New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: pop music

Irresistibly Funny, Jangly Soul-Flavored Sounds from Larry & the Babes

Larry & the Babes have a fun, catchy, snarky self-titled cassette debut album, The Dolphin Tapes, streaming at Bandcamp. What’s cool and different about them is how they mash up all kinds of retro 60s styles – doo-wop, Phil Spector bubblegum pop, soul balladry and hints of Nashville gothic – and turn all of it into an original sound. Some of their songs come across as a less punk take on what Nashville group Clear Plastic Masks do with vintage soul. And their lyrics are really funny.

“You think I’m the perfect person, but I’m made of wax…you’re gonna melt me so I’ve got to stop you in your tracks,” the singer intones on the opening cut, Perfect Person, “You shat on my tv show.” WTF?

The second track, HCDB is a charmingly jangly update on Orbison bolero-pop. The band takes a stomping detour into wah-infused garage rock with Bad Dog and then offers an amiable latin-soul shout-out to one of the world’s most annoying voices, Fran Drescher. Seriously: who wouldn’t want to “shoot the shit and eat tofu” with the actress? Um, ok. The last and most unselfconsciously pretty track is Mostess. This band sounds like they’re a lot of fun live: fans of entertaining, irreverent bands from the Brooklyn What to the Dead Milkmen ought to check them out. They’re at Palisades in Bushwick tomorrow, Thursday, Feb 19 at around 10.

The Anderson Council Bring Their Hard-Hitting Psychedelia and Powerpop to the Delancey Tomorrow Night

Let’s get any possible confusion out of the way: the Anderson Council are not a Pink Floyd cover band. Nor should they be confused with the Canadian prog-metal band of the same name. The Anderson Council who’re playing the Delancey tomorrow night, Feb 6 at 9 PM are a killer psychedelic/powerpop band whose sonic roots are in the 60s, but their sound is in the here and now. At their most succinct, they bring to mind Guided by Voices at their most Cheap Trick, using old tube amps. When they go further outside, they look further back to a more eclectic mix of 60s psych sounds. Their latest album Hole in the Sky is streaming at Reverbnation; the bill at the Delancey also includes excellent Chicago blues cover band Boxing the Needle opening the night at 8, and Stones/Social D-influenced guitar band Anchor Lot headlining at 10. Cover is a measly $5.

The title track is not the Sabbath song but a jangly skiffle-rock tune with bagpiping guitars, a swirly, flangy halfspeed interlude and a trick ending straight out of the Move, 1972. They follow that with a bizarre Coke commercial and then Don’t You Think, a big Badfingeresque powerpop anthem over a swaying bump-ba-bump rhythm. Pinkerton’s Assorted Colors throws a Farfisa and la-la bvox over a tumbling Quadrophenia-style drive, singer Peter Horvath maintaining a perfectly clipped British accent that might well be the real thing.

Then they switch things up with Love Bomb, a stomping, amped-up, broodingly minor-key Laurel Canyon psych-folk number seemingly straight out of 1968, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy on good coke, David Whitehead’s richly layered multitracks roaring and clanging over drummer Christopher Ryan’s Keith Moon-inspired attack. Feet of the Guru offers more of an elegant take on the late 60s Who channeled through the warped prism of GBV, while Poppies Pansies & Tea evokes the Move putting a more guitarish spin on bouncy Penny Lane pop over Christopher Rousseau’s blithely walking bass.

Never Stop Being ’67 is a droll Beatles homage in the same vein as Love Camp 7 at their most satirical and spot-on. Pretty People also looks to the Fab Four, but in a late 70s powerpop vein. The Next One is arguably the album’s best track, a snarling, wickedly catchy smash: imagine Robert Pollard amping up classic 60s Lynchian Orbison pop. Strawberry Smell also has plenty of GBV wafting in, but with the 60s tropes that band doesn’t take the time to add, for some extra spit and polish. The last track is Fake Lane, a trippy Paint It Black ripoff.

Blue-Eyed Soul Band Spain Bring Their Disquieting Sounds to NYC

For the past twenty-odd years, Josh Haden’s group Spain have occupied a unique, distantly Lynchian netherworld of blue-eyed soul and moody, purist pop tunesmithing, sort of like the Eels playing Orbison – or vice versa. They’re making a rare couple of stops in NYC, first at the Lincoln Center Atrium on Jan 29 at 7:30 PM for free, early arrival being the keyword there. They’re also at Rough Trade on Feb 3 at 9 for $15.

