New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: blues music

One of New York’s Most Riveting, Entertaining Guitarists Makes a Triumphant Return to the Stage in Bed-Stuy

What James Jamerson was to Motown, Binky Griptite was to the Dap-Tone stable of artists. Jamerson was a bass player, arguably the main architect of the groove that transformed pop music in the 60s. Griptite was lead guitarist to Sharon Jones and most of the rest of New York’s best retro soul acts of the zeros and teens. After that, he maintained a cult following through an endless series of small-venue gigs around town, which ended with the lockdown. This brilliant sideman is also a bandleader, and he’s bringing his Binky Griptite Orchestra – a rotating cast of similarly sharp oldschool soul, blues and funk talent – to Bar Lunatico on July 5 at 9 PM.

This blog has been in the house at many of his gigs, most recently a searing set with gonzo gospel-funk personality Rev. Vince Anderson’s band a few months before the lockdown. The last time anyone here caught him leading a band was over the course of a week in the winter of 2017, when he played a sizzling, frequently psychedelic show at Union Pool and then a much more low-key, slinky set at Threes Brewing in Greenpoint. Both shows featured the amazing, similarly soul-inspired Moist Paula Henderson on smoky, serpentine baritone sax.

Onstage, Griptite is a cool, suave force of nature. The most adrenalizing moments of the Union Pool show were when he slowed down for some eerily crescendoing Chicago blues, an expansive platform for him to show off both subtlety and speed. You could hear the influence of B.B. King, but ultimately Griptite is his own animal. From carbonated James Brown-style bounces to lengthier jams, he chose his spots to get wild.

The Greenpoint gig was 180 degrees the opposite. This one was all about sultry ambience to warm up a cold evening, heavier on the ballads and slower on the tempos, with a lot of input from Henderson. Whichever mood you catch this guy in, it’s always worth seeing. And this intimate venue is a good one for him. Open the door at Lunatico and the first thing you notice is how good it smells (they serve crostinis and such).

Commemorating a Feral Blues Legend on Limited Edition Vinyl

There’s incredible irony in that legendary Mississippi hill country bluesman T-Model Ford, who lived more than half his life before digital recording existed, would getting a release on vinyl now. The new retrospective I Was Born in a Swamp – which isn’t online yet – is out on limited edition, appropriately red-colored vinyl. Ford, who died in his nineties in 2013, would no doubt approve.

The opening track on each side is an interview. Ford was a bright guy, and a shady character who did nothing to dispel the many eyebrow-raising but likely apocryphal stories which were probably concocted to sell cds and fuel his legend as the great 1990s wildman of the Mississippi juke joint circuit. On the A-side, he addresses his date of birth. His driver’s license says one thing, his passport says another. Whichever the case, he is certain he was born on June 24: when, he probably took to the grave with him. The reminiscence on the B-side has more reliable historical information.

The first number is Someone’s Knocking At My Door, essentially a thinly disguised version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning. What’s unusual about this album is that Ford, who typically only recorded with guitar and drums, is either playing acoustic, or backed by a full band featuring  members of Gravel Road, Moreland & Arbuckle, the Soledad Brothers and Outrageous Cherry. who contribute organ, bass and sunbaked, psychedelic lead guitar. It’s a far cry from Ford’s usual unhinged, ramshackle style, but it’s also far from slick.

Another unusual feature is the length of the songs. Onstage, he would stretch out, but in the studio he typically kept things short. The eight-minute take of Big Legged Woman here has piano and squalling slide guitar – and chord changes, something Ford didn’t have much use for. An atypical, rather subdued take of Chicken Head Man sounds like a very late-career number, with an unexpected lineup of acoustic guitars, blues harp and drums.

Likewise, the epic, practically eleven-minute version of Hip Shaking Woman, where Ford nicks a whole verse from Muddy Waters. Ford knocks back a little whiskey before a brief take of Little Walter’s My Babe, then the band plug in again for the final cut, Same Old Train: second take, same as the first, more or less.

