New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: pop music

Violinist Sarah Alden and Her Band Play One of the Year’s Funnest, Most Counterintuitive Shows at Barbes

Violinist Sarah Alden is a founding member of the late, great Luminescent Orchestrii, who were as definitive, and multistylistically amazing, as any New York circus rock band ever was. After that boisterous unit was pretty much finished, she put out a similarly brilliant 2013 album, Fists of Violets, her first as a fulltime frontwoman. Since then she’s been in demand in both bluegrass and Eastern European folk circles. She’s also got a long-awaited new album, Up to the Sky, due out momentarily. A copule of weeks ago at Barbes, she and the band treated the crowd to a sneak peek that was as eclectic and adrenalizing as any other project she’s been involved with up to this point, which says a lot.

With Rima Fand on violin and piano, Kyle Sanna on guitar, Matthias Kunzli on drums and Ben Gallina on bass, Alden opened with a reggae tune. Uh oh, was this going to be just a pale approximation, like the Zach Brown Band? Nopr. The rhythm section had a great time with it; it was like watching Bob Marley’s drum-and-bass team backing a spiky, kinetic chamber pop band. Sanna jangled enigmatically as the album’s swaying title track got underway, Alden leading the group up to a catchy, Talking Heads-like peak on the chorus, both the strings and vocal harmonies swirling with acidic, Bartok-like close harmonies that quickly turned out to be one of this group’s most distinctive traits. “Strangers are we,” Alden and Fand harmonized with a similar edge to kick off the number after that, a mashup of 70s folk-rock and indie classical.

Next was a funky, quirky song with Sanna playing a simple, catchy, circling guitar riff over a trip-hop beat, the violins stabbing at the melody with their pizzicato accents. Alden’s pensive rainy-day vocal intro after that hinted that the song would stay in pastoral territory; instead, the band took it up with a guitar-fueled art-rock gravitas; then the band gave it a doublespeed Keystone Kops scamper. Some of the material reminded of cellist Jody Redhage’s pastoral chamber-pop quartet Rose & the Nightingale; others, like the heartbroken, elegantly crescendoing number that came next, reminded of Tin Hat, when that group has vocals out front.

Fand’s wide-angle, Asian-tinged piano mingled with Sanna’s steadily austere strums under Alden’s airy vocals and violin on the night’s most anthemic tune. After a turn back in a catchy, cyclically bucolic direction, the band picked up the pace with biting, insistent, minor-key guitar funk, like ELO’s Evil Woman but with a better singer out front. Alden credited her childood trips with her grandmother, searching for the grave of a long lost relative in Sugar Grove Cemetery in Wilmington, Ohio, as inspiration for the plaintive, Appalachian-tinged Aunt Viola’s Waltz. From there the band blazed through a careening take of the noir guitar-driven title track from Alden’s previous album, ablaze with sizzling tremolo-picking and cascades from Sanna. Persuaded to play an encore, they did the reggae tune again. Watch this space for updates on the album and future gigs.

Simmering, Relevant, Lyrical, Cutting-Edge Americana Rock Sounds from Fireships

Accessible and anthemic as Fireships are, they’re also as cutting edge as rock bands get these days. More often than not, they play a style of music that barely registered on the radar fifteen years ago: you could call it Americana chamber pop. As Americana became this city’s, and this nation’s default music, it seems that a lot of musicians in that style wanted to create something more hefty than, say, country blues, but also more substantial and tuneful than Coldplay or Fleet Foxes. That’s not the only hybrid that Fireships cultivate: frontman/guitarist/banjoist Andrew Vladeck writes fearlessly populist, Dylanesque narratives, and the band gets gritty with some pretty straight-up highway rock from time to time. Their debut album is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing at the big room at the Rockwood on November 30 at 9 PM. Drinks at the Rockwood are scary expensive, and they enforce a drink minimum there, but you can get a seltzer for three bucks.

After a bit of a false start, the album gets cooking with Going Down Fighting and its mashup of Penny Lane Beatles, gospel and strummy Americana, a moody but ultimately optimistic anthem for the current global depression. Living the Dream follows even more of an epic, Roger Waters-inflected sweep, the violins of Hannah Thiem – who’s also a darkly brilliant solo artist in her own right – and guest Skye Steele teaming with Lauren Balthrop’s electric piano to provide a pillowy backdrop for Vladeck’s vividly torrential lyrics.