Their fifth and latest album, Sargent Place – streaming at Spotify – features the latest incarnation of the band, with Haden on bass plus Daniel Brummel on lead guitar, Randy Kirk on keys and guitars and Matt Mayhall on drums. Textures are big with this band: for example, the way that Haden’s bass and Brummel’s guitar evoke the spare sound of a Fender Rhodes on the tersely catchy, incendiarily crescendoing opening track, Love At First Sight. There’s an actual Rhodes on the enigmatically soul-tinged, waltzing second cut, The Fighter, featuring Haden’s sister Petra on harmony vocals and strings – it wouldn’t be out of place in the Lee Feldman catalog. She reappears on the duskily smoldering, blues-drenched dirge From the Dust

It Could Be Heaven subsumes its morbidness in Chuck Prophet-style purist pop catchiness – but just barely. Sunday Morning isn’t the Velvets classic but a pretty damn good song in its own right, an insistently pulsing, troubled, vintage 60s minor-key soul strut with a savage guitar solo out.

Haden brings down the lights with the slow, balmy, gospel-tinged 6/8 soul ballad Let Your Angel and keeps the moody, churchified atmosphere going with To Be a Man. He hits a peak with the absolutely Lynchian longing and angst of In My Soul, fueled by Brummel’s eerily gleaming, reverbtoned lead lines. The hushed folk-pop lullaby You and I is sadly notable for being the final studio recording by Haden’s dad, jazz bass legend Charlie Haden. The album winds up with the simple, disarmingly direct Waking Song: “Every time I go to sleep, it’s time to wake up,” Haden relates, something for the insomniac in all of us.

A Killer Debut Album and a Show Uptown by Charming Disaster

Guitarist/pianist Jeff Morris is the mastermind behind mighty, darkly harmony-fueled art-rock/circus rock/noir cabaret/salsa swing band Kotorino. Ellia Bisker plays ukulele and fronts catchy, lyrically driven indie pop band Sweet Soubrette. Together they are Charming Disaster, whose new album of murder ballads, Love, Crime & Other Trouble – streaming at Bandcamp – is one of the most twistedly delicious noir albums of recent years. They seem to have had so much fun making it that they ended up bringing in most of Kotorino in the process. Charming Disaster’s next show is on Jan 27 at 8 PM at Silvana on 116th St., down the hill from Morningside Heights, about a block from the C train.

Two things immediately distinguish Charming Disaster from the many other would-be hitmen with murder ballads. Where so many of those songs come out of the folk and country traditions, Charming Disaster’s are more urban, and urbane. A closer listen reveals little Raymond Chandler-esque vignettes with all kinds of unexpected narrative twists and ghoulish humor that manages not to be campy. Bisker’s ability to change her voice to suit the song, whether with a petulant hint of New Jersey or a brassy oldtime swing delivery, informs how she channels the various dangerous dames here.

The opening track, Ghost Story, begins with a gorgeous interweave of guitar and uke and rises toward Spectorish proportions as Bisker unveils a tale about a woman who’s haunted by not one but two ghosts, and how everybody got to where they are, dead or alive. Ocean City comes across as a more skittish, shuffling take on what Springsteen captured in another low-budget coastal town, pushed along by Mike Brown’s bass and Jerome Morris’ drums.

With its tinkling saloon piano, the Weimar blues-tinged Showgirl is a duet, a wickedly sardonic tale that reminds that corruption in the NYPD goes way, way back. Wolf Song recasts 80s goth rock as a delicate acoustic nocturne with a big brass-fueled crescendo from trombonist Cecil Scheib and trumpeter Jesse Selengut. Artichoke blends ghoulabilly with Romany jazz and noir cabaret in a Tom Waits vein. One of the best tracks here, Secretary, paints a ghoulish picture of a real femme fatale over an eerie staccato guitar bounce a la Iggy’s The Passenger: this girl always smells like smoke even though she’s never been known to step out of the office for one.

