New York Music Daily

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Category: blues music

Pokey LaFarge Brings His Ruggedly Individualistic Americana to Williamsburg Tonight

Last night in between sets at Bowery Ballroom the PA played Los Mirlos’ creepy, otherworldly version of Sonido Amazonico, which is both the national anthem of cumbia and sort of the Peruvian equivalent of Take Five. A little later, the song was Don Gibson’s 60s country-pop hit Sea of Heartbreak. Both perfectly foreshadowed a deliriously fun show by rugged Americana individualist Pokey LaFarge and his fantastic seven-piece band.

On one level, what LaFarge plays is retro to the extreme, a mashup of early 50s hillbilly boogie, western swing, hot 20s jazz, vintage New Orleans soul, honkytonk, Tom Waits, Tex-Mex, mambo and a little southwestern gothic and noir bolero for deliciously dark contrast. On the other hand, there’s no one in the world who sounds like LaFarge: he’s taking a bunch of well-worn, familiar styles and creating something brand spanking new.

His band is amazing. Drummer Matthew Meyer energized the crowd with a pummeling Wipeout interlude. Bassist Joey Glynn drew a lot of chuckles with a punchy solo that quoted both the Who and the Violent Femmes. Midway through the set, LaFarge explained that he’s hardly the only good songwriter in the band, then left the stage for a smoke break or something. So banjo player Ryan Koenig switched to electric guitar and played one of the night’s best numbers, a gorgeously rueful oldschool honkytonk song about smalltown anomie titled This Main Drag (or something close to that).

Saxophonist Ryan Weisheit switched from alto to smoky baritone, to maybe tenor – it was hard to see through the crowd. Trumpeter Luc Klein played all sorts of wry effects with his mute. And lead guitarist Adam Hoskins adrenalized the audience with axe-murderer volleys of tremolo-picking, masterfully precise bluegrass flatpicking and fiery blues.

The songs really ran the gamut. With his matter-of-fact baritone, LaFarge doesn’t overemote. He added a little twang on the country numbers, and took a few Roy Orbison slides upward in one of the sad ballads, but he doesn’t try to sound like anybody else. And he only took a couple of guitar solos, but he made those count. A lot of the material was from LaFarge’s latest album Manic Revelations, including the title track, an unapologetic populist anthem, and the more upbeat but even more savage Silent Movies, a jauntily swinging nonconformist manifesto for an age where the performer onstage is reduced to a pretext for the selfie clusterfuck on the floor. Just so you know, there was none of that at this show.

Something in the Water – a subtly gospel-infused portrait of a hoosier chick who “drinks malt liquor for lunch and dinner,” and Manic Revelations, the title track to LaFarge’s previous album – went over well with the crowd, a refreshingly muiti-generational, multicultural mix of typical 99-percenter New Yorkers.

The band did Actin’ a Fool closer to subterranean homesick Dylan than the oldtimey swing of the album version. One of the night’s high points was a slowly crescendoing, blue-flame take of the flamenco-infused waltz Goodbye Barcelona. After LaFarge brought the lights down with a muted solo fingerpicked version of the cautionary ballad Far Away. “They’’ll lure with their eyes, and trap you with their thighs,” LaFarge intoned. He wound up the set with a rapidfire take of the triumphantly scampering Drinking Whiskey.

The encores were just as energetic and businesslike: an Allen Toussaint/Lee Dorsey soul-shout, and a choogling cover of Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell. They’re doing this again tonight at around 10 at Rough Trade. If you want a rare asshole-free night out in that neighborhood, this is it. Tix are $25 at the door and worth it.

Blick Bassy, Cameroonian Connoisseur of Americana, Brings His Spare, Surreal Songs to Lincoln Center

Spare, mournful cello rises in the background, awash in reverb, over a stark, muted minor-key acoustic guitar riff. It’s the blues, straight from Africa but refracted back through the relentless heat of the Mississippi Delta. There’s longing in the catchy vocal hook that Blick Bassy sings in one of many of his native Cameroonian vernaculars. That’s the title track on his album Ako, streaming at Spotify. Bassy cites the otherworldly Skip James as a major influence, but that’s hardly the only one.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call Bassy a connoisseur of Americana in general. He’s bringing his eclectically dynamic, individualistic sound to the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. tomorrow night, July 13 at 7:30 PM. The show is free; getting there early is a good idea because a good crowd always shows up for these events.