Likewise, Long Shadow takes Blonde on Blonde Dylan into Deer Tick territory as Vladek paints a grimly picturesque but defiant portrait among the down-and-out:

I went away to get my blood changed
Had my wires rearranged
You might think that I’m acting strange
I’m just acting tough
I fired a shot thru the floor
The circus ran straight for the door
You asked me what I did that for
I guess I I had enough…
Flying cars and ricochets
Not a soul escapes unscathed
You might think those were the days
The best left to the past…
Blinds are drawn and a deadbolt clicks
Those dirty dogs will rip you to bits
All that funky junkie shit, you just ask my mates…

Countdown Time also traces a troubled trajectory, a gloomy drinking-and-driving anthem set to an oldschool disco groove: “Kill the rocket boosters, we’re on cruise control, we’ll make a tiki bar out of the console,” Vladeck intones. Then drummer Jason Lawrence and bassist Chris Buckridge push the fiery revolutionary anthem Chasing the Sun with a symphonic Phl Spector ba-bump beat, Vladeck channeling both the angst and the withering dismissiveness of a milllennial generation sick of living without a future and those who’d steal it away: “You can’t distract us, you’re old and your done,” he snarls.

Likewise, All We Got reflects on a now-or-never choice of sticking with a broken system or breaking free: it’s the Wallflowers updated for the teens. Vladek again looks back to Spector with the ballad Words Escape Me. Carried Away builds an ominous, oldtimey bluesy ambience, shivery strings mingling with Vladeck’s steady fingerpicking. The most savagely funny number here is Passing Knowledge of the Sexes, a spot-on, creepily cynical look at the realities of online dating.

Fantasy is another really funny track, caustically chronicling how people fall for celebrity culture: “Are you meant to hang from a velvet rope?” Vladeck challenges. The album winds up with the dreamily surreal 99-percenter folk-rock of Unplug the Stars. If you want to know what the smart kids are listening to these days, this is it.

Lounge Lizard Jack Ladder Brings His Rakish 80s Persona to Town Next Week

If you’re going to steal from someone, you might as well rip off somebody good, right? Unlike a lot of crooners from Down Under, singer Jack Ladder isn’t trying to be Nick Cave. He’d rather be Leonard Cohen. Which isn’t such a bad thing, in a very stylized, 80s, Everybody Knows kind of way. His latest album Playmates, with his band the Dreamlanders, is streamng at Spotify, with a trio of tracks up at Bandcamp as well if you want a taste and don’t feel like riding the fader to kill the ads. Ladder and the band have a couple of New York shows coming up: on December 1, they’re at Baby’s All Right at around 10 for $14. Then they’re at the Mercury the following night, December 2 at 7:30 PM for two bucks less if you get tix in advance. The Mercury box office is open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 6 PM.

Sharon Van Etten guests on ethereal backing vocals on the album’s opening track, Come On Back This Way. It’s a good story, one that pretty much everybody’s known. A guy and a girl leave the bar, under “the magnesium moon, the streets all smell like piss…if tomorrow never comes, I wouldn’t ever care at all,” he says. She’s drunker than he is. She’s taken a glass from the bar, probably wonders why the creep she’s with won’t leave her alone and is pissed off about it. She does something reckless that she shouldn’t – a few things, actually. And the ending is less pat than you might expect.

Track two is Her Hands, an icy 80s downtempo number awash in trippy/cheesy synth patches, a portrait of a femme fatale. The cynical goth-pop Model World is where “The streets are alive with picket fences,” and “Where we need to know everyone is safe…this shit wasn’t built to last, the water’s overflowing, and privacy is a thing of the past, everybody knows it, you can’t escape what you create.”

Reputation Amputation reaches for squizzling industrial ambience, a dirtier take on what Iggy was going for on the Idiot, maybe. By contrast, lingering Lynchian guitars echo in from the shadows on the bolero-tinged Let Me Love You. Van Etten adds her wounded understatement on To Keep & to Be Kept, a new wave update on angst-fueled Orbison noir 60s pop. With its dry-as-a-bone drum samples and warptone synth, The Miracle is period-perfect late 80s new wave.