Morris and Bisker intertwine voices on Grifters, a cynical Depression-era con artists’ tale set to another ominously swinging, Waits-flavored shuffle. They pick up the pace with the roaring, punk-flavored, grisly Osiris, an aptly shapeshfitting number and the album’s most straightforward track. They keep the energy at knife’s edge with Deep in the High, a cruelly carnivalesque number about a couple unraveling fast.

The most suspenseful track here is Knife Thrower, a lushly menacing look at the symbiotic relationship between a carnival couple with some gorgeously deep-sky steel guitar from Morris. The album winds up with the uneasy I Know You Know, a bittersweet love song with a dark undercurrent. If you aren’t hooked on this by now, there’s no hope for you. You should also grab the band’s 2013 debut single, Murderer b/w East River Ferry Waltz, a free download also up at their Bandcamp page.

Grace McLean Steals the Show at Lincoln Center

There’s no one in the world who sounds exactly like Grace McLean. With a stiletto sense of humor, a sharp sense of history, an irresistibly infectious stage presence and a quirky, individualistic sense of melody that’s nothing short of avant garde yet incredibly catchy,  she charmed and seduced a young, energized, very drama-school-looking crowd at Lincoln Center Wednesday night with her inimitable mix of bouncy loopmusic and savagely deadpan between-song banter. McLean’s lyrical references and tunesmithing may be in the here and now, but her sensibility is pure, early-80s edgy downtown NYC punk performance art. Among more contemporary artists, she brings to mind both Killy Dwyer and Tammy Faye Starlite.

Her genius is that she draws the crowd in with her catchy, dancing hooks – her timing, rhythmwise and otherwise is as amazing as her music is strangely compelling. Then, when she’s got your head bobbing, she smacks you right there. She’s got an opera about Hildegard von Bingen currently in development, and this time out chose instead to do a song inspired by a Hildegard counterpart, St. Ursula. As McLean told it, that woman led a thousand virgins on a pilgimage to the Holy Land…where they were intercepted by Huns, who killed them all. “That’s what you had to do to be famous in the eleventh century if you were a woman,” McLean mused. But that also meant achieving the pinnacle of success for a medieval girl: “You got to join in everlasting marriage with god,” McLean beamed.

She performed most of her set by layering loops of vocals against each other and then singing over them, an art that takes split-second timing and perfect pitch to pull off, and she made it look easy. She opened the set seated at the piano for a single number, joined by a rhythm section and backup singers who’d return at the end of the show. The first couple of songs had a suspiciously sardonic urban top 40 flavor, but exactly what McLean was spoofing, if anything, wasn’t clear.

From there, things got interesting in a hurry. Her cover of Heather Christian’s Wild Animals – employing rhymes from Gertrude Stein’s lone children’s book – was as funny as it was disconcertingly trippy. McLean’s own Natural Disaster raised the gallows humor factor, something that would permeate much of the rest of the show. A mighty, anthemic number titled Where Is the White Light evoked My Brightest Diamond as McLean took a swipe at new age cluelessness, while the ethereally crescendoing waves of a diptych a little later on brought to mind Bjork at her artsiest and weirdest. Existential angst was everywhere, particularly in a later number whose momentary refrain was “I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.”

Elsewhere, McLean had plenty of fun with guy/girl dynamics, particularly when the music lapsed toward faux “R&B,” most memorably with a couple of what were ostensibly diary entries from her gradeschool years. She wound up the show by finding the missing link between a couple of iconic Beatles and Stones songs, closing with a rousingly Memphis-flavored take of her big va-voom crowd-pleaser My Friend’s Roommate and then a Broadway standard where she pulled out all the stops to show off a powerful, brassy mezzo-soprano. It’s impossible to think of an edgier, more entertaining way for Lincoln Center to introduce this year’s Great American Songbook series.

A Hot Saturday Night Date with Les Chauds Lapins

Saturday night at Barbes the room was packed. Once Les Chauds Lapins began their set, it was literally impossible to get inside to see them playing their pillowy, bittersweet original arrangements of jazzy French pop songs from the 1930s and 40s. Like Les Sans Culottes, Les Chauds Lapins (literally, “The Hot Rabbits,” 30s French slang for “hot to trot”) occupy a significant slice of the demimonde of Americans playing French music. Over the years, hotshot guitarist/singer Meg Reichardt’s French accent has gotten pretty good. Co-leader Kurt Hoffmann distinguishes himself with his meticulously witty new arrangements as well as his agile clarinet playing. But in this band, both musicians play banjo ukes on most of the songs, this time backed by a swoony string section with bass, cello and viola. So these new versions are considerably different from the original piano-and-orchestra or musette-style recordings.

