New York Music Daily

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Category: pop music

Kelley McRae Brings Her Catchy, Lyrical Acoustic Americana to the Lower East

Kelley McRae is a darling of the Paste Magazine set. Aw, good grief, you say. Do we really need another fresh-faced rich white girl faking her way through a formerly blue-collar sound that’s been done to death? Actually, with her airy, unadorned soprano and catchy tunesmithing, McRae is the real deal, bringing some rare depth to the newschool Americana genre. She’s got a new record, The Wayside – her fifth – streaming at Spotify and a show at the big room at the Rockwood on May 10 at 9. Cover is $10.

The core of the band on the album comprises McRae’s guitarist husband Matt Castelein, with Jon Andersen on pedal steel and lapsteel and Spencer Caper on violin, mandolin and bouzouki. The opening track, Land of the Noonday Sun sets the stage over an elegant weave of fingerpicking:

Time goes by like a dream
No matter how hard you run
Some things are better left unsaid
Some things are better left undone

Driven by Castelein’s punchy dobro, the surprisingly hard-charging newgrass shuffle Hard Night has a full band with bass, drums and organ; it reminds of Jenifer Jackson‘s latest adventures in Americana. “It’s just one of those days,” McRae sighs with a wounded resignation as the bittersweetly swaying, subtly Tex-Mex tinged If You Need Me gets underway. The plainspoken Reach You offers a stark, telling look at how you can never count on someone staying on the same track with you: ” Too many nights feeling brokedown and bruised,” as McRae puts it..

The album’s title cut rises toward an unexpectedly ornate, majestic peak, awash in lingering steel guitar over a big thumping beat. The album’s best track is the broodingly scrambling Oklahoma shuffle Red Dirt Road, propelled by more crescendoing Castelein dobro work. By contrast, Andersen’s keening steel fuels A Long Time, a bitter lament for years wasted waiting for dashed hopes to come true.

With McRae’s high lonesome avian metaphors, Rare Bird offers a bittersweet shout-out to a restlessly insatiable type. Driven by Castelein’s psychedelic acoustic fretwork, Tell It Again looks back to 70s Britfolk. The album closes with Rose, a Willie Nelson-esque, jazz-tinged lullaby and then the nocturnal ballad All the Days That Have Come Before, McRae’s narrator taking a decisive step away from the past. It’s an unselfconsciously intense way to wind up this mix of vividly melancholy tunesmithing.

Pierre de Gaillande Brings His Edgy, Hilarious English Translations of Georges Brassens Classics Back to Barbes

In the New York art-rock demimonde, Pierre de Gaillande has a resume second to none, first leading the darkly ornate Melomane and then the Snow with the similarly talented Hilary Downes. Since then, he’s dedicated himself to an ongoing chamber chanson project, orchestrating and translating Georges Brassens songs. Brassens had a long career as a gadfly and thorn in the side of the censors on French radio, from the 40s through the 70s. Every time he’d get banned, he’d write something even more mercilessly funny and smutty. He was populist to the core and is still iconic there. De Gaillande’s translations are meticulous, maintaining Brassens’ gritty humor, crushing sarcasm and even the same rhyme schemes, in English, no small achievement. Like this blog, De Gaillande makes Barbes his home base; he’s playing there this Friday night, April 29 at 8.

Catching his show there back in October was a lot of fun. It was a typical performance: he played his signature hollowbody Gibson, backed by an inspired chamber pop band with violin, bass,.drums, accordion and clarinet. As usual, there were also a couple of special guests, one a woman who sang a spare, brief acoustic number and the other a French hip-hop artist who reworked Brassens into a droll, slangy rap.

De Giallande’s voice has deepened over the years: he’s never sung better. He opened with the snidely waltzing, anti-bourgeous broadside Philistines, then had a good time with The Princess and the Troubadour. a jailbait swing tune where the narrator tells the fifteen-year-old girl that he ‘Doesn’t have the makings of a pedophle,” and doesn’t want to spend the rest of his days in the joint. While De Gaillande has a couple of albums of Brassens songs out, he’s always adding new material, and some of the best ones in this set were new additions: a jaunty, southwestern gothic-tinged waltz and a hilarious drinking song. Nobody drinks writes drinking songs like the French, and Brassens was especially good at it.

