New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: pop music

Tamara Hey Represents for Real New Yorkers at the Slipper Room

The dichotomy that runs through Tamara Hey‘s music is edgy, funny, picturesque New York-centric lyrics set to catchy, upbeat tunes with a purist pop sensibliity. Likewise, she balances the crystalline, unselfconscious charm of her vocals with what can be devastatingly amusing, deadpan between-song commentary. Her music has special resonance for those who consider themselves oldschool New Yorkers: Hey is sort of a songwriting Woody Allen of the Lower East Side…minus the celebrity and the ugly backstory. She’s playing the Slipper Room (Orchard and Stanton, upstairs over the big tourist restaurant) on July 1 at 7:30 PM; cover is $10.

And because there’s always an element of surprise when she plays live, she’s worth seeing more than once: this blog managed to catch a grand total of three of her shows over the past year at the Rockwood. One was a solo gig; two were with melodic bassist Richard Hammond, who managed to do double duty as rhythmic center and lead player, no easy feat. And the songs ran the gamut. One of the most charming numbers was Oscar & Bud, a vivid, minutely detailed portrait of a retired ex-showbiz couple who happen to be the narrator’s key people (i.e. they’ve got her spare keys – it’s a New York thing). That song looked back to vintatge Tin Pan Alley.

But Hey likes to mix it up. Drive, with its soaring chorus, 9/11 reference and get-me-the-hell-out-of-here theme, looked back to new wave, as did Miserably Happy (title track to her cult classic powerpop album), which evoked Blondie’s Dreaming. The rambunctiously pulsing, doo-wop tinged Alphabet City, a shout-out to familiar LES haunts which have lately been disappearing one after the other, took on a bittersweet quality. Likewise, We Lean on Cars, a snapshot of middle-school North Bronx anomie circa the early 90s. Hey and Hammond also ran through some more wrly entertaning snapshots of city life: David #3, weighing whether or not to succumb to the allure of a Mr. Wrong, who happens to be a Red Sox fan; Mexico Money, a droll tale of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat; and You Wear Me Out, a clever number about how macho guys sometimes turn out to be the most insecure ones. The C-Note may be long gone, Lakeside Lounge too, and Cafe Pick-Me-Up is moving to East 7th Street, but Tamara Hey still represents for the neighborhood.

And when she’s not playing gigs, she’s busy running Alphabet City Music, who offer economical and informative courses in guitar and applied music theory for players of all levels. This blog covered her introductory music theory course last year and found it both immensely challenging and also immensely useful. By the way, just in case anyone might assume ulterior motives, i.e. sucking up to the prof, to explain why this blog has been at so many of her recent shows, let’s set that record straight. The course was offered during the summer; two of those shows were in the fall and one was this past January.

Nneka Brings Her Politically-Fueled, Eclectic African Reggae Sounds to the Mercury

Born in Nigeria, raised in Germany, Nneka has gone in many directions over the course of her relatively young career: through soukous-tinged African pop, roots reggae, stripped-down acoustic folk and more ornately jazzy stylings, all of them imbued with a fearless political sensibility. She sings her aphoristic, terse lyrics in a fervent voice that rises to a gritty, almost otherwordly wail when she goes up the scale. The effect is both ancient and in the here and now. She has a new album, My Fairy Tales – streaming at Spotify – and a show at the Mercury on June 23 at 7 PM. Advance tix are $15.

Nneka’s English is better than the songs on the album might have you believe (she titled her second album No Longer at Ease, after the classic Chinua Achebe postcolonial novel). And the songs are a stylistic grab bag, possibly due to having traipsed from studio to studio in making the album. This time out, her lyrics are more skeletal and opaque – several of them in her native dialect -and the revolutionary sensibility both more general than specific, and further in the background. The opening track, Believe System is something of a mashup of Afropop, roots reggae and Stevie Wonder. Likewise, Babylon builds a hard funk backdrop around some lively mid-70s SW-style riffage.