In the fall of 2000, the publisher of a now long-defunct New York music e-zine brought a couple of friends to see Ford at the Mercury Lounge. He wasn’t even headlining: the guy at the top of the bill was R.L. Burnside. Sitting in the back of the club before the show, Ford was gregarious and in good spirits, but when he hit the stage, he and his drummer channeled something shamanic, and otherworldly, and just as sinister. It was one of the most explosive bills the venue ever staged. New York Music Daily’s historical archive contains a surprisingly high-quality field recording of both artists’ sets.

Potently Aware, Darkly Bluesy French Caribbean Rock From Delgres

Delgres are the missing link between Caribbean kreyol music and the darker side of American blues, with occasional flickers of Saharan psychedelic rock. They have a ferociously populist, historically-inspired sensibility, a passion for vintage guitar sonics and a thing for tight, three-minute songs. They take their name from Louis Delgrès, a late 18th century Guadeloupian freedom fighter murdered by invading French imperialists. The trio’s latest album 4:00 AM is streaming at Spotify.

They open with the title track, a bitter workingman’s lament motoring briskly along on a blues riff that sounds straight out of Mali. The second track, Aleas (Hazards) has an offbeat reggae groove, drummer Baptiste Brondy adding ominously industrial tinges as sousaphone player Rafgee turns into a one-man brass section, adding trumpet and trombone. Singing in kreyol and firing off reverbtoned bursts on his dobro, frontman/guitarist Pascal Danae relates the grimly allusive tale of a child left behind by a refugee parent.

The fourth track, Assez Assez (Enough Is Enough) is an aptly imploring, smoldering trip-hop anthem about the global refugee crisis. Se Mo La (These Words) has a brooding, funky pulse, Danae relating the hauntingly allusive story of a parent trying to come to comfort a child who’s been subjected to racist invective at school.

The band go back to a trip-hop beat for Lundi Mardi Mercredi, a gritty workday scenario spiced with woozy, keening Dr. Dre synthesizer (remember the 90s? These guys do). They take a stark detour into spiky, rustic acoustic fingerpicked blues in Ban Mwen On Chanson (Give Me a Song), a refugee narrative driven by Brondy’s sinister whiplash beats.

Danae switches to English, and a suspiciously carnivalesque cabaret bounce, in Just Vote For Me – this candidate seems to protest just a little too much. Ke Aw (Your Heart) has an unexpectedly lush, Britfolk-tinged web of minor-key twelve-string acoustic guitar textures, a stunned, reserved tale of a mom who’s lost a child.

After a brief, defiantly revolutionary singalong, the band launch into L’Ecole, a roughhewn stomp: it’s their Subterranean Homesick Blues. They stick with a scrambling, Mississippi hill country-style drive in the vindictive escape anthem Lese Mwen Ale (Let Me Go):

Yes, I’ve been working for 10 years now
But you know I never earn anything
Because they took my papers
And they erased my name

They close the album with the hauntingly drifting slave narrative La Penn (The Pain), the narrator cautioning his buddy to be careful how he gets revenge for the death of his wife, presumably aboard a slave ship. Morgane Quéré’s harp adds an extra layer of disquiet over Rafgee’s slinky sousaphone bassline.

In their liner notes, the band express considerable gratitude for the good fortune to record this in Brussels just a month “before everything changed.” What they don’t mention is that everything is going to change back – for good. We’re not there yet, but the lockdown is in its death throes. Back in 2018, Delgres played a blistering, politically fearless set at Lincoln Center, which at the moment is off-limits to anyone who’s unwilling to be subjected to their invasive New Abnormal ticketing spyware. Let’s look forward to the day Delgres can rock the house somewhere else.