Les Chauds Lapins further distinguish themselves by performing a lot of relatively obscure material, not just the best-known hits by Piaf, Charles Trenet and so forth. The chirpy sound of the two ukes enhances the songs’ droll, deadpan wit: both Hoffman and Reichardt have a thing for bouncy romantic ballads about affairs that start out looking just grand but by the second verse or so have gone straight to hell. And Hoffman had the strings punching and diving and dancing with a verve to match the songs’ lyrics.

They opened with Vous Avez L’Eclat de la Rose (a free download), about a girl who smells like jasmine but may not be so sweet after all. A little later on they did one of their big crowd-pleasers, Le Fils de la Femme Poisson (The Fishwife’s Son): he’s in love with a circus freak, but if that doesn’t work out he’s always got a gig waiting for him playing accordion at a relative’s country whorehouse. Reichardt sang another surreal number from the point of view of a girl who gets trashed beyond belief early in the evening, hooks up in the bushes with some random guy and then starts to lose her buzz, realizing that she might have made a mistake. But, what the hell: “Let’s dance,” she tells him as she straightens her dress. Hoffman’s bubbly, precise clarinet added a cheery dixieland flavor; Reichardt, who’s a mean blues player, showed off her increasingly impressive jazz chops on one of the songs midway through the set. A lot of the material this time out was relatively new, at least for them, one of the most interesting numbers being a vocal version of Django Reinhardt’s Swing 33.

And most everybody listened through all the puns, and the innuendo, and the double entendres. OK, there was one gentrifier boy, or maybe not a boy, whatev, in the back of the room, hell-bent on impressing everyone within earshot with how blithe and fey he was, and he WOULDN’T SHUT UP. But nobody paid him any mind. People like that don’t usually go to Barbes anyway. Les Chauds Lapins will be there again on Valentine’s Day at 8.

Kelley Swindall Takes Her Menacing Americana Back to Her Old Stomping Grounds Down South

Kelley Swindall‘s set at CMJ in New York this past fall was an acoustic duo show at Rockwood Music Hall. Her last New York show – at least for awhile, rumor has it – was her first-ever gig on electric guitar, and it suited her just fine. She didn’t change her strumming or her elegant fingerpicking, but she got a resonance out of it that infused the nocturnal atmosphere of her Tom Waits-ish southern gothic narratives with an especially eerie gleam. Right now Swindall is in the early stages of her Snowdrifter’s Tour; her next weekend gig is Jan 17 at 9:30 PM at the Peerless Saloon, 13 W 10th St. in Anniston, Alabama with purist newgrass/front-porch folk guitarist/singer Brooks Coffin & the Academics. If you’re in the neighorhood and you like your classic country blues with a menacing edge, you won’t do any better than the show this Saturday night.

Maybe it was plugging into an amp, or maybe it was just the intensity of the moment – leaving NYC is always hard – but that last gig she played here was electric in more ways than one. She opened solo with the menacing, dimlit downtown narrative Sidewalk Closed, then brought her drummer and slide guitarist up for California, a wryly suspenseful drug trafficker’s talking blues. The first of the night’s two covers was a snarling version of Ryan Morgan‘s Maricopa, Arizona, which blows the cover off the Massachusetts-born sheriff who blew into town like he owned the place and made a name for himself picking on the most vulnerable people in the place, the undocumented immigrants who basically keep it moving. But not everybody’s willing to rat out their friends: “There ain’t enough whiskey to get my lips a-talking,” Swindall insisted.

She followed that with a moody, minor-key, bluesy kiss-off song, then took the ambience further down with the wistful breakup ballad Oh Savannnah and then brought the energy to redline with My Minglewood Blues, a defiantly vindictive hellraising anthem that does justice to the folk song that inspired it. It’s a good bet that if anybody’s alive a hundred years from now, pickers are going to be picking the Kelley Swindall song as much as they are the others. She wound up the set with another brooding, minor-key blues with some droll hip-hop flavor, an explosively applauded take of the even more vindictive Murder Song, which is fast becoming her signature tune, and then a vigorous cover of the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York in which she sang both the Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl roles. That’s where her acting training kicked in – all of a sudden the drawl and the torchiness were gone, replaced by a straightforward and understatedly dramatic East Coast accent. Anniston, Alabama, y’all are in for a treat.