The reggae-lite My Love, My Love goes deeper into its roots on the reprise that follows it, while Local Champion works a trippy, techy vibe with layers of blippy keys. Pray for You takes a disco groove backwards from cold teens electronics to a biting, guitar-fueled 70s vibe. Surprise veers between a propulsive soca bounce and electro-reggae, while the morose impoverishment tale Book of Job is an attempt to make a roots song out of samples and cheap keyb settings. And the last song sounds like it was assembled with Garageband in somebody’s bedroom. On one hand, it’s authentically African – this is what people do when all there is to work with is a secondhand dollarstore Casio. On the other, Nneka is an artist with ostensible label backing and access to topflight recording situations and gear. But she’s also a charismatic performer with a strong back catalog and the ability to transcend the limitations of these recordings onstage.

Catchy, Jangly, Propulsive, Afrobeat-Inspired Tunes from the Letter Yellow

Do you like the idea of Vampire Weekend but find the real thing impossibly insipid? If so, the Letter Yellow are for you. Frontman/guitarist Randy Bergida writes lithely dancing, catchy major-key tunes anchored by the rhythm section of bassist Abe Pollack and drummer Mike Thies. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Watercolor Overcast at the Cameo Gallery tonight, June 18 at 10 PM; cover is $8.

Pollack’s trebly bass plays an Afrobeat groove underneath Bergida’s balmy but tensely anticipatory vocals on the opening track, Anytime of Day, a lush, dynamically shifting, artfully orchestrated anthem. Road to the Mountain has a loping Afropop groove with an unselfconsciously joyous flute flourish on the turnaround, hitched to a gospel-inspired vamp. Summer in the City isn’t the 60s pop hit but an enigmatically sunny, soul-splashed, strummy original that in another era would have been a monster radio hit.

Pain in the World blends an edgy minor bossa groove and biting roots reggae lyricism over an echoey minor-key melody with hints of that tune that every busker from Sydney to South Carolina knows. The album’s strongest track, The Light We Shed sets pulsar guitar multitracks to a steady marching beat, echoey jangle giving way to clang and resonance. Slow Down works a slowly swaying, hypnotically summery soul vamp lit up with some sparkly keygboard flourishes.

Cold Cold Night builds a fiery, galloping nocturnal ambience, far from the wintriness the title suggests. Likewise, the soul strut Downtown has a nighttime vibe, with a long, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking-style latin psychedelic outro.

Drifter shifts toward Americana, while the final track, Can I Get It Girl goes in a more straightforward hard-funk direction, with more than a hint that it’s the style of music where the band got their start. Maybe the coolest thing about the album is that it’s available on vinyl: if the band remembers to bring a box of records to their shows, it’s a sure bet that they’ll sell out. So far, it hasn’t hit Bandcamp or the usual sites, but the band’s previous output is streaming at their  audio page.

Summer Fiction Put an Original Spin on Gorgeous Britrock and Sunshine Pop Sounds from the 60s and 70s

Don’t let the band name give you the wrong idea: Summer Fiction are a lot more than just a beach read. On their new album Himalaya – streaming at Bandcamp – frontman/guitarist Bill Ricchini channels classic 60s Britrock with tighter teens production values. Much as you can hear all sorts of elements and references to the Beatles, Zombies, Big Star and plenty of other iconic and not-so-iconic bands, they have an original sound. One of their secrets is Jonathan Prestbury s 12-string guitar, the other the straightforward rhythm section of Alex Yaker’s bass and Adam Dawson’s drums. They’re playing the album release show tonight, June 18 at 10 at Union Hall in Park Slope; cover is $12.

The album opens with On and On, the early Beatles as covered by the early Kinks. Dirty Blonde has a similarly kinetic pulse, this time driven by BC Camplight’s piano, with a deliciously watery guitar solo midway through. Perfume Paper builds a lushly gorgeous blend of jangly, chiming guitars, like Big Star, but again, with a tighter, more straight-ahead beat.

The instrumental title track works a late Beatles/early ELO vamp with tasteful cello from Eric Stephenson. The psych-pop Lauren Lorraine has a dancing, pinging sunshine pop vibe – it would be a standout Jacco Gardner track. Genevieve takes the idiom ten years forward to catchy late 70s ELO bossa-pop, followed by Religion of Mine, shifting back toward Zombies Odesssey and Oracle electric piano-and-organ-driven lushness.