Pensively Intriguing Improvisations With Guitarist Andre Matos’ and His Vast Vault of Online Collaborations

We’re still digging out from the glut of recordings made over the web since the lockdown, and one of the most intriguing is a series of projects by guitarist Andre Matos. Aptly titled On the Shortness of Life – a quote from the Roman philosopher Seneca – it’s a series of pensive, sometimes atmospheric, mostly duo pieces streaming at Bandcamp. Matos’ most persistent trope here involves constructing spiky, incisive. sometimes subtly disquieting layers around tersely drifting melodies, often using a slide.

The obvious comparison is Bill Frisell‘s loopmusic. Both guitarists explore the pastoral as well as the noir and don’t waste notes; if anything, Matos plays with an even greater economy here. Most of these tracks originated when the guitarist asked his wide and talented circle to send him improvisations he could play over; a few of these numbers are his colleagues’ responses to his own creations. Matos typically overdubs additional layers using a wide palette of electric and acoustic effects. Most of the numbers in this vast collection are on the short side, many under two minutes. Matos encourages listeners to pick their favorites and create their own playlists.

The album opens with a lingering, reverbtoned, brightly verdant sunrise theme sent in by pianist Richard Sears and closes with their much more somber sunset scene. The album’s most expansive interlude is the enigmatic title track, Matos’ lingering, minimalistic accents around João Lencastre’s slowly tumbling drums and misty hardware. The drummer turns out to be a great sparring partner, the two building deep-space quasi-Wallesonics, icier and more sparse tableaux, and blue-flame rubato delta blues.

Matos’ wife, the brilliant singer Sara Serpa joins him on three tracks: a study in spiky clusters versus ambience (and a couple of great jokes); a tongue-in-cheek, goofy little tree-frog tableau; and a tantalizing miniature with some surprisingly trad scatting.

Matos joins with keyboardist Dov Manski to assemble spare bits and pieces of warmly pastoral phrases over ominously looming atmospherics. A duet with bassist André Carvalho rises to catchy pastoralia, ending with a virtual game of catch-and-follow. Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger contributes the most animated, singalong melody, Matos bending and weaving around it. Another tenor player, Nathan Blehar – who’s represented several times here – adds a similarly upbeat, tuneful interlude later on.

The album’s usual dynamic turns inside out with Matos’ calmly rhythmic, echoing phrases against trumpeter Gonçalo Marques’ gritty, increasingly intense volleys of circular breathing. The same happens later with bassist Demian Cabaud’s whirling high harmonics and wild swoops. There’s an immense amount of music to choose from here.

Abigail Dowd Stares Down the Flood and Wins

From Johnny Cash, to Led Zeppelin, to Karla Rose, musicians have never stopped finding new uses for flood metaphors. Americana songwriter Abigail Dowd is the latest in that venerable line. For Dowd, it’s personal: her Colorado home was flooded six times in 2018, springboarding the songs on her hauntingly intense latest album Beautiful Day, streaming at Soundcloud. As a tale of resilience and triumph over adversity, it has special resonance in the year of the needle of death.

Dowd has a ruggedly individualistic persona and a thing for southern gothic; her previous album Not What I Seem got a rave review here last year. Not everything is as it seems in the allusive, wary title track, Dowd’s spiky fingerpicking leading to a doublespeed charge fueled by Alex McKinney’s dobro and Scott Sawyer’s spare electric guitar lines over the low-key shuffle rhythm of bassist Jason Duff and drummer Austin McCall. Here and there, Joe MacPhail’s Rhodes electric piano pops up, a subtle suspenseful enhancement.

Diamond is a strutting Lou Reed tune in Americana disguise, spiced with MacPhail’s smoky organ: “Sometimes I feel like a miner left behind in the dark” is the key line. Dowd’s delivery in general is more flinty on this album, especially in One Moment at a Time, a moody carpe-diem theme built around a briskly flurrying acoustic guitar riff.

The instrumental St. Vrain – the name of the creek that rose up and almost took Dowd’s home with it – has a gorgeously haunting, baroque-tinged web of guitars and is over way, way too soon: Dowd could have kept this going three times as long and it wouldn’t be boring.