There were also plenty of familiar treats from the De Gaillande/Brassens repertoire, including the hilariously irreverent Don Juan, a twisted salute to people who chase…um…undesirable partners. The group also swung their way through I Made Myself Small, which although Brassens dedicated it to his longtime girlfriend, his narrator comes across as completely pussywhipped. De Gaillande alternated English and French verses in a similarly amusing portrait of a lightning rod salesman (Freudian – get it?) making the rounds of Parisian housewives. And he reminded that things aren’t much different now than they were in 1954 when Brassens wrote Public Benches and its sardonic portrait of hypocrites, “People putting other people down for doing what they wish they had the nerve to do. In other words, Republicans,” he grinned. The group wound up the set with a lickety-split, bouncy number fueled by a fiery clarinet solo. It should be fun to see what new gems De Gaillande will unveil this time around.

Linda Draper’s New Album Adds to Her Hall of Fame Credentials

It’s time to head down to the quarry and hammer out a pedestal for Linda Draper. Eight albums into her career, not one of them anything less than brilliant: Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, Steve Wynn, Aimee Mann brilliant. Draper is in their league both as a tunesmith and lyricist, and she can sing circles around all of them. And she’s explored a lot of styles over the past fifteen years or so: straightforward acoustic pop, surrealistic psychedelia, Nashville gothic and now a richly tuneful jangle and clang. Producer Matt Keating gets major props for making a big rock record out of Draper’s latest album, Modern Day Decay. It hasn’t hit the web yet, although you can hear a lot of it at her album release show on April 29 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood.

Draper had the good sense to get the most out of Keating on this album. It’s arguably Draper’s strongest release to date, both lyrically and musically, and he really takes it to the next level, both as lead guitarist and keyboardist. Recorded mostly live in the studio in a single whirlwind 48-hour session, the songs have a bristling intensity, Draper’s strong but nuanced mezzo-soprano anchored by bassist Jeff Eyrich and drummer Eric Puente.

The gorgeously anthemic title track opens the album. With the layers of twelve-string guitar over piano and organ, it sounds like the Church with a woman out front:

In a world made for the masses
It ain’t easy to see
It all through rose-colored glasses
You know the thorns wait patiently
…Some say time is all we need
To heed, no matter the relevance
Or pick at the scab until it bleeds…

The matter-of-fact Keep Your Head Up has tinges of psychedelia and C&W and opens with a wry shout-out to Mary Magdalene. I’t s a prime example of Draper at her witheringly lyrical best:

We’re under the gun until one day we’re done…
Get on the latest medication
Join the rest of the brainwashed nation
Airport security, a little radiation
Stand in line, take a number
Don’t blame the stars for your lack of wonder
Like a wild tiger turned into a fur coat
We howl at the moon until we lose the fight

True Enough is another catchy, richly jangly 12-string guitar anthem, a rugged individualist trying to keep her cool under pressure:

Gone are the days of the heat and the haze
That once bled my eyes dry
They sensed in the place by the cold golden gaze
That a love almost passed me by
It’s just a blip on the screen, a switch in the scene
The rest is a big fat lie
Why can’t they just take me as I am…

Put Love In has some unexpected hip-hop tinges in the lyric over an uneasy acoustic-electric backdrop. The catchy, swaying Take Your Money and Run works on a whole slew of levels. On the surface, it’s an escape anthem of sorts:

I pawned my ring for everything and said let it ride
Now I’m here to tell you you reap what you sow
You sold me out, now you’d better let me go
Cause I’m done, all right, but I did it with love
Head for the hills tonight, no heaven above
Can stop me now
There’s nothing to slow down
There’s nothing to stop you
It doesn’t matter where you come from
That doesn’t mean that’s all you have to become
You have so much more love in your heart
Than the sum of your parts
So take your money and run

A slow, organ-infused soul ballad, the nonchalantly cajoling Lose with Me brings to mind Jenifer Jackson. “All my heroes are long gone, or sold their souls to some reality show,” Draper muses.