Manchester turns out not to be a bleak postpunk song but a wistful art-rock waltz. By My Side is an elegantly fingerpicked, pensively autumnal folk-pop number, followed by Cathedral, a baroque pop instrumental. The album also comes with acoustic versions of Perfume Pape, Dirty Blonde amd Lauren Lorraine, each of them underscoring how strong the tunes are with just just guitar and vocals. If these songs had been around in the radio-and-records era, they would have been hits then and would be staples of oldies radio now. That’s meant as a compliment in the purest sense of the word.

Dawn Oberg Brings Her Devastating Wit and Catchy Piano Songs to NYC

Dawn Oberg‘s most clever album title is Horticulture Wars (although You Drank My Backwash isn’t bad either). Her songs are published by Blossom Theory Music. The San Francisco-based chamber pop songwriter never met a pun she could resist, sings them in a cool jazz-informed alto and plays a mean piano, drawing equally on gospel and classic soul music. You could call her the missing link between Aimee Mann and Randy Newman, but her songs are warmer than Mann’s, and where Mann’s muse is opiates, Oberg’s is booze. And Oberg doesn’t fall back on music biz insider snark like Newman does. Her current tour with soul-inspired acoustic songwriter Karlyn DeSteno brings the two to Freddy’s at 7 PM on June 14, where they’re each playing a set, and the the small room at the Rockwood on June 15 at 6 where they’ll share about 45 minutes onstage. As you might imagine, Oberg is even funnier live than she is on record.

Her previous album, Rye, made the top 50 albums of 2013 here; if the list was ranked numerically, it’s fair to say that the wryly titled release would have been among the year’s half-dozen best. Oberg’s new one, Bring – streaming online – is just as tuneful, eclectic and irresistibly witty. The opening track, Caitlin & Fire, is a jauntily marching tribute to a rugged individualist whose “career in conflagration” began when she was expelled from school for setting a locker ablaze. But, “You will not hear her complain about the price of channeling those tongues of flame.”

A cool slide from Mark Corradetti’s bass kicks off the title cut, a study in artistic intentions: Oberg’s desire is to “rip a new one in the Angel of Death,” to write songs with the power to pull someone down off the ledge. Roger Rocha’s lingering, buzzy guitars and drummer Billy Mason’s hard-hitting soul-clap beat drive the anxious Incantation, while Martini Geometry is Oberg at her Dorothy Parker best, contemplating the dangers of overdoing it:

πr2 ÷ 3X the distance to the rim
Gives you the exact measure of misery
If you should disrecpect the substances therein…
When you waken, bloody marys with bacon
Won’t ameliorate your pain
And it’s all because of that inverted cone that you are taken
To the place where you’ve forsaken the cylindrical domain

Likewise, Bartender sends a fond, gospel-infused shout-out to someone who’s “psychic about my bourbon and my rye and scotch needs…a partner in crime in the killing of my time.” Gwen, another character study, salutes a multi-instrumentalist pal “who writes the best songs you never heard.” And Alia offers a fond tribute to a redheaded friend whose mom “manages never to harsh our buzz” and can “throw back bourbon like a Bukowski muse or a character from a novel by Harry Crews.”

The album’s most harrowing track, Mile Rock Man, takes its inspiration from when Oberg, out on a run along the perimeter of San Francisco Bay, ran across the body of a suicide who’d shot himself in the head. The final track is the devastatingly amusing, spot-on, ragtime-flavored Republican Jesus, who’s down with the Koch Brothers and Halliburton – and if you’re melanin-challenged and rich, you can be down with him too. In 2015, we need more songs like this and more artists as fearless and entertaining as Dawn Oberg.

Jacco Gardner Brings His Trippy 60s Top of the Pops UK Sounds to Rough Trade

Psychedelic songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner is sort of the Elliott Smith of retro 60s sunshine pop. But where Smith wrote doomed junkie narratives, heartbreak ballads and politically relevant broadsides, Gardner stays in the 60s witth his dreamy, trippy, pastoral baroque pop. He’s got a couple of albums out: Cabinet of Curiosities, which this blog gave a solid thumbs-up to last year, and a new one, Hypnophobia, which seems (at least from what little’s up at Bandcamp) to be more epic and slightly more beefed-up sonically. Gardner is Dutch but sings in a period-perfect , precise, cat-ate-the-canary 60s Carnaby Street London accent. Underneath, he layers all sorts of jangly, spiky, ringing, pinging vintage guitars, trebly bass and what sounds like vintage mellotron and organ (he really likes the flute patches). He’s also got a show coming up on June 11 at 10 PM at Rough Trade; advance tix are $12.