Bassy switches to banjo, joined by the looming harmonies of Clément Petit’s cello and Johan Blanc’s trombone on the album’s second track, a jaunty hot 20s swing tune, sung with contrasting restraint. In the next song he takes that sound forward half a century for a surreal mashup of what sounds like Acadian folk and Nick Drake. Throughout the album, cello and trombone are frequently overdubbed for a lush, orchestral effect.

From there, rhythms vary from a balmy sway to the circling gait of Saharan Tuareg folk. Imagine a Malian guitar griot like Boubacar Traore, for example, scaling back his songs to two and a half minutes. Stylistically, the album runs the gamut from the bittersweetness of  Scots-American folk tunes,, to bouncy Appalachian string band music, to maybe Bill Monroe. Petit is similarly eclectic, sometimes a one-man orchestra, sometimes a bass player, sometimes adding spiky lower-register kora phrases

Screaming wifi isn’t exactly easy to find in Cameroon. Either Bassy was lucky enough to have internet access from a young age, or he was able to get his hands on a fantastic record collection. The Lincoln Center atrium is programmed with seemingly every culture base in the world’s most storied melting pot in mind; it’ll be interesting to see who turns out for this one.

Americana Icon Kasey Chambers at the Top of Her Charismatic Game in the West Village Last Night

“I’m so happy to be here. I’m so happy that I got into your country,” Kasey Chambers smirked,  drawing chuckles throughout the crowd at City Winery last night. The Australian Lucinda Williams shook off the effects of an attack of laryngitis that she said had left her literally speechless a couple of days before, tickled the audience all night with her sharp sense of humor, and left them breathless with her distinctive brand of Americana that’s as purist as it is individualistic.

“What I like most about what I do is that I get to take your music back to Australia – I don’t tell them it’s yours, I tell them it’s mine. And then I sell it back to you,” she grinned. While country and blues are not indigenous to the Australian outback, she literally grew up singing that around the campfire. By the time this evening was over, she’d related a few zany stories about living off the land there, as her lead guitarist father Bill Chambers did with his wife and young daughter for the first ten years of her life. The younger Chambers included that detail along with a whole lot more  in the wryly torrential lyrics of a Woody Guthrie-influenced talking blues that capsulized her career from those earliest days to her discovery of Twisted Sister in her middle-school years, to her surprise 2000 hit The Captain. That catapulted her to genuine stardom on her home turf ,and earned her a devoted cult following here.

She closed her set with that plaintively swaying, angst-ridden folk-pop number and got a standing ovation for it. Before then, she mixed up old favorites with a handful of bluegrass and oldtime blues-flavored tracks from her lavish new double album Dragonfly. Her band slayed all night. Dad drove home daughter’s catchy choruses with his red-flame blues and slide licks on Telecaster as well as lapsteel on a few numbers, while she switched between acoustic guitar, dobro and then banjo on a couple songs.

Guitarist Brandon Dodd and drummer Josh Dufficy took centerstage midway through the show with a lickety-split romp through a feral oldtime blues of their own, the bandleader beaming at how she’d discovered their duo project Grizzlee Train playing a random backyard beach bar and decided on the spot that she wanted them in her band. Alongside them, bassist James Haselwood added bluesy bends and nimble melodic runs, both on Fender and then bass uke, essentially serving as a third lead guitarist

The high point of the night might have been Ain’t No Little Girl, the centerpiece of the new album, with its ferocious, blues-fueled crescendos and bitterly accusatory lyrics. Or, it might have been a mutedly rapt version of A Million Tears, from Chambers’ debut album. Or for that matter, it could have been the title track to her second album, Barricades and Brickwalls, an indomitably female take on pursuit and conquest. Her youngest son, age nine, contributed both cajon and a little harmonica to that one. All night long, Chambers belted at full force in her signature twang, coming across as just as badass as she was fifteen years ago,when she sold out the old Bottom Line. She was six months pregnant with her first child at the time.