Awash in lingering, echoing psychedelic guitars, Burn Your Bridges sounds like the Church doing a late Beatles folk-pop number: “All hands on deck for the shipwreck, brace yourselves,” Draper warns.

Pedestal takes a careeningly successful detour into rockabilly: for that matter, it might be the most lyrically sophisticated rockabilly tune ever written:

Everyone’s listening to nobody else
The symphony sounds fine on the train
As we keep moving round in vain
Regurgitating joy and pain

Nashville builds from a stark, spare acoustic intro to a mighty cinematic sweep:

Into the evening
Out of my mind
What you call believing
I call dying
Can’t you see the bags under my eyes
Or the rags that I wore in disguise
The latest fashion, greatest curse
I don’t know which one should be worse….
Like cattle they packed us
Onto the bus
Eleven hours later we were in Nashville
The flames and the smoke followed me here
Ten years ago just seemed to disappear
Now I’m rnnning from the wind
‘Cause I know how fast it can blow
There ain’t gonna be a next time
All we’ve got is today
And all I see in my mind
Keeps driving away

The album winds up with a waltz, Good As New, another individualist’s manifesto

There’s nothing wrong if you don’t belong…
I spend my lifetime, I’ve made it a habit
Of staying on the outside, now why should I quit
“That’s just your way of hiding,” you say
You know, ’cause you see yourself in me

Just on lyrics alone – is Draper quotable, or what? – this is a strong contender for best release of 2016.

Free Music Fridays at the American Folk Art Museum: Good Times and Good Tunesmithing

One of this city’s most consistently fun weekly events is Free Music Fridays at the American Folk Art Museum at Lincoln Square, just across the street from the uptown 1 train exit at 66th Street. Even if you can’t get out of work in time to catch the 5:30 PM opening act, the show typically goes til a little after 7. The crowd is a mix of local kids, retirees, tourists and friends of the bands, and wine is available for a donation to the museum.

Lara Ewen – a modest and unselfconsciously brilliant folk noir singer and a strong tunesmith as well – books a diverse mix of mostly acoustic songwriters as well as oldtime folk, blues and Americana performers. She draws on a deep pool of New York talent, including many acts from the Jalopy scene, plus the occasional national touring artist. The natural reverb in the museum’s high-ceilinged atrium adds a cathedral-like ambience: many acts like to play here unamplified. Lately there have been shows pretty much every week, a positive development considering that the series went on a lengthy hiatus last summer to accommodate one of the museum’s many, constantly changing exhibitions. This Friday’s show is a particularly good one, with Beatlesque popsinger Jeff Litman, Clifford Westfall and Girls on Grass‘ paisley underground guitarist/frontwoman Barbara Endes, and Americana guitar genius Tom Clark.

This year has been an especially good one at the museum so far. The highight of February’s shows was Jessi Robertson, who didn’t waste any time warning the crowd that most of her songs mine pretty disturbing territory. In one number which had to with stab wounds, she revealed that her hands have an inherited tendency to get a little shaky in pubilc: not part of the skillset that makes a good slasher. In a mix of artsy but terse post-PJ Harvey acoustic rock as well as older, more opaque material, Robertson aired out her signature, throaty, otherworldly wail, channeling sheer emotional destitution, alienation and abandonment – and some good jokes. The funniest number in her set had a title along the lines of “I hope I hurt you more than you hurt me.” Robertson plays at around 9 this Saturday, April 25 at Pine Box Rock Shop, opening for her lead guitarist Rony Corcos’ excellent power trio Rony’s Insomnia.