Ladder takes a stab at heavy-duty stadium goth grandeur with Neon Blue, while Our Ascension brings to mind Billy Idol with a worldview. The final cut is the aphoristic ballad Slow Boat to China and its shameless Leonard C. quotes. While the album’s production is cold and techy, there are some neat touches, like the faux Hawaiian guitar licks oscillating from the portamento lever here and there, and a decent approximation of gritty guitars. And a look at the red-jacketed Ladder (not his real name, obviously) on the album cover suddenly makes twisted sense: OMG, that’s Rick Springfield! And wasn’t he Australian? Are we ever going to escape the 80s or are they going to be stalking us forever?

Julia Haltigan Channels a Simmering Noir Intensity at the Poisson Rouge

Unlikely as it is that the leader of one of the city’s most dynamic bands would be just as entertaining and luridly gripping as a solo act, that’s what noir songwriter Julia Haltigan was Saturday night at the Poisson Rouge. It was a good gig for her, not her usual crowd, which tends to be on the young and wild side, something you might expect for someone who channels a torchy, retro allure and a menace that’s sometimes distant and sometimes in your face. This show gave her a chance to connect with an older, bridge-and-tunnel date-night audience who’d come out for an easy-listening evening with singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard. Haltigan’s regular backing unit has jazz sophistication but also feral energy; playing mostly by herself, with just her trusty vintage Gibson guitar and her reverb pedal, she used the moment to work the corners with a razorwire nuance that matched her songs’ simmering intensity.

Haltigan also seized the opportunity to make points with the audience via a couple of good stories. The first concerned some unexpected consequences in the wake of allowing her electric mandolinist dad – who also made a cameo during the show on smoky blues harp – to serve as an admin at her Facebook fan page. The second looked back to a past decade when people had Blackberries. Haltigan explained that she once went about a year without texting “hi” to anyone for fear of the gizmo translating that as “I’m horny.” Her phone ended up embarrassing her that way a couple of times, once in an exchange with her cousins, before she realized what was going on. That took awhile.

One day during rehearsal, she related the story to her bassist. “Remember that time I borrowed your phone?” he asked her. “I reset the autocorrect.”

That was the comic relief from the songs’ relentless, smoky disquiet. An appropriately spare take of Skeleton Dance, she explained, contemplated a sort of “Mickey Mouse version of death.” But that was the exception. A co-write with the Waterboys’ Mike Scott shifted from an enigmatic stroll to the kind of anthemic chorus you’d expect from that band; a little later, Haltigan led the crowd in a singalong of a similarly pensive, oldtime gospel-flavored Freddie Stevenson song. But her own material was the most memorable. She opened with a slow, haunting oldschool soul-tinged ballad, a woman on the run in her Waitsian hotel room in the wee hours, looking back on what she’ll never have again. From there Haltigan went toward dark rockabilly with the irrepressible Gasoline & Matches and the defiant I Don’t Wanna Fall in Love, airing out her powerful low register. The best song of the night was a murderously scampering border rock anthem that wouldn’t have been out of place at a Karla Rose & the Thorns show.

Haltigan next plays with her band on December 15 at 10:15 PM at the Manderley Bar at the McKittrick Hotel, 532 W 27th St. (10th/11th Aves, south side of the street, look for the little red light at the top of the stoop).

Powerpop and Janglerock Cult Heroes the Flamin’ Groovies Make Their Williamsburg Debut Sunday Night

How many bands from the sixties are still left, let alone worth seeing? The Stones may be a pale shadow of their former glory, but the Flamin’ Groovies are still out there and still reputedly ripping it up. As far as legendary twinbills are concerned, it’s hard to imagine anything much more adrenalizing than when they teamed up with the original version of Aussie garage-psych legends Radio Birdman for that band’s one and only European tour in 1979. Hundreds, maybe thousands of shows later, the Flamin’ Groovies are making their Williamsburg debut this Sunday, November 22 at 10 PM at Baby’s All Right. Cover is $20, and you might want to show up early just to make sure you get in since this is a small place, maybe the smallest venue the band has played in decades. You can expect to see Cyril Jordan, Chris Wilson and George Alexander from the classic 1971-80 lineup, bolstered by Victor Penalosa on drums,