A Sepulchral, Saturnine Album and a Lower East Side Show from Dark Rock Guitarslinger Phil Gammage

Dark rock crooner Phil Gammage got his start as a teenager in the 1980s as the lead guitarist for legendary downtown NYC postpunk band Certain General. It’s probably safe to say that without them, there may have been no Jesus & Mary Chain or Brian Jonestown Massacre. While Certain General have been resurrected in various configurations over the years, Gammage has enjoyed a prolific career as a bandleader, sideman and small label honcho. His latest album Used Man for Sale is streaming at Bandcamp. He’s likely to air some of those songs out with his band on July 6 at around 9 at the Parkside, one of the few Lower East Side venues that hasn’t turned into a fulltime tourist trap.

The album opens with Arms of a Kind Woman, a blend of the purist Chicago blues that Gammage has been mining recently, but with a guarded Nick Cave optimism. Vocally, Gammage draws on both Cave and ’68 comeback-era Elvis, although Gammage could croon like this when Cave was still screaming about big Jesus trashcans. Interestingly, this record is more vocally than guitar-oriented — although the solo that ends it is a real monster.

Lowlit by Johnny Young’s oldschool slip-key honkytonk piano, Maybe Tomorrow is a gothic take on George Jones/Tammy Wynette C&W, Gammage’s brooding baritone in tandem with with Michele Butler’s uneasy harmonies over the slinky rhythm section of bassist Frank DiNunzio III and drummer Kevin Tooley (also of political rocker Mike Rimbaud’s band).

The band keeps the slinky, red-neon noir going through I Beg of You, part doomed fat Elvis, part haunted Otis Rush blues, with a knifes-edge guitar solo from the bandleader. The title track is a bitter oldschool soul ballad with a blue-flame guitar burn:

It’s my world, or what I tried to forget of it
All I am is a used man for sale
I had dreams, threw them all away
Hopes and schemes left for better days…

Ride With Railroad Bill is akin to 60s Johnny Cash fronting the Bad Seeds circa 1995.  Feeling the Hurt has echoes of Roy Orbison in rare optimistic mode: “It took me too long to get this far, and I paid too high of a price,” Gammage observes.

Before I Leave has an ominously vamping latin noir Doors/Frank Flight Band ambience: listen closely for a cool allusion to a classic cut from LA Woman. Fueled by Gammage’s slide work, Tenderloin comes across as a less frantic, more purist take on what Jon Spencer was doing 20 years ago (and sorry to bust anybody’s bubble, but even San Francisco’s Tenderloin district has been been overrun by yuppies).

“The city awaits, it’s your playground,” Gammage intones with crushing sarcasm in Lost in Loserville, a bluesy anti-gentrifier broadside and the album’s funniest track. It winds up with the Doorsy blues Staring Out Our Window. Gammage has been on a lot of good albums over the years, and this might be the best of them all; it’s inspiring to see a guy who’s been around this long at a high point in a four-decade artistic career.

Eight-String Guitarist Charlie Hunter Brings His Irrepressibly Fun Band to the Rockwood

Guitarists who don’t waste notes are a rare breed. They’re even rarer in the world of jambands and summer tours, which is where Charlie Hunter made his mark. As you would expect from a guy who tacked on a couple of extra strings to bolster the low end of his six-string model, groove is his thing. In doing so, he invented his own style of music, equal parts jazz, reggae, funk and vintage soul. And he can be hilarious. His latest excellent, characteristically eclectic album Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched is streaming at Spotify. Hunter and his fantastic quartet have a two-night stand coming up on March 8 and 9 at 8:30 PM at the third stage at the Rockwood; cover is $15. The last time this blog was in the house there, they weren’t enforcing that annoying drink minimum, a good thing since Hunter’s crowd is more likely to smoke than get wasted on the Rockwood’s expensive drinks.

The album opens with the title track, a slow, comfortable swing blues with a characteristically wry, bubbling Curtis Fowlkes trombone solo; then cornetist Kirk Knuffke signals that all may not be so cool after all. Drummer Bobby Previte’s emphatic, tersely swinging slow triplet groove anchors the second track, Looks Like Someone Got Ahead of Schedule on Their Medication, which opens with an amusingly woozy voicings from Fowlkes and Knuffke, then takes a detour to New Orleans before the meds kick in again.