Gardner’s most recent New York show was in the middle of last August at South Street Seaport – yeah, that’s going back a ways. Listening back, what does the recording sound like? Trebly and tuneful. Outdoors in mid-afternoon, Gardner played an acoustic-electric model, backed by lead guitar, bass, drums and keys. The show was a good approximation of the meticulousness of his recordings, with enough wobbly reverb on the vocals to drive a minivan through. The lushness of the keys over a hard-hitting beat gave the songs more energy and sweep than you would expect, enhanced by how long the band jammed them out, a couple numbers clocking in at around seven or eight minutes. There were also three-part vocal harmonies that brought to mind the Zombies, the Move and the Pretty Things. And one of the later tunes, with its swirly keys, resonant guitar clang and uneasy major/minor chord changes, strongly evoked Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. All this should sound even better in the intimate, sonically superb confines in the back at Rough Trade.

Noir Rocker Tom Warnick’s Side Effects Could Be His Best Album

Isn’t it validating when an artist you’ve followed for ten years or longer puts out a new album – and it turns out to be the best thing they’ve ever done? You could make that case for Tom Warnick‘s latest release, Side Effects, streaming at Spotify. Warnick is a brilliant tunesmith, an evocative crooner, a devously witty keyboardist and has a deep back catalog of sardonic, often noir-tinged songs that goes back to the late 90s. In New York noir cirlees, he’s iconic. And there was a time that it wasn’t certain that he’d make it as far as as 2015. But a couple of well-documented brushes with the grim reaper didn’t stop him from pretty much picking up where he left off as one of this city’s most reliably entertaining performers.

The big news about this album is that Warnick’s band the World’s Fair – whom he equates here to “a box of bent baseball cards” – have a new secret weapon. Alto saxophonist Jason Reese has been more or less a fulltime member for the last few years, but this is the album where he finally gets to go front and center and he makes the absolute most of it: he can be balmy and carefree, or murderously smoky. When the band gets noir here – and they do that a lot – it’s Reese who’s usually the main culprit. They open with a revamped older tune, the wry, pun-infused title track, reinvented as a swinging soul number with Reese adding a break that brings to mind the Sonny Rollins solo on the Stones’ Waiting on a Friend.

Just when you think Doing My Time is a blithely stomping rockabilly-flavored romp, Warnick hits a swirly series of minor chords on the organ, underscoring the song’s existential unease. City of Women, one of Warnick’s signature songs and a big crowd-pleaser, pairs lead guitarist Ross Bonadonna’s snarling, surfy leads with Reese’s blue-flame riffage: it’s more retro noir than the horror-surf version the band used to roll out as an encore a couple of years back.

Long Way from Home is a surreal, Jim Jarmusch-esque travelogue set to loping C&W: “I will push open the emergency door, do you think it will make a sound?” Warnick asks snidely, “Excuse us while we disappear far from this burial ground.”

I’m a Stranger Here first took shape as a pulsing new wave tune, but it’s a swinging, bitterly reminiscent noir number here, Reese’s shadowy lines over Warnick’s eerily tiptoeing piano, with contrasting guitar jangle and wail from Bonadonna and John Sharples. As good as the rest of the album is, this one’s the high point, musically speaking at least. .

Lost in Place is another gem, an elegantly savage Elvis Costello-esque look back at navigating the tortuous corridors of high school, bassist Scott Anthony choosing his spots and hitting a few choice high notes. The band goes back to the noir for Old Man Blues, its moody reggae-tinged groove bringing to mind the Specials’ Ghost Town. In its first incarnation, Cop Car was a pretty straight-up blues; here, Warnick’s blackly amusing tale of a highway pot bust gets the full Peter Gunne treatment with a honking blue-smoke sax chart and eerily watery guitar that gives way to a jagged 70’s arenarock solo from Bonadonna.