Sawyer’s ominous washes of chords raise the intensity in River, a resolute Appalachian gothic anthem. Dowd stays with the brooding minor-key atmosphere in Apple Trees, a chillingly metaphorical tale of plans suddenly derailed.

The Underground Railroad escape anthem Judgment Day captures the exhaustion of life on the run and the perils at every turn. “I just want to be alone,” the haunted freedom fighter in Don’t Want to Talk About It asserts: sometimes you have to become a monster to defeat them.

Dowd’s defiant narrator throws off the shackles of original sin in the briskly stomping After the Fall, right up to a surprise ending. The she brings down the lights in the haunting, organ-fueled, enigmatic Rise Above: at what point do we have to walk through hell to get any further?

The flood metaphors reach fever pitch in Run, a global warming-era Appalachian gothic tale run amok. Dowd winds up the album with Grandmother Moon, a shamanic, oldtime blues-infused tableau. Dowd is on a creative tear right now: there must be something in that Rocky Mountain water.

Twisted Things Come in Threes Today

Been a little while since there have been any singles on this page. But little by little, more and more artists are gearing up for a return to freedom. There’s optimism, apocalypse and fury in today’s trio of songs.

“I’m living in a ghost town, I’m doing things my way, I’m not dead yet, ” four-piece New York band Devora’s frontwoman asserts over skronky minimalist punk rock straight out of the late 80s in their latest single, Not Dead Yet.

Chicago guitar legend Dave Specter and blues harp player Billy Branch build a slow, venomously simmering groove in The Ballad of George Floyd: “Eight minutes of torture, begged for mercy, then he was killed.” Specter has been on a roll with good protest songs, ever since his venomous anti-Trump broadside, How Low Can One Man Go.

Marianne Dissard, who’s been putting out single after hauntingly eclectic single from a planned covers album, has just released the one of her disturbing picks so far, a ghastly remake of Adriano Celentano’s creepily dadaesque 1972 Prisencolinensinainciusol, with a pastiche of samples of lockdown posturing by Boris Johnson, two Trumps, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Reccep Erdogan, and Xi Jinping. Together they give Dissard a long, long rope to hang them with.

Saluting Some Great Women Blues Pioneers

These days, the irrepressible playlisters who put together the Rough Guide compilations have turned to the public domain. With digital music having flatlined as a consumer product a long time ago, one way a record label can survive is to reissue hundred-year-old blues songs that don’t require licensing or royalties. And these Rough Guide oldtime blues playlists are good! Each has lots of music, the greats alongside lesser-known talents. One of the best is the Rough Guide to Blues Women, a twenty-five track mix of guitar, piano and larger-group recordings, mostly from the 1920s, released in 2016 and streaming at Spotify.

There isn’t a lot of obvious material on this one. Among the iconic figures here, Ma Rainey is represented by a proto-dixieland version of Stack O’Lee Blues. Likewise, Bessie Smith’s Careless Love has chattering brass and piano. The Memphis Minnie track here is the lesser-known, upbeat shuffle Frisco Town. Sippie Wallace has a big band behind her in the speakeasy tale Parlor Social DeLuxe, while Victoria Spivey – the sweet-voiced Madonna of the 1920s – closes the album over some tasty stride piano with Hoodoo Man Blues.

For those looking for instrumental flash, check out the neat two-guitar intertwine in Ruth Willis’ Man of My Own, Lottie Kimbrough’s gorgeously chiming Rolling Log Blues, and Mattie Delaney’s elegantly pouncing fretwork in Down the Big Road Blues.

The blues can get pretty grim. Leola Manning’s Arcade Building Moan gruesomely recalls a lethal fire, and Greshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas’ contribute the alllusively grisly Pick Poor Robin Clean.