Chicano Batman Bring Their Trippy LA Latin Soul to NYC

Every January, the booking agents’ convention hits New York and brings in its wake a handful of spectacularly good multi-band extravaganzas. Will there be a better show in NYC this year than the seven-band lineup at Drom on Jan 11 at 7:30 PM? Probably not. Check out this insanely good bill put together by the Barbes folks, all this for a ridiculously cheap ten bucks at the door: pan-latin revolutionary anthem singer/bandleader Ani Cordero; ten-piece Balkan brass band Slavic Soul Party (who do Duke Ellington as well as they do their own rat-a-tat originals); nine-piece original psychedelic Afrobeat dancehall monsters Zongo Junction; serpentine LA psychedelic soul band Chicano Batman; politically-fueled, bitingly funny son jarocho folk-punk group Las Cafeteras; Ethiopiques keyboard legend Hailu Mergia & Low Mentality; a bit of a lull and then at around 1 AM Chop & Quench playing Fela classics and their own originals. If you can’t make it or can’t pull it together for seven or so hours of music on a Saturday night, Chicano Batman and Las Cafeteras are also at the Shop in Bushwick, 234 Starr St. (Wyckoff/Irving; L to Jefferson St.) at 7 the following night, Jan 11.

Of all those bands, the most intriguing one might be four-piece LA crew Chicano Batman. Their 2012 ep Joven Navegante was a pretty straight-up retro latin funk affair with wah-wah guitars, slinky organ and an infectious dance groove. Their latest one, Cycles of Existential Rhyme – streaming at Bandcamp with their other stuff – is a lot more psychedelic, and eclectic, and a lot of fun. It’s less a bolt of sunshine for a gloomy NYC winter night than a shiny haze rippled with riffs that are as catchy as they are expansive and trippy: happy, upbeat music for people who aren’t shallow.

Frontman/organist Bardo Martinez plays either a vintage Farfisa organ or a newer keyboard with a rippling setting that sounds like one, while guitarist Carlos Arévalo spirals and resonates with a similarly vintage reverbtoned sound over the slinky groove of bassist Eduardo Arenas and Gabriel Villa. Among New York bands, Damian Quinones y Su Conjunto are similar, although this group is both more keyboard-driven, soul-oriented and likely to go way out with an organ or guitar jam.

The album’s opening instrumental, El Frio sounds like something by Country Joe & the Fish at their trippiest yet most succinct. It’s less of a chillout theme than the title might indicate, especially when the band reprise it later as a shapeshifting psychedelic ballad with a pulsing outro that nicks the hook from Steam’s Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.

The title track is a swaying Farfisa soul tune with jazzy, reverbtoned guitar behind Martinez’s expressive vocals. The band follows that with Lisandreando, a spiky, upbeat, tropical-flavored guitar miniature and then El Jalapeño, a droll Mexican folk tune spun through the kaleidescope of 60s American psych rock.

“She lives on my block so I ride by, I haven’t had the opportunity to stay high,” Martinez laments on the next track, a brightly shapeshifting, catchy soul tune about a purple-haired girl who got away; Arévalo kicks in with a tasty wah guitar solo at the end. After that, they slow things down with some weirdly warping sonics and then pull the groove together again with a sunbaked, guitar-and-bass-fueled pulse.

They go back to the psyched-out Mexican folk with Amor Verde and then the sunny, jazzy A Cool Blessing and its wry blend of lingering guitar, ah-ah vocals and wah-wah keys, like Os Mutantes with fatter production values. The album’s best and most epic track, Magma (that’s the name of a girl, go figure) sets slowly unwinding, intertwining guitar and organ over a dancing beat that the band picks up with a labyrinthine, trippy rhythm. They do the same later with Wednesday Morning.

Stoned Soul Picnic isn’t the Laura Nyro blue-eyed soul classic but an original that bookends a brightly unwinding guitar solo with a similarly glistening vintage soul-pop tune. The album winds up with Para Agradecer, a summery soul strut that gets your head bobbing before you realize what’s going on – something you can count on at either of these two shows.