The album ends on an unexpectedly upbeat note with the baroque pop ballad Fly Away and its surreal push-pull between teenage anomie and blissed-out ambience, and then the Tex-Mex bounce of Falling in Love Again. Look for this one somewhere on the best albums of 2015 page here in December assuming we get that far.

Jon DeRosa Brings His Haunting, Lynchian Chamber Pop Back to New York

It’s amazing how Jon DeRosa can croon with such nuance and skill considering that he’s lost most of the hearing in his right ear. Another sad reminder of the brain drain that continues to plague New York, the noir chamber pop singer decamped for Los Angeles last year, but has a haunting new album, Black Halo  to show for it. He’s bringing those ghostly songs back to town for an album release show at around 10 at St. Vitus in Greenpoint on June 3; cover is $10.

“The initial inspiration was this intense feeling of isolation and disconnection growing in me while still in New York,” DeRosa explains, “And kind of retreating into this inner world, this spirit world, really. After living there for so many years, I literally felt like a ghost drifting through the crowds, invisible, and with no real connection to anyone or anything.”

Who in New York, who’s been here since the zeros or even earlier, hasn’t felt that way? We’re excluded from the political process that’s turning even the grungiest working-class neighborhoods into ghost towns of future crackhouses, built not as actual homes but as lifesize gamepieces for robber barons hell-bent on cashing in on the real estate bubble before it explodes. And the privileged white suburbanites displacing the artistic class here have no interest in what makes a city a city. The arts don’t exist in their social media-based meta-world. They barely even watch movies. They’re all starring in their own little status-grubbing dramas which they think are comedies but are really horror videos. And they all think they’re Spielberg, but they’re not even Ed Wood. What’s just as disturbing is that some of us have found ourselves dragged into that too, by demands of the dayjob or just trying to stay in touch with the rest of the world.

That was what DeRosa escaped; from the album, he seems to have regained his footing in a shadowy place between the living and the dead. Much as there’s an elegaic strain that runs throughout the songs, there’s hope as well. DeRosa plays guitars, with Charles Newman on keys, Matt Basile on bass, Tom Curiano on drums and Carina Round on vocals. Claudia Chopek’s one-woman string section and Brad Gordon’s one-man wind ensemble join forces to create a lush miniature orchestra on several of the tracks.

The album’s opening, Lynchian, 60s noir pop ballad, Fool’s Razor establishes an atmosphere of anomie and defeat despite its towering, angst-fueled sweep. DeRosa’s chiming twelve-string guitar mingles with glockenspiel and piano on The Sun Is Crying, a sad waltz with a late 60s Laurel Canyon psych-pop vibe and a shout-out to Leonard Cohen. Then DeRosa and Round reach for unexpectedly blithe, surrealistic, mariachi-tinged Vegas pop with When Daddy Took the Treehouse Down.

Coyotes veers from southwestern gothic to mid-80s Cure jangle: “Fear is a thief in disguise, cuts out your heart and flees with its prize,” DeRosa broods in his resonant baritone, then follows with a wryly familiar Edith Piaf riff. Give Me One More Reason is the album’s most psychedelic track, a bartender cynically watching the night’s last patrons, who “don’t know how it feels to end the night standing upright,” waiting til after the doors are locked to pour a few glasses for the ghosts of the whores who still call the dive their home.

The bolero-rock number Lonely Sleep works an elegant, understated angst:

You say that there’s a river, but I see no way across
And you say the mind’s the builder, but my mind has long been lost

DeRosa and Round duet on the ghostly lullaby Dancing in a Dream, a more organic take on Julee Cruise Twin Peaks atmospherics. The piano-driven dirge Blood Moon brings to mind the Ocean Blue as well as DeRosa’s more ambient work with Aarktika. Likewise, Knock Once has 80s values: brisk new wave bassline, hypnotically loopy goth guitar. Then DeRosa brings a lingering, astigmatic 80s ambience to Orbisonian pop with You’re Still Haunting Me – which, when you think about it, pretty much defines what Lynchian music is all about, right?