March was a good month. Eva Salina, one of the world’s great Balkan singers, joined forces with her longtime collaborator, whirlwind Romany accordionist Peter Stan for a dynamically intense run through songs from her latest album Lema Lema: The Songs of Saban Bajrmovic. A global Romany icon, Bajrmovic was sort of a Balkan mashup of Al Green, Hank Williams and Jim Morrison. That it took an American woman – Salina is a friendly Californian with an ethnomusicology degree from UC/Santa Cruz – to bring his songs to a larger audience is pretty radical. And while she expertly voiced the difficult clusters of the Romanes language in an often heartwrenchingly nuanced, otherworldly chromatic run through songs about unrequited love, gambling and Romany pride, she told the crowd that the star of the evening would be Stan. She wasn’t kidding. With a pedal to the metal, he shredded the reeds on his deluxe model with lightning cadenzas, cascades up and down the scale and enough minor keys to drown your sorrows in a thousand times over.

Along with lustrous tunesmith Sharon Goldman – whose often harrowing, deeply personal account of coming to grips with her roots as a secular Jewish artist has been chronicled here in detail – other March artists here included Heather Eatman, Joanna Sternberg and Chris Michael. The last time this blog caught a show by Eatman…well, this blog, or any other blog for that matter, didn’t exist back in the fall of 2003 when she played the old Living Room at the corner of Stanton and Allen. She hasn’t lost a step since then; if anything, she’s even more interesting as a singer and tunesmith. She hasn’t changed her formula much: uneasy, unresolved verses building from open chords into sudden, head-on, impactfully catchy choruses. Her voice still has both the coy chirp and the moody, monsoon resonance; her lyrics add an edge and bite. Interestingly, she used this show to run through a handful of songs she’d written as a teenager back in the early 90s, which, if a little simpler, stood up against her more recent material. Eatman is at the small room at the Rockwood next month sometime.

Sternberg is a cutup and an irrepressible bon vivant. She made herself laugh as much as the audience. She’s charming and funny and unlike most adults, hasn’t lost touch with how it feels to be a kid. Her funniest number was a kids’ song directed at a stubborn little girl who doesn’t want to get in the shower. But Sternberg doesn’t talk down to kids: this one eventually revealed that the little girl is actually a little spooked by the water, and that all it took was a little sympathy to get her to pull herself together and wash up. Sternberg’s material for a drinking-age demographic was more nuanced, including a bittersweetly meta breakup song, a couple of more romping, upbeat front-porch folk originals and a detour into pensive vintage Appalachian balladry. Sternberg’s next gig is at the Jalopy Tavern (adjacent to the big main space) on April 28 at 9.

And this past Friday, Michael transcended any cheap Tom Waits comparisons, impressing with his fluency in a whole slew of southern blues, soul and gospel-inflected material. He’s a good guitarist and doesn’t fake the drawl like so many of his yankee counterparts, entertaining the crowd with a mix of upbeat numbers that occasionally brought to mind a less cynical Dan Hicks.

Another Killer Show in Brooklyn on March 24

Funny how crowds at the same event vary from one night to the next, isn’t it? February’s installment of Murder Ballad Mondays at Branded Saloon in Fort Greene was a mobscene. Last month’s was basically limited to  artists who’d played previous editions of the monthly celebration of twisted desire in song from throughout the ages. In a stroke of counterintuitivity, most murder ballads have traditionally been sung by men, yet most of the performers at Murder Ballad Mondays have been women. A necessary antidote? Karmic payback? Food for thought.

Ironically, despite the light turnout, this particular night was the best yet. Peg Simone opened, minimalist and inscrutable on piano, her back to the crowd. In a coolly enigmatic alto. she delivered a long, rainswept , eerily chiming noir blues. From there she segued into a hypnotically enveloping, quietly vengeful number, like Nico tackling Long Black Veil. Neville Elder of folk noir favorites Thee Shambels followed with a long, ghoulishly detailed Donner Party-inspired tale: Great Plains gothic as the Strawbs might have done it

Miwa Gemini reinvented the Nancy Sinatra hit Bang Bang from the point of view of a real femme fatale  And after playing the surrealistically Gun Club-ish, slide guitar-fueled coda to her Grizzly Rose song cycle, she decided that her imaginary muse doesn’t die in the end: she ends up being the killer.