Revisiting and Looking Ahead to a Bunch of Great Acoustic Shows

Karen Dalhstrom is one of the four first-rate songwriters in Bobtown, who with their unearthly four-part harmonies and creepy tunesmithing are arguably the most distinctive noir Americana band on the planet. They’re playing the album release show for their long-awaited new album, A History of Ghosts on the big stage downstairs at Hill Country at 9:30 PM on Jan 14. Not to take anything away from her work with that band, but Dahlstrom is also a solo artist, with a killer album of her own, Gem State, a collection of songs set in frontier-era Idaho and written in a period-perfect oldtime vernacular. It was good to be able to catch one of her infrequent solo shows awhile back at the American Folk Art Museum across the Broadway/Columbus triangle up by Lincoln Center.

Taking advantage of the space’s natural reverb, Dahlstrom aired out several of the songs from that album, including a goosebump-inducing a-cappella version of Streets of Pocatello, a menacing, hardscrabble hobo’s tale. Miner’s Bride, an even more doomed narrative told by a mail-order bride sent off to an uncertain fate on the high plains, was every bit as haunting. But the high point of the show – and one most spine-tingling moments at any concert in town last year – was her version of Galena. The Idaho city takes its name from a woman, maybe a Russian or Polish immigrant, mother or wife to one of the men who flocked there during the Gold Rush. Over a sad, elegantly waltzing tune, Dahlstrom brought the sudden rise and equally sudden decline of this boomtown to life, aptly personifed as a woman, who ends up “A penny curiosity, old bones in a pinewood vale,” Dahlstrom’s elegaic alto rising just a little from almost a whisper, to low and mournful.

Lara Ewen, the crystalline-voiced Americana songstress who hosts the pretty-much-weekly free Friday evening afterwork acoustic shows at the Folk Art Museum, told the crowd that this show was roughly the fourth time she’d booked Dahlstrom for a gig there: if that’s not instant cred, nothing is. As you would expect, there have been plenty of other excellent shows there in recent months. Sweet Soubrette, the more pop-oriented project of singer/ukulele player Ellia Bisker (who has a murderously good new album with the creepy Charming Disaster, her duo with Kotorino‘s Jeff Morris, due out shortly) swung through to play a stripped-down trio set. The highlight of that one was the eerily glimmering Burning City, an evocation of the bombing and subsequent firestorms in WWII Berlin.

Greg Cornell of the Cornell Brothers played a fascinating duo set there. What an interesting, and original, and excellent guitarist this guy is. Few other players rely on the low strings as much, and as imaginatively, and tunefully, as this guy does. His style is somewhere between bluegrass flatpicking and janglerock, and it’s completely his own. It helps that his songs are as anthemic and catchy as they are.

Another individualistic act, folk noir duo Mark Rogers and Mary Byrne – whose debut album I Line My Days Along Your Weight has been burning up the internet lately – got the call to pinch-hit for an act who’d cancelled, and hit one out of the park with their hypnotically moody, allusively lyrical songs. Byrne switched between guitar and a vintage mandolin, singing with a wary, carefully modulated, wounded delivery as Rogers nonchalantly aired out a deep and equally considered mix of classic blues, folk and bluegrass licks that merged seamlessly into Byrne’s somber, crepuscular narratives.

There seem to be two Caitlin Bells playing music in New York these days; purist oldtime Americana singer Caitlin Marie Bell is the talented one. She shares a pensive, rustic quality with Rogers and Byrne, mining the classic folk repertoire from the 1800s for her all-too-brief solo acoustic set there. Her high, resonant vocals soared over her nimble guitar fingerpicking as she made her way through warmly bucolic, Appalachian flavored front porch material along with a couple of darker, more incisive, blues-infused numbers.

Another purist folk musician from a completely different idiom, Pete Rushefsky played a rapturous, often exhilarating, glistening set there a few weeks later. His axe is the tsimbl, the pointillistically rippling, otherworldly Ukraininan Jewish hammered dulcimer that’s the forerunner of the Hungarian cimbalom and the western European zither. The first part of his set featured him leading a trio with two violins leaping and dancing against the tsimbl’s lush undercurrent; the second featured his wife doubling on flute and vocals, delivering several obscure treats from the Ukraininan folk tradition. What’s especially interesting about Rushefsky’s songbook is that much of it sounds completely different fom the boisterous, carnivalesque Romany-flavored klezmer music from points further west: this was both more somber and lustrous.