The album’s most epic number is High and Lonely, a spare, hypnotically apocalyptic anthem: “I want none of your fleeting wealth, I want none of your earthly fortune,” is DeRosa’s mantra. The album winds up with the title track, a Spectoresqe instrumental waltz. DeRosa has a strong and occasionally shattering back catalog, notably his 2012 release A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes, but this is his strongest, most consistent release. It’s not officially out yet, therefore no streaming link, although a couple of tracks are up at Motherwest Studios’ soundcloud page. Fans of the creme de la creme of dark rock: Nick Cave, Mark Sinnis and the rest will love this. It’s good to see someone we pretty much took for granted here in New York able to keep the torch burning thousands of miles away.

The TarantinosNYC Surf the Silver Screen

The TarantinosNYC use that name to distinguish themselves from the Tarantinos, a UK band who play a diverse mix of songs from Quentin Tarantino films. The TarantinosNYC do some of that, but they also write originals. They’re best known as a surf band, but as you would hope from a group with a film fixation, they have a cinematic side. Their music is catchy, and fun, and sometimes pretty creepy, much more unpredictable and occasionally epic than what most straight-up surf outfits typically play. Between them, lead guitarist Paulie Tarantino, bassist Tricia Tarantino, keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Brian Tarantino and drummer Joey Tarantino make up one of New York’s most consistently interesting, original, entertaining bands. They have a new album, Surfin’ the Silver Screen coming out and a release show this Friday, May 15 at 11 PM at Lucille’s Bar, adjacent to B.B. King’s on 42nd St. Cover is $10.

Shindig – one of the six first-class originals here – makes a good opener: purist reverb surf guitar hitched to swirly organ, the rhythm section holding a classic Ventures beat. The organ and digital production give it a more current feel, yet also enable the band to put their own stamp on it. Bullwinkle Pt. 2 is the first cover, lowlit with Paulie’s lingering, noir, reverb-drenched tremolo-bar chords. Then they reinvent You Only Live Twice as a glittery showstopper, Brian’s organ front and center. It’s almost like ELO doing a surf song – and if you don’t think ELO could play surf music, you haven’t heard their version of a well-worn Grieg theme.

Dust-Up, another original, mashes up hints of monster surf and a Dell Shannon standard: it’s hard to imagine any band other than this one that would have come up with something this improbably successful. Their cover of Son of a Preacher Man brings to mind the Ventures’ psychedelic period – yikes! But then they get serious again with Our Man Flint/Dr. Evil, first doing an old hymn as surf, then channeling pretty much every dance rock style from the 60s in under three minutes

Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova is a bizarre hybrid of roller-rink theme, garage psychedelia, a vintage soul strut and artsy late 70s Britpop. With its vamping repeaterbox guitar and some dancing tremolo-picking from Paulie, Spanish Steps sounds like Link Wray in a hurry to get a Lee Hazlewood desert rock groove on tape. There are two versions of another instrumental, Our Man in Amsterdam, the second harder and more garage-rock oriented – it’s hard to figure where the Amsterdam connection comes in.

The theme from Django – Tarantino’s best film by a mile – gets a richly watery, jangly, psychedelic arrangement with layers of acoustic and electric guitar and keys that elevates it above the cartoonish original. Pushed along by Tricia’s dancing, period-perfect early 70s soul bassline, Lo Chiamavano King comes across as a more artsy take on what could pass for a big Roy Ayers title theme.

Elena Barakhovski contributes soaring vocalese on Korla’s Theme, an artfully nebulous, ominously crescendoing Dick Dale-style Red Sea stomp with all kinds of cool variations – it might be the album’s best song. Then they slow things down to a misterioso swing with an impressively lush cover of Shake Some Evil by 90s cult heroes Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. Positraction, another original, manages to blend Booker T, 60s go-go music, surf and swing without anybody in the band stepping on anybody else. Then they do Les Baxter’s Hell’s Belles as blazing psychedelic soul. The album ends with Man from Nowhere, a rare spy-surf gem first recorded by Shadows bassist Jet Harris on the soundtrack to the obscure British film Live It Up, pairing a brooding baritone guitar hook against uneasily airy keys. Surf bands typically live for rarities, but this is an especially sweet find. For that matter, so is the whole record. While it  hasn’t hit the usual spots yet, cds are available, and there are a handful of tracks up at the band’s Soundcloud page.