Cello rock duo the Whiskey Girls – Patricia Santos and Tara Hanish – made their first New York appearance since a sizzling set here late last year, opening with tensefly syspenseful, stark minor-key blues and then a luridly menacing ba-bump latin swing tune, Not Anymore: “The view from the stage ain’t like the view from the floor,” Santos intoned ominously. If memory serves right, they also did a stark chamber pop version of the jazz standard Wild Is the Wind. And creepy parlor pop duo Charming Disaster – who host the night – treated the crowd to a gorgeously harmony-driven number with intricate call-and-response vocals and also a deadpan cover of a Foster the People cheeseball pop ditty. Guitarist Jeff Morris was game, even though his conspirator Ellia Bisker had to twist his arm to get him to play it.

All this capsulizes something you might not expect from Murder Ballad Mondays: it’s not just about dark storytelling or the comfort of imagining someone dead, most likely an ex. It’s about the tunes! The music here is every bit as good as the stories. This month’s performance – rescheduled to SUNDAY, April 24 at 8 PM – includes cameos by the brilliant, historically-fixated Elisa Flynn, haunting folk noir bandleader Jessie Kilguss, shortwave radio operator/pianist Steve Espinola as well as the hosts, who’ve been on a serious creative roll lately.

Holly Miranda Brings Her Twin Peaks Pop to a Rare Small Club Residency at Hell Phone in Bushwick

Holly Miranda is one of the most distinctive and consistently interesting singers around. The former Jealous Girlfriends frontwoman’s nuanced vocals are sort of a cross between Marissa Nadler at her most energetic, and Karla Rose in a pensive moment. Tunewise, Miranda is just as much an individualist: she can sing gospel with anybody, is drawn to vintage soul music but also has a thing for the 80s (and probably current bands that look back to that decade). She doesn’t waste notes, but she also likes artsy arrangements. Her most recent, self-titled album is streaming at Spotify. While her most recent New York shows have been at Bowery Ballroom, she’s playing a rare, intimate residency on Thursdays beginning April 28 through May 26 at around 9 at Hell Phone, the swanky, charmingly retro boite at 247 Varet St. in Bushwick. Cover is $10, or $15 which includes a download of her upcoming album. The place is steps away from the Morgan Ave. L stop.

In the meantime, we have the self-titled album to enjoy. The opening track, Mark My Words follows a steady upward trajectory into syncopated new wave, built around a dreamy chiming guitar riff matched by  Miranda’s gentle, considered vocals. Drony baritone sax mingling with distorted guitar adds an ominous undercurrent to the slow oldschool soul ballad Everlasting, which rises to a mighty, searing, guitar-fueled peak.

Whatever You Want brings to mind Amanda Palmer‘s poppiest solo work, as well as 80s groups like the Joboxers, who mashed up Motown with new wave. Come On is even poppier, with hints of hip-hop amid the glistening, enveloping sonics and fluttery dreampop guitars. Pelican Rapids is the great missing Twin Peaks soundtrack ballad, right down to the oscillating, overcast, warptone analog synth having loopy fun with the tv show’s title theme.

A more oblique take on Twin Peaks pop, Desert Call has an appropriately surreal, spacious, nocturnal resonance, more of that smoky sax and an especially wounded angst in Miranda’s voice: for someone whose stock in trade is enigmatic restraint, she really cuts loose here. With its twinkling, blue-neon guitars, The Only One is the most Lynchian and best song on the album.

The hypnotically waltzing Heavy Heart rises from echoes of 80s goth to a big art-rock crescendo: “You see the lights are dancing as you swallow the poison pill.” Miranda intones inscrutably. Until Now comes across as a mashup of the Twin Peaks C&W of Detroit’s Whiskey Charmers and Australian spacerock legends the Church. The album winds up with Hymnal, a launching pad for some spine-tingling, stratospheric vocal flights.