Staccato horns add spice to Leave Him Lay, a mid-80s Grateful Dead style blues fueled by Previte’s swinging, almost disco drive and Hunter’s spiky, Bob Weir-ish chords. We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent is an uneasily swaying midtempo noir theme, like Big Lazy with horns and  a long, purposefully crescendoing blues solo from the bandleader. Then Hunter gets even more retro with Big Bill’s Blues, ostensibly a Big Bill Broonzy homage. beginning starkly and then shifting into jubilant Crescent City territory with some artful counterpoint from the horns.

The darkly simmering soul theme Latin for Travelers is a vehicle for a contrastingly bright solo from Knuffke and then Fowlkes, dipping down to just the horns and then back for extra dynamic punch. No Money No Honey is as hard as the funk gets here, although it’s more of a swing tune: everybody in the band, especially Previte, is having a ball with this one.

Who Put You Behind the Wheel opens as a spaciously tiptoeing, Asian-tinged excursion, then morphs into reggae, with a trick ending. The looseness and freeness of Wish I Was Already Paid and On My Way Home mask its relentlessly dark, distantly klezmer-tinged undercurrent . The album winds up with the jaunty, dixieland-ish second-line march The Guys Get Shirts. This works on every level, as first-rate jazz, blues and psychedelia.

Carsie Blanton Charms and Provokes at the Mercury

Tuesday night at the Mercury, New Orleans bandleader Carsie Blanton was at the top of her hilarious game. She makes good albums, but nothing compares to seeing her onstage. The woman is devastatingly funny, and politically spot-on, and charismatic to the extreme. Decked out in a sassy vintage red dress, fronting her skintight four-piece group, the inventor of the sexy board game Bango kept the audience in stitches when she wasn’t taking requests or running through a mix of torchy soul, swing and retro rock from her latest album So Ferocious.

One of the funniest moments of the night was when she explained the backstory for the bouncy kiss-off anthem Fat and Happy. As you would expect, she’s an Ella Fitzgerald fan, but she winced at how cheesy some of the choir arrangements on Fitzgerald’s albums from the 40s were. “So I thought, what if I took a song and ended it with the band going, ‘Oooohhh, FUUUUUUCK,” Blanton grinned. The band – keyboardist Pat Firth, bassist Joe Plowman and drummer Nicholas Falk – did exactly that, slowly and in perfect three-part harmony. The crowd roared.

“My friends said take the high road, turn the other cheek,” Blanton elaborated with a grin, “But I’m a revenge-taking kind of person.” So the tale of a selfish dude hell-bent on piggybacking on Blanton’s success resonated even more: “Will you still be whining like a suckling pig, or will you be trying to get on the gig?” she sneered.

She’d opened with a simmering blue-flame soul song that Amy Winehouse would have traded her stash to have had the chance to sing. “You don’t scare me,” was the refrain: no joke. Blanton followed that with Scoundrel, a bouncy early 60s-style John Waters soul-pop number and then the hazy, summer-evening soul of Hot Night. She explained that she’d written most of that one in Madrid on vacation, sulking in her unairconditioned B&B, serenaded by street noise until she realized how lucky she was to be there at all.

Throughout the set, Blanton worked the dynamics up and down, more than a tinge of smoke in her voice, through the gentle 6/8 torch-soul ballad Loving Is Easy to a wryly propulsive number from her Idiot Heart album, a typical surreal/crazy/creepy New Orleans moment when a guy tried to pick her up with the line, “Why not, we’re all gonna die one day.”

The first of the audience requests, Chicken grew out an idea that had stuck in her head, she said, which she’d dismissed as silly until she wrote the song…and it turned out to be one of her biggest crowd-pleasers. She followed Money in the Bank – a slinky mashup of sly, low-key Lou Reed and oldschool soul – with another novelty song, Moustache, a newschool Motown number. Blanton revealed that she actually has no issues with facial hair on dudes – it’s just that this one particular fuzzy upper lip turned out to be a big mistake.

Twister, a brand-new number, brought back the sultry/icy vibe of the night’s opening song. inspired by the recent tornado that hit her hometown, contemplating how a new romance could be altered by that sort of calamity. To Be Known made a poignant change of pace, part vintage BeeGees angst, part Jimmy Webb art-song. She kept pretty low-key with The Animal I Am, inspired by a badass canine friend who chews her underwear and, like her owner, is a general hellraiser. Then the group picked up the pace a little with Backbone, a snide dis at a sappy guy who’s probably too lazy to show a little gumption.