A Surrealistically Spellbinding New Album from Spectacular Singer Carol Lipnik

Find someone who was part of the music scene on the Lower East Side in the late 90s and zeros, before it turned into a tourist trap, and ask them who the best singer in New York is. Chances are they’ll tell you it’s Carol Lipnik. These days she’s taken her spine-tingling four-octave range to classier places. And she has a new album, Almost Back to Normal just out and streaming online which stakes Lipnik’s claim to a place in the pantheon alongside such equally distinctive, individualistic song stylists as Nico, Diamanda Galas, Laura Nyro and maybe Bjork. Lipnik is playing the album release show this Thursday, May 14 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub on what could be a transcendent twinbill with the similarly enigmatic, lyrically-fueled, wickedly charismatic accordionist/multi-instrumentalist Rachelle Garniez. Cover is $18 and advance tix are a good idea.

The cd cover perfectly capsulizes what the album’s about. Much as Lipnik can be playful and quirky, or channel a period-perfect 70s soul vibe, ultimately this is a harrowing record. The music is elegant, just piano, strings and vocals, sometimes stark, sometimes lush. Pianist Matt Kanelos – one of the foremost improvisers in town right now – alternates between spare, lingering phrases, stately baroque-tinged lines and eerie washes of resonance enhanced by the rich sonics of the Brooklyn jazz studio where he recorded them. Likewise, violinist and producer Jacob Lawson shifts seamlessly between graceful, dancing lines and windswept orchestration, a pillowy, sometimes opaque backdrop for Lipnik’s effortlessly crystalline leaps and cascades upward.

Lipnik is Coney Island born and raised and has a special fondness for water: ”Dreaming an ocean at twilight,” is the album’s opening line. That imagery reaches Dostoyevskian proportions: it’s everywhere, and the symbolism is subtly crushing. Allusions if not direct references to Hurricane Sandy and the BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico echo in the shadow of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. To say that this is an album for our time is an understatement to the extreme.

The opening track, Oh, the Tyrrany is a gentle, brooding waltz with an interlude that sounds like a theremin but is actually Lipnik’s voice: that’s how much command she has. By contrast, the second number, Honey Pot, is a joyously sexy, anthemic blue-eyed soul tribute to getting high. The title track has a wounded, minimalist insistence, Lipnik hitting some spectacular highs, but the feeling isn’t high camp, it’s genuine angst.

Crow’s Nest is a simple but impactful piece of defiant art-rock. Sonadora Dreamer contrasts a wickedly catchy chorus with both the wariness and lustre that define this album. The elegaic Lost Days and Songs is aptly titled, awash in tersely hypnotic, steadily rhythmic atmospherics that bring to mind Arvo Part. With its chromatically-charged menace, the album’s arguably strongest and most socially relevant track is The Things That Make You Grow: “The weeds get trampled on and the weak get trampled on, so put your antlers on,” Lipnik warns. Then she and Kanelos revert to a precisely soaring, Bach-like elegance with The Oyster and the Sand and its characteristically understated but adrenalizing vocal dynamics and pervasive sense of longing.

The first of the three covers here is Harry Nilsson’s Life Line, done much the same as the 70s pop hitmaker played it solo, exponentially raising the alienation and angst of the lyric. Aother is Lipnik’s own galloping, explosive setting of cult favorite poet Helen Adam’s existentialist theme Farewell, Stranger, a showcase for low-register pyrotechnics and soaring melismas.

The album’s most puckish (and slightly carnivalesque) track is Some People’s Souls: “Some people’s souls are full of holes, that’s how the rain gets in,” Lipnik explains. It ends, appropriately, with the moody ambience of a reinvented version of the old tin pan alley song Troubled Waters. Lipnik has put out some amazing albums in the past and has them streaming at her webpage: 2008’s Cloud Girl is a masterpiece of the Coney Island phantasmagoria she’s best known for. But this one is her best album – and as strong a contender for best of 2015 as has been released this year.

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