and its bitter on-the-road narrative.

Trouble, the centerpiece of Sound of Lies’ thread of rejection and alienation, was as shattering as the album version, Louris hitting his flange for extra surrealism to raise the effect of being “Hung out to dry, backs against the wall, stoned out of our minds.”

The rest of the show followed a dynamic arc up to a big crescendo with Tailspin, its gloomy perspective muted within the framework of a mighty singalong anthem. O’Reagan took over lead vocals on the moody, C&W-fueled ballad Tampa to Tulsa. The material from the band’s latest album Paging Mr. Proust was surprisingly strong, including a vampy, vintage soul-inspired number that could have been the Zombies. Even the slighter, poppier material – like Angelyne and Save It For a Rainy Day – was fresh and forceful. How many other bands who’ve been around since the 80s still channel this much passion and intensity?

Lincoln Center Out of Doors wraps up tonight, August 13 at 6 PM out back in Damrosch Park with oldschool 70s soul man Don Bryant and then veteran blues guitarist Bonnie Raitt, And the atrium space just north of 62nd Street continues to program some of the most exhilaratingly diverse acts from around the globe. Next up there: a rare twinbill of hypnotic, otherworldly, intense Colombian bullerengue with singer and tambolero Emilsen Pacheco Blanco along with singer Carolina Oliveros’ mighty 13-piece vocal/percussion choir Bulla en el Barrio on August 24 at 7:30 PM. The show is free; the earlier you get there, the better.

It’s a Great Summer for Middle Eastern Music in New York

While much of the New York City parks system is on the highway to privatized hell – both Central Park Summerstage and the Prospect Park Bandshell series are selling ticketed seats to free concerts now – we haven’t yet reached the point where free summer concerts here have been whitewashed and yuppified to the point of irrelevance. Meanwhile, serendipitously, there have been some new publicly accessible concert series popping up, keeping the hallowed tradition of free summer concerts here alive.

One public space that’s been flying more or less under the radar until recently is Bryant Park. It wouldn’t be fair to let the month go by without mentioning the transcendent performance by slinky Middle Eastern ensemble the Bil Afrah Project, who opened the final night of this year’s Accordions Around the World festival there. Obviously, it would have been fun to stick around for the whole night, which ended with a wall-to-wall sea of revelers celebrating Colombian Independence Day.

The park’s overseers had the good sense to put the festival in the hands of tireless, intrepid impresario Ariana Hellerman (publisher of the irreplaceable Ariana’s List of free summer events). Over the course of the month, she drew from her roster of two hundred of New York’s finest accordionists (yes, there are that many) for a series of performances that reinforced the instrument’s portability across cultures, a powerful if compact vehicle for musical cross-pollination. 

In barely a half hour onstage, the Bil Afrah Project – who dedicate themselves to recreating Ziad Rahbani’s iconic 1975 Bil Afrah suite of reinvented Lebanese and Egyptian love and love-gone-wrong ballads- raised the bar for the rest of the evening dauntingly high. Rahbani has since gone on to be called the Lebanese Bob Dylan, although many others, none of whom sound anything like the American Nobel Laureate, have been given that label. Rahbani – son of famous chanteuse Fairouz and songwriter Assi Rahbani – was nineteen when he pulled a band together to record it. The suite doesn’t have much of the acerbically fearless political sensibility that characterizes his later work: its populist message is much subtler, grounded in its achingly wistful, sometimes melancholic, sometimes bucolic themes.

Group members, notably oudist Brian Prunka, accordionist Simon Moushabeck, ney flutist Bridget Robbins and violinist Sami Abu Shumays took turns playing plaintive taqsims as segues between songs. The most incisive, intense of these was from buzuq player Josh Farrar, who remained very prominent in the mix. John Murchison, a connoisseur of Middle Eastern bass, made his debut concert on kanun a memorable one as well. And riq tambourinist Michel Merhej Baklouk, who played on the original album, was present and added an almost defiantly crescendoing solo toward the end of the suite as the edgy chromatics, uneasy microtonal modes and graceful sweep of the music rose and fell over the pulse of Sprocket Royer’s bass and Jeremy Smith’s darbouka. Then emcee Rachelle Garniez took the stage and treated the crowd to some similarly incisive banter and her own noir-tinged material.

The performances on the festival’s next-to-last night fit in perfectly with its eclectic sensibility as well. Over the course of the early part of the evening, Erica Mancini played jaunty oldtimey swing, then made noir mambo out of the old standard St. Louis Blues. Shoko Nagai began with airy, austere Japanese folk themes and then went deep into the dark, kinetic chromatics of the klezmer music she loves so much.

Will Holshouser, best known for his exhilarating speed and high-voltage solos, flipped the script with his own thoughtful, methodically shifting originals, occasionally alluding to Indian modes: as a pioneer of the pastoral jazz revival, he deserves far more credit than he’s been given. And a beautiful blue-eyed blonde in the crowd called out Eduardo de Carvalho for the masculinity of his playing. That’s not to say that the other performances weren’t strong, but there was plenty of muscle in his confident, impassioned, unselfconsciously soulful, rustic runs through a mini-set of forro and tango.

Circling back to the Middle Eastern theme, there are a couple of upcoming shows that shouldn’t be missed. On July 29 at 8 at the Lynch Theatre at 524 W 59th St., haunting Lebanese oud-playing brothers the Trio Joubran  perform a homage to their late collaborator, the incendiary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish as part of this year’s Lincoln Center Festival; $30 tix are still available. And on August 10 at 10 PM, legendary, ageless Armenian-American jazz reedman Souren Baronian leads his amazing band at Barbes.