Their latest release is Groovies’ Greatest Grooves, streaming at Spotify, a delicious and definitive 24-song playlist that would get a smile out of the most curmudgeonly, critical pop purist. There’s Shake Some Action, the iconic powerpop tune with the hook that every guitarist worth his or her salt has messed around with (and possibly stolen); the new single End of the World, echoing Blue Oyster Cult or possibly the Frank Flight Band; Teenage Head, the snotty, ghoulishly galloping number that at least one band named themselves after; the trippy, woundedly gorgeous twelve-string chamber pop classic I Saw Her; Slow Death; which prefigures both the Move and Big Star; the wickedly catchy yet counterintuitive Jumpin’ in the Night; and the proto-glam Tallahassee Lassie.

These guys were so far ahead of their time it’s not funny. The list of bands they’ve influenced, in punk, powerpop and garage rock, goes on for miles. You can hear electric T-Rex in Yeah My Baby (meanwhile, the Groovies are mashing up the Velvets with the Beatles). Their stripped-down cover of Don’t Lie to Me has been a prototype for bar bands covering Chuck Berry for decades. There’s First Plane Home, awash in glistening Rickenbacker chime and clang. Uneasy major-to-minor-and-back changes permeate the briskly pulsing shuffle Please Please Girl, while it’s the dancing, minimalist lead guitar lines that make I Can’t Hide so cool. There are also deeper tracks here like Yes It’s True and You Tore Me Down, with their heartbreakingly jangly, watery mashup of Byrds folk-rock and early Beatles pop; Between the Lines, which could be a proto-Cheap Trick covering Dylan: and Don’t Put Me On, a defiant stoner look forward to new wave.

There’s also Teenage Confidential, which sounds like the early Who taking a stab at Phil Spector; amped up early Pretty Things-style R&B like Down Down Down; I’ll Cry Alone, beefed-up acoustic-electric Fab Four; the fuzztone-tinged Byrds of Yes I Am; and the bizarre bluegrass-Beatles hybrid All I Wanted. There’s going to be a clinic in sharp, catchy tunesmithing Sunday night a few blocks from the Marcy Avenue stop on the J and M train and you can be there to witness it.

A Killer Murder Ballad Monday Coming Up in Brooklyn

What’s the likelihood of seeing two bands as brilliantly creepy as Bobtown and Charming Disaster on the same bill? And one of New York’s great lead guitarists, and one of the most distinctive banjo players on the planet, and a rising star in the cello-rock demimonde? It happened at the second installment of the new, monthly Murder Ballad Mondays series at Branded Saloon. It’s a salon held in a saloon – rather than an open mic, it’s a place for eclectic artists to prowl around in the darkest corners of the human psyche, pay homage to psychopathic urges in song from across the centuries, and work up new material in that hallowed tradition.

Charming Disaster – guitarist Jeff Morris from the estimable, phantasmagorical  latin noir/art-rock band Kotorino and Ellia Bisker from the similarly-inclined Sweet Soubrette and Funkrust Brass Band – run the show here, and treated the crowd to an all-too-brief, barely half-hour set of menacingly harmony-driven songs that veered from chamber pop to noir cabaret to circus rock. It was the one point in a deviously fun night of music where the songs deviated from the topic of killing to simply chronicling the intricacies of all sorts of troubled relationships, some mythical, some set in the here and now. Morris played with just a touch of distortion on his old hollowbody Gibson as Bisker wound through graceful lead lines on her electric ukulele.

Bobtown – one of the best loved and most menacing bands in folk noir – opened the show, percussionist/keyboardist Katherine Etzel, singer Jen McDearman, guitarist Karen Dahlstrom, bassist Fred Stesney and lead guitarist/banjo player Alan Lee Backer treating the crowd to some unexpected but typically ominous new material, the sparkling harmonies of the women in the band flying overhead. Backer then took a detour into his own vintage-style Americana and C&W, followed by folk singers Sarah Durning and then Karen Poliski parsing the classics with some murderous numbers from the repertoire of Gillian Welch and others.