Where Rushefsky worked a pensive, hypnotic ambience, Sharon Goldman was her usual direct self: the acoustic rock tunesmith can say more in a few words than most people can in a whole album. She can also be drop-dead funny, although this time out her set was more about painting pictures, whether an unexpectedly triumphant late summer Park Slope scenario, or the ominous foreshadowing of the morning of 9/11…or a coy couple competing over a pint of ice cream. Goldman bought them to life with catchy chord changes on the guitar and her richly modulated, subtly nuanced vocals.

And Ewen booked a pretty perfect choice for Halloween: Jessi Robertson. She’s got an unearthly wail to rival anyone, and this time out had made herself up as a bloody corpse or accident victim or something similarly gruesome. So when she cut loose with “You’re gonna burn, my love,” on the chorus of the first song on her excellent new album, it worked on every conceivable level. And after she’d done a few similarly harrowing numbers, going off-mic and singing without any amplification, she did a cruelly funny country song with a title something along the lines of I Hope I Hurt You As Much As You Hurt Me.

Goldman, like so many others in the vanguard of acoustic music, likes house concerts: her next one is in Jersey City on Jan 25 at 8 PM, email for info. Sweet Soubrette are at Freddy’s on Jan 22. And the American Folk Art Museum’s free, 5:30 PM Friday concert series resumes on Jan 9 with first-class, politically-fueled lyricist and anthemic folk-rock songwriter Niall Connolly headlining at around half past six.

Jennifer Niceley’s Birdlight Reveals a Unique, Captivating Southern Voice

Over the last few years, Tennessee songwriter Jennifer Niceley has distilled a distinctive blend of noir torch song, Americana, Nashville gothic, classic southern soul and blues. Her latest album, Birdlight, is streaming at Soundcloud. In recent years, the twang has dropped from Niceley’s voice, replaced by a smoky, artfully nuanced, jazzy delivery. The obvious comparison is Norah Jones, both vocally and songwise, although Niceley has more of an edge and a way with a lyrical turn of phrase. As with her previous releases, the new album features a first-class band: Jon Estes on guitars, keys and bass; Elizabeth Estes on violin; Evan Cobb on tenor sax; Steve Pardo on clarinet and Imer Santiago on trumpet, with Tommy Perkinsen and Dave Racine sharing the drum chair.

The album conjures a classy southern atmosphere: imagine yourself sipping a mint julep in the shade of a cottonwood, the sound of a muted trumpet wafting from across the creek, and you’re in the ballpark. The opening track, Nightbird, sets the stage, a nocturne with Niceley’s gently alluring delivery over a pillowy, hypnotic backdrop livened by samples of what sounds like somebody clumping around in the woods. The second number, Ghosts, is a balmy shuffle lit up by Estes’ deliciously slipsliding Memphis soul riffs, and picks up with a misty orchestral backdrop. .

Niceley sings New Orleans cult legend Bobby Charles’ Must Be in a Good Place Now with a hazy late-summer delivery over a nostalgic horn section and Estes’ keening steel guitar, and a little dixieland break over a verse. The Lynchian Julee Cruise atmospherics in Land I Love, from the swooshes and gentle booms from the drums and the lingering pedal steel, are absolutely gorgeous, Niceley brooding over her pastoral imagery and how that beauty “is never coming back.”

What Wild Is This switches gears for a lushly arranged, bossa-tinged groove; then Niceley switches up again with a gently swaying western swing cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ Hard Times. She keeps the jazzy-tinged atmosphere going with a restrained version of Tom Waits’ You Can Never Hold Back Spring.

But’s Niceley’s originals that are the real draw here, like Goodbye Kiss, a wistful lament that along with Land I Love is the most plaintive, affecting track here: “Unfinished visions keep hanging around like fog in the trees,” Niceley muses. The album’s title track is a brief inetrumental, Niceley’s elegant guitar fingerpicking against washes of violin and accordion. She winds it up with the hypnotic, surreal Strange Times, whose wary psychedelics wouldn’t be out of place on a Jenifer Jackson record. Lean back with a little bourbon and drift off to a place that time forgot with this one: what a great way to stay warm on a gloomy winter evening.

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