Blanton warned the crowd that she’d save the best for last, and she sort of did. It was a brand-new song where everybody in the band changed instruments. Pandemonium ensued as she railed about how everything went completely haywire at an election-night party, and how history reminds that back in the early 30s, lists of forbidden nations and ethnicities were being compiled just like they are now. The crowd begged for another encore but didn’t get one. Blanton’s tour continues at the Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival at the Ware Center, 42 N Prince St. in Lancaster, PA tonight, Feb 25 at 7:45 PM.

A Rare Music Impresario with Actual Talent

Lara Ewen may be best known as the irrepressible impresario behind the Free Music Fridays series at the American Folk Art Museum, which with the ongoing disappearance of the downtown acoustic scene has arguably become Manhattan’s best listening room for folk and Americana sounds. But Ewen is also one of New York’s most magnetic singers, and a strong songwriter as well. Over the years, her music has gotten darker and gone deeper into gothic Americana, often in a Tom Waits vein. Her hardscrabble Queens roots may have something to do with that.

She’s playing the Scratcher Bar on 5th Street just east of Bowery on Feb 26 at around 7, when you might find fellow songsmith Kelley Swindall tending bar. It’s an intimate space, and a convenient time on a work night so getting there a little early wouldn’t be a bad idea: artists who book venues tend to be popular for reasons other than their art.

Ewen is the rare one who isn’t. Her definitive album is The Wishing Stone Songs, from 2013. But there’s other solid material in her catalog. A listen back to her 2007 cd Ghosts and Gasoline – which happily has made it to Spotify – reaffirms that. Her band on the record is excellent: much as there’s a late 90s influence, there’s no cheesy drum machine, no cliched trip-hop beat. Guitarist Howard Rappaport jangles and clangs, judiciously over the tight, low-key rhythm section of bassist Donald Facompre and drummer Jordan Lash.

Ewen sings in character, with unexpected nuance for someone who doesn’t come from a jazz background. One minute she’ll be serenading you with that crystal-clear, maple-sugar soprano, another she’ll be gritty, then maybe throwing some twang at you, depending on context.

The album’s opening track, Josephine, has a brisk, methodically vamping, hypnotic quality, an allusive portrait of bitterness. The Airport Song is one of those blue-collar character studies that Ewen writes so vividly, part country, part spacious big-sky tableau, Rappaport’s pedal steel soaring overhead. Likewise, the propulsive Untethered is a surreeal portrait of outer-borough disconnection and anomie, bringing to mind a first-rate early-zeros Brooklyn songwriter. Barbara Brousal.

Turning Blue sways along gently, a quietly savage portrait of a a woman settling for less than she should. The album’s most devastating track is Our Song, just Ewen and her acoustic guitar, a gorgeously bittersweet and unexpectedly generous post-breakup reflection.

The oldest track on the album, Clear, will resonate for anyone who wouldn’t trade this city for any other temptation. 20 Years Ago, an aging beauty’s lament, foreshadows where Ewen would go on her next album. Then Ewen picks up the pace with the brooding highway narrative Manahttan Kansas

Facompre walks jazz scales under Ewen’s Rickie Lee Jones-ish delivery in Misery Wholesale. The album winds up with Blessed, a hopeful love song to a down-and-out character, and A Way to You, which is a dead ringer for a well-known Dylan hit. While Ewen typically plays her most recent material onstage, she might bust out one or two of these if you’re lucky. 

A Playful Change of Pace for New Orleans Chanteuse Carsie Blanton

On one hand, for Carsie Blanton to put out a record of Lynchian retro rock is kind of like the Squirrel Nut Zippers making a heavy metal album. But the Zippers are great musicians – who knows, maybe they’d pull it off. Turns out Blanton is just as adept at allusive, nocturnal early 60s Nashville pop as the oldtimey swing she made her mark in. Her latest album, So Ferocious, is streaming at her webpage and available as a name-your-price download, the best advertising she could possibly want for her upcoming show at 7 PM on Feb 21 at the Mercury. Cover is $10.