The  most original of all the covers was a mind-warping take of Helter Skelter, played solo on banjo by Andrew Vladeck of jangly, Americana-inflected anthem band Fireships. Badass, eclectic cello-rock firestarter Patricia Santos (also of Kotorino) went deep into rustic blues/gospel mode with a new one of her own as well as another Gillian Welch tune. Comic relief was provided by Erica Smith‘s bass player taking a rare turn on piano. He’d written a song on the way to the show – a politically-inspired ghoulabilly tune – but couldn’t read the lyrics he’d scribbled moments before on the D train. Backer’s penlight came to the rescue.

This coming Monday’s installment, starting at 8 PM, features an even more auspicious lineup: powerful, soul-infused dark acoustic songwriter Jessi Robertson; brilliant Americana/janglerock tunesmith and harmonium player Jessie Kilguss; the similarly intense, historically-fixated Robin Aigner; songwriter Arthur Schupbach’s John Prine-inspired Donald & Lydia duo project; parlor pop songwriter Juliet Strong and more.

And Charming Disaster have a gig on Saturday night, November 14 at 8 at the Slipper Room; cover is $15.


Pascal Blondeau Performs an Inspired Homage to Legendary Artist Ultra Violet at the French Institute

Pascal Blondeau paid a bittersweet, inspired tribute to his mentor, legendary multimedia artist Ultra Violet with the world premiere of his musical homage Only You Could Have a Face Like That (Avec ta gueule pas comme les autres) at the French Institute last night. The title refers to how Ultra Violet – a muse to both Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol, a woman who truly did have a face like hers and nobody else’s – referred to Blondeau. He, in turn, became a younger muse to her. A better if slangier translation of that title might be, “With that grill of yours.” As he told it, the two were peas in a pod several generations removed, irrepressible hellraisers, party people, cynical to the extreme in the New York art milieu they could not escape, even if neither ever really wanted to anyway.

Pianist/songwriter Benjamin Swax opened the show playing spacious neoromantic ambience against a voiceover from Blondeau, recalling good times with his beloved, stingingly witty, barbed-tongued mentor. Née Isabelle Dufresne into a religious, aristocratic French family in 1935, she absconded for good to New York in 1951 where she became jailbait to Dali. By the time she and Blondeau crossed paths close to a half-century later, she’d built a vast and playful body of visual art. In the meantime, she’d been in and out of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, one that, as Blondeau told it, she held in contempt. The art world is a bitch.

With his “cheriii” pal, Blondeau recounted staging impromptu performance art on Brooklyn sidewalks, sharing songs and devastating wit and last-minute pre-performance sparring. The most telling of all his anecdotes might have been where Ultra Violet, having decided to collaborate with Blondeau for his Brooklyn debut, also decided at the eleventh hour to upstage him, just to leave the audience without any question as to who was in charge at the opening of a potentially harrowing, 9/11-themed exhibit. Blondeau’s frantic response was one of the night’s funnier moments.

Swax’s songs ran the gamut from elegant, elegaic art-rock, to jaunty neo-cabaret, to sly glamrock, which Blondeau sang with wistful panache. Performed and sung in French, the English supertitles, projected high above the stage so as not to interfere with the performance, were closely attuned to the the original text (although some of the snarkier commentary mysteriously didn’t make it into English). One cynic in the crowd described the stage set as “a piano in a bathtub,” referring to the vast waves of white plastic packing peanuts that Blondeau had to traverse (and occasionally toss at Swax) while crooning to the crowd. At the center was Smile, the ballad from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, enigmatically and opaquely delivered in homage to the irrepressible woman who left such a mark on this work’s creator. It made sense, considering that Ultra Violet was responsible for designing the muted, Roman numeral logo for the 9/11 Museum downtown. Perhaps ironically, her motto, as he recounted, was “What’s art? It’s freedom.”

The French Institute at 55 E 59th Street has taken a turn into live music, dance and all sorts of other performances in recent years, but it’s been one of New York’s best places to see French and foreign films for decades. The end of the year film series here pays homage to French actor and director Mathieu Amalric. The next screening in the series is Arnaud Desplechin’s erudite 1996 comedy How I Got Into an Argument (My Sex Live), at 4 and 8 PM on November 17.