Oh yeah – in case you think Miranda’s catalog is limited to sad songs, you haven’t heard All I Want Is to Be Your Girl. It went viral when it came out, probably because she drops the f-bomb a bunch of times. Text the video to al your middle-school friends.

Mimi Oz Brings Her Kitchen-Sink Songwriting Prowess to the East Village Saturday Night

Mimi Oz can write anything. She’s got a powerful, passionate, slightly coy voice informed by soul, 60s pop, Americana and punk. Likewise, her songwriting runs the gamut, and she’s a strong tunesmith. Her latest album Men Who Never Loved Me – a sardonically melancholy, thematic collection – is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing Saturday night, April 16 at 11 PM at Sidewalk with her band.

You might think that a song with the title Tickle My Berry would be something that, say, Iggy Azalea might do. This one turns out to be a summery psych-funk number that hits a burning powerpop drive on the chorus. Bad Love is a wryly hilarious faux girl-group pop number about being stuck with a losers like this one dude who’s “bad at kissing, he doesn’t use his tongue.” It’s sort of the missing link between the Universal Thump and the Ronettes.

The wounded waltz Dreaming Again blends stark country fiddle into a soaring new wave-tinged ballad. Future Trouble is spot-on 60s C&W, right down to the chicken-scratch honkytonk guitar and call-and-response, gospel-style backing vocals; then Oz takes it in more of a powerpop direction. She keeps the honkytonk flavor going, mashing it up with 60s pop in the romping, piano-driven, twisted Ugly Baby.

Neptune Hotel is a swaying soul-jazz number with muted trumpet and low-key, simmering vocals that grows more uneasily surreal as it builds. Alphabet City Gypsy, with its swirly organ and oldschool R&B bounce, puts a funny East Village spin on a theme familiar to fans of Elvis and the blues.

Be My Bobby is another bouncy piano number: like a lot of songs here, it’s a disquieting mix of sultry seduction, longing ache and crushingly cynical, punk-infused humor. The album’s best song is the rainy-day saloon jazz ballad Woman Perfect, balmy sax mingling with the piano and the stately, swinging rhythm section. The final cut is the bossa nova Somebody’s Nobody, sung in English and Portuguese. As eclectic, imaginatively purist songwiting goes, it doesn’t get much better than this in 2016.

Karla Rose & the Thorns Bring Their Inscrutable Film Noir-Inspired Menace to the Rockwood This Thursday

Why do we go see bands? To hang with our friends? For an excuse to tie one on? Maybe to transcend whatever trouble this century’s ongoing depression has sent us. If there are clouds ahead, and clouds behind, as Karla Rose sings in her signature song, Time Well Spent, her band will drive those clouds away, at least as long as the torchy, magnetic singer/guitarist is onstage. Karla Rose & the Thorns are the kind of act that you walk away from glad to be alive, firing on all cylinders, the roar of the guitars, slinkiness of the bass, misterioso groove of the drums and Rose’s hauntingly lyrical vocals still playing in your head. They’re bringing Rose’s signature blend of menacing, film noir-inspired torch song, jaunty new wave and offhandedly savage psychedelia to a headline slot at midnight this Thursday, April 14 at the big room at the Rockwood. The even louder, hard-charging, more Americana-influenced Marco with Love play the album release show for their new one beforehand at 11.

Rose did a stint fronting Morricone Youth, so it’s no surprise that there’s a cinematic influence in her music, although she’s developed a sound all her own. Her band is relatively new: starting about last July, she pulled this semi-rotating cast of players together. Right now, the one constant is the sometimes elegant, sometimes thrashing interweave between Rose’s Telecaster and lead guitarist Dylan Charles’ hollowbody Gibson. They played a tantalizingly brief show last November at the Mercury that landed on this blog’s Best New York Concerts of 2015 list, but looking back, their gig at Berlin a month beforehand might have been even better.