There’s risque material here too, notably Lucille Bogan’s barrelhouse tune Shave ‘Em Dry. Ida Cox’s Moaning Groaning Blues is somewhat subtler. And Hattie Hart fronts the Memphis Jug Band throughout a jauntily shuffling take of Cocaine Habit Blues, a.k.a. Take a Whiff on Me.

Pearl Dickson’s Little Rock Blues is built around a fleet-fingered, cascading riff, Louisa Johnson channels a brittle unease over thumping piano in By the Moon and Stars, otherwise known as I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down. Hattie Hudson’s surreal, imagistic Black Hand Blues makes a good segue.

There are a handful of ringers on this album. Louis Armstrong is one, with Bertha “Chippie” Hill fronting a piano-trumpet-vocal trio on a steady version of Trouble in Mind. Likewise, Blind Willie McTell backs his wife Kate in what seems an impromptu homemade version of the Prohibition-era relic God Don’t Like It. The version of Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do here is by Fats Waller, with Sara Martin on the mic. And Irene Scruggs sings over Blind Blake’s sparkling picking on Itching Heel Blues.

A Smart, Defiant, Diverse Debut Album From Americana Tunesmith Cristina Vane

Cristina Vane shifts between a simmering intensity and a low-key, brooding vocal delivery. She’s a strong guitarist with command of a whole bunch of blues styles and writes sharply lyrical, darkly aphoristic songs. Her narratives are cached in allusive, grim rural imagery more than fire-and-brimstone gospel. Her brilliant debut album Nowhere Sounds Lovely – streaming at Bandcamp – covers a lot of ground, stylistically and otherwise.

She opens the record with Blueberry Hill – an original, not the Fats Domino classic, although the first verse of this intricately interwoven, Appalachian-flavored acoustic slide guitar blues is set in New Orleans. The devil tells her to get out, so she heads to New Mexico – and that isn’t any more welcoming:

We got spiders in the bathrooms and there’s snakes in the halls
We got our women in white dresses gonna walk through walls
And this house is haunted, not as much as me
But I could shake these demons, they’re good company

Travelin’ Blues has an easygoing Piedmont-style feel, Tommy Hannum’s dobro lingering over Vane’s nimble fingerpicking, bassist Dow Tomlin and drummer Cactus Moser giving it a, loping groove. By contrast, the stark banjo tune Prayer For the Blind has a midwest gothic fatalism, an endless cycle where “Time passes on old wounds as if they were brand new.”

Badlands is not the famous song by that 70s rock guy who became a hopeless lockdowner apologist, but a searing, allusively grim slide guitar-driven blues original. It could be a sinister account of antedeluvian rural hell…or a thinly disguised pro-freedom anthem. The big guitar payoff at the end is spot-on.

There’s redemptive solitude in the front-porch folk waltz Dreaming of Utah, Hannum’s pedal steel adding a touch of vintage Bob Wills western swing. Vane reaches for a matter-of-factly strutting Memphis soul feel in What Remains and goes back to blues with Heaven Bound Station, a steady stroll with some neat twin-guitar interplay.

She switches to banjo for Will I Ever Be Satisfied, a spare, lonesome-traveler type number. Vane imagines her ideal guy in Dreamboy, a stomping, insistent, similarly simmering blues: turns out she likes the strong silent type. Then she slows things down with the moody, slide guitar-driven Wishing Bone Blues, rising out of a hypnotic, summery resonance

The Driving Song captures a gloomy, desperate rural atmosphere where “The characters around me, border the absurd/It’s a comedy of horrors, and it just keeps getting worse.” Vane winds up the album the triumphant waltz Satisfied Soul, Nate Leath’s fiddle harmonizing with the keening pedal steel. If she hits the road in the free states this summer, she’s going to make a whole lot of fans.