Although it’s a switch for her, Blanton is just as badass and funny as she is out in front of a swing band. She sings and plays uke here, backed by guitarist Pete Donnelly, keyboardist Pat Firth, bassist Joe Plowman and drummer Jano Rix. One of the funniest tracks is Fat and Happy, a return to Blanton’s oldtimey days: the theme is “just wait and see,” and the way it turns out is too LMAO to give away.

Fever Dream builds a surreal New Orleans after-the-storm scenario, darkly spare bass paired against sepulchral toy piano. Hot Night offers a bouncy, energetic contrast, spiced with a distant brass chart; if Springsteen really wanted to write an oldschool soul song, he would have done it like this. Another nocturnal soul ballad, Lovin Is Easy pairs a spare string section against similarly low-key electric piano and Blanton’s unselfconsciously matter-of-fact, tender vocals.

Ravenous, a chirpy look back at adolescent friskiness, has a roller-rink charm that brings to mind both the Kinks and the Cucumbers, a mashup that Blanton revisits on the understatedly biting title track.. She turns the clock back anothe twenty years in Scoundrel, a coy Phil Spector pop tale about a couple of troublemakers.

Musically speaking, the album’s best track is probably The Animal I Am, a defiant individualist’s anthem set to artsy Jeff Lynne-style Nashville gothic pop. The album’s darkest track is To Be Known, part brooding Jimmy Webb chamber pop, part early BeeeGees existentialist lament. “Isn’t it al you ever wanted, to be alone?” Blanton ponders. Or is it “To be known?”. There’s also Vim and Vigor, a funnier take on what Amy Winehouse was up to before she self-destructed. Download this irrepressibly fun, dynamic mix and get to know one of the real genuine individualists in retro rock and many other styles as well.

Jim Allen Brings His Edgy, Metaphorical, Sardonically Purist Songwriting to a Rare Fort Greene Gig

The sound guy was drunk by the time Jim Allen hit the stage at around eight. That was back in 2003 at a long-gone Williamsburg hotspot, the Blu Lounge. Surprisingly, the building’s still standing. The first-floor venue space is a liquor store now.

When the sound guy’s girlfriend showed up, the two chatted and made out through most of the set. Until the encore, where Allen reinvented the old ELO radio hit Don’t Bring Me Down as a stark blues. By the second verse, the sound guy was bugging out.

That same year Allen put out his Wild Card cd (which is still available and streaming at Spotify). Tim Robinson’s neo-cubist front cover art is a black-and-white afterwork street scene: the joker in the deck has his jacket open enough to reveal some color. The back covers shows Allen out behind what appears to be one of the far west warehouses on 28th Street, Liberty Island out of focus in the distance behind him. The cd booklet photo captures Allen curbside, sitting in what’s left of a refrigerator with the door ripped off. Loaded images for a guy who’s made them his stock in trade for a long time.

In the years past, Allen has not been idle. Most recently, he’s fronted a fantastically catchy retro new wave band, Lazy Lions. And his solo work, which is sort of akin to a hybrid of Graham Parker and Dale Watson, is stronger and more lyrical than ever. Allen loves double entendres, aphorisms both old and brand-new, and litanies of images that weave a yarn, often a grim one. Where is this clever, often hilarious wordsmith and tunesmith playing tomorrow night, Jan 22? City Winery, or maybe the Rockwood,, right? Nope. The Beacon, a gig he’s more than earned over the years? No. He’s playing at 8 PM at Branded Saloon in Fort Greene. As a bonus, Tim Simmonds – who’s fronted both Captain Beefheart cover band Admiral Porkbrain as well as his own tight new wave/powerpop band, the Actual Facts – plays afterward at 9.

Listening back to Allen’s fourteen-year-old album reveals how well it’s stood the test of time. The best song on it is The Verdict. It’s a slow country ballad set in a courtroom. The narrator’s on trial for being stuck on some girl, and Allen makes it apparent that he’s going to get what he deserves. Which is what, exactly? The answer’s too good to give away. The album’s worth owning for that song alone – it’s a genuine classic.

The rest of the album’s good too. It begins and ends with metaphorically-charged commentaries on the elusive nature of fame. “You can keep your crown if it’s the thorny one,” Allen bristles on the opening number, King of the Jews; he doggedly plans on finding a “hidden spring” early on in the gospel-tinged final song, No One for Me. In between, Marc Rubinstein supplies honkytonk piano and bluesy, swirly organ, Steve Alcott’s pedal steel soaring over the purposeful pulse of drummer Barbara Allen, Pemberton Roach reminding why he’s one of the alltime heroes of new wave bass.