A Balcony View of the Incredibly Popular Oh Hellos at Bowery Ballroom

In an era in New York when nobody leaves their neighborhood anymore, that the Oh Hellos sold out Bowery Ballroom on a rainy Monday night is a major achievement by any standard. Has anyone ever sold out Bowery Ballroom on a Monday? Maybe Patti Smith, if New Year’s Eve happened to fall on that day of the week. Of course, a cynic might argue that the rich southern white kids who packed the house are the neighborhood now, more or less. As was clear from the ecstatic pitch of the applause as the band hit the stage, this was date night: lots of fresh-faced guys and girls, college juniors and seniors and recent grads, from the looks of them.

How do you report on a show if you spend most of it shooting pics of random gaggles of girls who’ve wordlessly handed you their phones, beaming and breathless? You try to get a grip on what brought those girls out – other than some mad dash for fifteen seconds on Instagram, maybe. What the Oh Hellos did to clinch this blog’s interest was to record an aptly creepy, enigmatic newgrass-tinged version of Camille Saint-Saens’ famous late 1800s classical piece, Danse Macabre, on their brand-new album Dear Wormwood. Interestingly, frontman/acoustic guitarist Tyler Heath apologized in advance for a setlist that would take a dip into darker material, although, he hastened to add, it would emerge triumphant shortly thereafter and pretty much stayed that way for the rest of the show.

Which is what got the girls swaying and singing along. A lot of times it seemed that everybody in the band was singing, even if they didn’t have a mic in front of them, adding considerable lushness and bulk to what was often already a towering, anthemic sound, the Polyphonic Spree with more of an ecumenical feel and some real tunes for once. Something you get growing up in the church in Flyover America, maybe? With two drummers – one on a full rock kit, the other on a more stripped-down but heavier standup kit – a total of three guitars, bass, viola, banjo and Heath’s sister Maggie adding her soaring, occasionally operatically-tinged vocals, the peaks and valleys were about even,, but the former made the latter seem hours away. A couple of cheerily circling numbers early on seemed to reference Vampire Weekend;; by the end, they’d risen closer to cloudy Coldplay bluster. The banjo and viola grounded much of the material in a folk vernacular, but one that was closer to the Punch Brothers than, say, Doc Watson. In between, symphonic swells and lustrous washes of sound sat side by side with both pensively fingerpicked folk-rock interludes and rousing, stomping, Celtic-flavored choruses.

One of Tyler’s lines that seemed to go over particularly well with the audience was, “We are not all alone in the dark with our demons.” Those who might need that kind of assurance can get it tonight, Nov 11 at Terminal 5 on an eclectic triplebill, starting at 8 PM with fiery female-fronted psychedelic/garage/honkytonk hellraisers Those Darlins, the Oh Hellos afterward and then fire-and-brimstone Americana dude Shakey Graves. Hopefully you have $27.50 advance tix if you’re going; it’s more at the door.

Underhill Rose Bring Their Charming Newgrass and Americana to the Flower District

With their charming three-part harmonies and dynamically-charged songwriting, all-female Asheville trio Underhill Rose are one of the best-loved touring acts on the endless Americana trail. Their latest album, The Great Tomorrow is streaming at Spotify. They’ve got an enticing New York show coming up on November 11 at 9 PM at Hill Country, a rare chance to see guitarist Molly Rose, banjo player Eleanor Underhill and bassist Salley Williamson join voices for free.

The album is a lot more sweeping and lush than you would expect from an acoustic trio – imagine the Dixie Chicks left to their own devices, without any meddling from the suits in the Nashville boardroom, and you get a good idea of what this sounds like. Cruz Contreras of the Black Lillies returns as producer, bringing in half of the Steep Canyon Rangers (fiddler Nicky Sanders and drummer Mike Ashworth) as well as the Honeycutters’ Matt Smith on dobro and steel guitar; Mike Seal of the Jeff Sipe Trio also contributes on guitar.