A Look Back at Abigail Lapell’s Searing, Brilliant Getaway Album

Abigail Lapell’s 2019 album Getaway – streaming at Bandcamp – is one of the most brilliantly lyrical, tersely melodic original folk albums of recent years. Her vocals are usually understated, so when she rises to the rafters with righteous wrath, it takes your breath away. Sandy Denny is the obvious influence. Likewise, there’s a smoldering anger here. Abandonment is a persistent theme. This is not music for the faint-hearted but it is an elixir for anyone who’s ever been screwed over. And the tunesmithing, and musicianship, and arrangements, are sharp and purposeful. Time may judge this a classic.

The album’s first track, Gonna Be Leaving begin with Lapell’s warpy, trebly hollowbody blues guitar over Lisa Bozikovic’s stately piano and a vocal line that in classical music would be called a rondo. It sets the stage for the rest of the album: there’s a crushing irony in how the protagonist’s escape foreshadows the antagonist’s subsequent departure.

Ask Me No Questions a brisk waltz with distant echoes of early Fairport Convention. The ending is crushing – it’s too good to spoil. If vindictive is your thing, this is your jam.

Lapell’s circling guitar voicings in Devll in the Deep are nothing short of gorgeous in this otherwise tormentedly crescendoing anthem, Rachael Cardiello’s viola adding bracing bursts of color. Lapell switches to piano for Leningrad, an even more witheringly cynical, wintry ballad: “I come from a better place, but I don’t have far to fall,” she alludes.

With its spare, fingerpicked guitar and fluttering mellotron, Sparrow for a Heart is the closest evocation of Sandy Denny here, Rebecca Hennessey adding somber trumpet. Christine Bougie’s keening lapsteel floats over Lapell’s steady strums in the spirited yet haggard road narrative Halfway to Mexico.

The tricky rhythms and Lapell’s blippy keyboards underscore the surreal milieu of UFO Song: like David Bowie, life on Mars seems to be an improvement…until the narrator here sees the spaceship.

Lapell builds a hypnotic backdrop with her accordion in Runaway, an atmospheric take on oldtime Appalachian folk. Likewise, Down by the Water is a spare, harmony-fueled front-porch folk number.

Lapell’s hammer-on guitar sparkles darkly under the brass section in Little Noise: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Linda Thompson catalog. The album’s final cut is Shape of a Mountain, rocky terrain as metaphor for a defiantly individualist and weatherbeaten heart, set against a starkly resonant full-band backdrop.

An Edgy Playlist for a Spring Day…and a Great Upcoming Webcast

Spring is here and artists are starting to release more and more singles. Prediction: this year we’re going to see more and more music that was recorded in defiance of the lockdown. For your listening pleasure, here’s a self-guided playlist that’s just a small capsule of some of the very good things bubbling up from under the radar:

Molly Burman‘s Fool Me With Flattery has a noirish 60s rock edge with tropicalia tinges. Great jangly guitar!

Just when you think Paper Citizen‘s Scratching the Surface is totally no wave/skronky retro early 80s dystopia, the big catchy crunchy chorus kicks in. The lyrical message is allusive but spot on: let’s get off the screen before it gets us.

Shannon Clark & the Sugar‘s Let It Ride is not a cover of the Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit but a slow-burning minor key blues original. Remember the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks? This is probably on the jukebox there

Blood Lemon‘s Black-Capped Cry oozes through slow, doomy postmetal minimalism. They’re an Idaho band, and Idaho is a free state, so chances are they recorded this legally!

In elegant, stately Hebrew, singer Shifra Levy sings If I Found Grace over pianist/composer Yerachmiel’s neoromantic crescendos. It’s a Purim piano power ballad. Purim is sort of the Jewish Halloween: it’s not macabre, but all the cool kids dress up in costume and go to parties. Purim is over and Passover is looming, but give it a spin anyway

And speaking of awesome Jewish music, iconic klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals is playing a webcast live from Rockland, New York this March 13 at 7 PM. She chooses her spots for when she does these broadcasts, always gives you plenty of thrills and chills but just as much poignancy and an encyclopedic knowledge of the source material.