Allen follows with the simmering swamp blues I’ll Need You Then – as in “when the shit has well and truly hit the fan” – a showcase for his soul-infused baritone. There are a pair of murderous anthems. The first is A Little Bit of Love, where Allen encourages a down-and-out rival to go find Jesus, because “Maybe you can room with him.” The second, A Thousand Ways, is every bit as spot-on:

Chain him to a desk and share each week for forty hours
It won’t be long befor you have to send his family flowers
…or make him black and put him in the City of New York

There’s also the zydeco-tinged workingman’s lament Where the Heart Is; the Rockpile-style shuffle Black Black Sea; Blue Neon Light, which is Allen’s Swinging Doors; the drony, psychedelic Looking At You; the brooding, ominous, delta blues-flavored It Might As Well Rain, a big fan favorite at shows; and the jauntily snide blues Little Green Circles. Allen’s back catalog is consistently strong, but this might be the most solid one of the bunch, start to finish.

Smart, Cutting-Edge Tunesmithing at Manhattan’s Most Comfortable Listening Room

Much as the world of singer-songwriters has shrunk, in the wake of the death of the big record labels – call it a market correction – Manhattan still has a great listening room for solo acoustic acts and small string bands. That venue is the American Folk Art Museum, just a few steps from the uptown 1 local to 66th Street, across the triangle from Lincoln Center. Their mostly-weekly Free Music Fridays series starts at 5:30 on the nose, goes to about quarter after seven and spans the world of folk music, from vintage Americana, gospel and blues to bluegrass, original songwriters and sounds from all over the world. That’s why this blog picked the museum as Manhattan’s best venue for 2016.

Jessi Robertson, with her harrowing narratives of angst and despair and her otherworldly, soul-infused wail, is the star of the show there on Friday the 29th. She’s a surprisingly funny performer for someone whose music is so dark and intense. She’s as captivating as the three best acts to play the space over the past few weeks: Joshua Garcia, Dina Regine and Anana Kaye.

Garcia held the crowd rapt throughout his brief set there last month. He has a flinty, clipped vocal delivery that’s bluesy without being cliched. He sounds like a throwback to the artists from the 1950s who influenced Dylan, but whom Dylan couldn’t quite figure out how to copy, at least vocally speaking. Along with a handful of populist anthems and nostalgic character studies, Garcia’s most riveting song was That’s the Way You Drop a Bomb. Told from the plainspoken perspective of one of the the crew of the Enola Gay, Garcia nailed every detail, right down to the pilot’s admonishment not to watch the explosion on the ground, the mushroom cloud or the firestorm afterward. Except that Garcia’s crewman had a conscience.

Dina Regine is best known as one of the pioneers of EDM, but her songwriting is vastly more interesting. On that same bill, she played solo acoustic on guitar, unselfconsciously making her way through a fearlessly populist set that made a great segue with Garcia. Shadowy vamping post-Lou Reed grit stood alongside warmly familiar retro 60s soul and doo-wop tunes, everything anchored in Regine’s background as a daughter of the Queens projects in the 1970s. She’s reputedly working on a new album which, if this set is any indication, promises to be just as eclectic and relevant as her last one.

Last week, Anana Kaye opened the night flanked by a couple of guys on rhythm and lead guitar. With her raccoon-eye makeup and circus rock outfit, she looked the part, but she transcends the theatrics of that cubculture (that’s a typo, but it works, right?). As a pianist, she really has a handle on uneasy, cinematic voicings that sometimes reach lurid, bloodcurdling depths. The best song in her tantalizingly brief set was Down the Ladder, a cruelly haunting desperation anthem. The most playful was Blueberry Fireworks, an aptly surrealistic shout-out to a gradeschool-aged friend with a vivid imagination. The more low-key material in her set reminded of Tom Waits while her upbeat, carnivalesque numbers reminded of a strummy, guitar-driven, lyrically infused Rasputina or female-fronted World Inferno. Kaye’s next gig is on Feb 15 at 8 PM at LIC Bar in Long Island City.