The album’s first track, Our Time Is Done has a bittersweetly Calvinistic, tightlipped oldtimey feel: it’s hard to tell how much the girl at the center of the story really wants to go through with the breakup. By contrast, When I Die, a banjo tune, bookends an optimistic carpe-diem message with a somber opening and closing. Whispering Pines Motel, a cheating song, is surprisingly plaintive: it’s more about being abandoned than it is about being afraid of getting caught.

By contrast, the ambling, swaying Montana paints a more optimistic picture, the banjo and fiddle joining for a vivid big-sky ambience. Then the band gets pensive again with My Friend, building artfully from an enigmatically syncopated verse to a woundedly soaring chorus. Over a subtly intertwining web of banjo and guitars, Love Looks Good on You offers a resolute tale of a couple drawn to each other because one doesn’t like country music and the other wasn’t raised in the church, rather than despite all that. Then the trio go back toward a more straight-up, shuffling bluegrass groove with the warmly reassuring Rest Easy.

Shine, by Williamson, takes a strongly successful detour into noir Appalachian terrain, a tale of defiance and survival in moonshine country (one minor quibble: the 1940 Cadillac Coupe de Ville she references doesn’t exist. That model first appeared in 1949). The band keeps the moody, minor-key intensity going through a shockingly decent, bluesy version of Straight Up, which people who go as far back as the 90s might remember as a radio hit for ex-LA Lakers cheerleader Paula Abdul. The album’s final two numbers, by Underhill, are the resolute, steel-driven solo drinking song, Not Gonna Worry, and the title track, a darkly optimistic look at snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

Imaginative, Lynchian Chanteuse Karina Deniké Slinks Into Brooklyn and Manhattan This Weekend

Darkly eclectic San Francisco singer/organist Karina Deniké plays with her band at Union Hall tonight, October 30 at 9:30 PM for $12. Then she’s at Cake Shop on Nov 2 at the same time. Her excellent latest album, Under Glass, is streaming at Bandcamp – it’s a ride packed with both thrills and subtlety, the rare collection of songs that’s so good that you don’t notice that there’s no bass on any of them.

“First you rev it, then you move it, but you never park it here for good,” Deniké sings on the bouncy, oldschool 60s style number, Park It, that opens the album. Anchors Away opens with ethereal, creepy vocal harmonies that bring to mind late, great New York rockers DollHouse, then shifts back and forth: “What shall we do with a drunken sailor?” ponders Denike with a tender menace that brings to mind Karla Rose in a rare semi-vulnerable moment.

Aviatrix, a starkly strutting Weimar cabaret waltz, is over way too soon. Musee Mecanique, the album’s title track more or less, blends layers of funereal vintage organ over a simple lo-fi 70s drum machine beat: imagine a more soul-oriented Siouxsie. Then the lurid ambience really sets in with Sideshow, Aaron Novik’s bass clarinet lingering under blippy organ and Meric Long’s staccato reverb guitar: “Do we get whatever we want at the Sideshow?” Deniké asks, completely deadpan. The song wouldn’t be out of place in the Carol Lipnik catalog.

Boxing Glove brings back the cabaret strut, fueled by pianist Michael McIntosh’s blend of ragtime and grand guignol. The best track is the menacing, plaintive bolero-soul ballad Stop the Horses, reverb-drenched guitar and Eric Garland’s vibraphone echoing in from the shadows: it draws a comparison to Marianne Dissard’s brooding desert rock. Then the band picks up the pace with Havin’ a Go, a deliciously upbeat mashup of early 60s soul, doo-wop and macabre garage rock with a decidedly ambiguous Novik solo.

Golden Kimonos opens with what’s either the vibes or an ominously twinkling glockenspiel setting on the organ, then picks up with a moody 80s sway. Balmy backing vocals bolster the album’s sparest track, the distantly gospel-tinged soul ballad You’re So Quiet. Deniké offers sympathy for the doomed on the metaphorically-loaded Persephone, Bay Area tenor sax great Ralph Carney (who just played an AWESOME show at Barbes a few weeks back) adding his signature, darkly soulful touch. The album winds up with the stately, elegantly poignant piano ballad Až Budeš Velký, Deniké drawing on her heritage as the child of expat Czech dissidents. Albums like this make every night Halloween – or Blue Velvet – if you’re in the mood.


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