It definitely was louder. As you might expect from someone who writes lyrics that are usually pretty dark but can also be extremely funny, Rose typically zings the crowd with one-liners in between songs. This was not one of those shows. Fronting this group, Rose tends to be pretty inscrutable, but she was clearly out of sorts, maybe because she’d just spilled vodka all over her butt. “Very sanitary,” she joked, but otherwise she took out whatever was troubling her on her instrument. It was rewarding to hear that jangle, and clang, and eventually the unrestrained ferocity blasting from her amp while Charles made his way up the fretboard, chopping at the strings with an unhinged attack that made Dick Dale look like a wimp by comparison.

The best song of the night was a new one, Battery Park. Rose opened it solo, flinging her chords out over a slithery altered bolero groove, with a deliciously Lynchian, unexpectectedly minor-to-major change before the first verse kicked in. This is how Rose works at the top of her game: in the middle of this creepily allusive narrative, inspired by American Pycho, there’s subtle political subtext and also a hilarious double entendre that looks back to hokum blues. The joke is too good to give away. Charles eventually took the song out with a machete-through-the-underbrush solo.

The rest of the set wasn’t quite as feral but just as intense. The angst-fueled chromatics of Girl Next Door – which has a surrealistic, Twilight Zone-esque video, directed by Peter Azen – contrasted with the achingly sultry Sunday hangover sceneario alluded to in the bouncy new wave of Drive, as well as the serpentine, seething Time Well Spent, which seems on the surface to be a murder mystery but is actually a thinly veiled, exasperated account of trying to stay sane in gentrification-era Manhattan. Rose has a new album in the works, which, if this show is any indication, is a lock for best of 2016.

Rose also has impeccable taste as an impresario. This time out she decided to book the Paul Collins Beat to headline the show, and the “king of powerpop” lived up to his regal status as hookmeister and guitarslinger. And by the end of the night, Rose seemed to have her mojo back and was down front, dancing. You could do the same at the Rockwood this Thursday.

Piano Powerhouse Jack Spann Puts Out a Mysterious, Kinetic Debut Album

Jack Spann is one of New York’s most in-demand keyboardists. He’s not related to Otis Spann, but from the way he plays blues, you’d think he might be. He has Carnegie Hall-class chops and can do stride piano and ragtime as well as anyone in town. But as popular a sideman as Spann is – he collaborated with David Bowie and has been playing with noir icon LJ Murphy lately – he’s also a solo artist in his own right. His own material spans from parlor pop, to creepy Americana, to labyrinthine art-rock with a theatrical flair. His debut solo album,Time, Time, Time, Time, Time is due out momentarily, with a release show on what has turned out to be a great night of music on April 15 at Sidewalk, of all places. Spann opens the night at 8, followed eventually at 10 by an even darker art-rock group, the careening, twin guitar-driven Desert Flower, and then at 11 Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons with their blend of snarling Americana, psychedelia and misterioso folk noir..

On the album, the fun really starts with the third track. Spann – who plays most of the instruments, including bass, drums and guitars in addition to multiple keyboards – kicks it off with a slinky Rhodes riff over an organ swell…and then builds a stompingly optimistic vintage 70s soul anthem. Stern synthesized strings open the dramatic, gospel-tinged title track, a brooding contemplation of the ravages of time; Spann’s precise, pointillistic riffage brings to mind Tony Banks’ work with Genesis during their early 70s peak with Peter Gabriel. Producer Gary Tanin enhances those majestic sonics with his own multi-keyboard contributions.

“Is it fear or loyalty that keeps you in its sway?” Spann asks early in the angst-fueled, minor-key waltz after that. The next number, Disappearing Girl traces the ominous tale of an abduction, over a tensely scampering, cinematic pulse spiced with tricky organ and accordion flourishes. With its surreal, trippy lyrics and rapidfire baroque-rock piano and organ, My Dinosaur echoes current-day keyboard-driven psychedelic bands like Fever the Ghost.

Molly Mastrangelo duets on Games, a swaying, syncopated folk-rock number and a return to the missing-woman scenario. Spann’s foreboding bass joins in tandem with the organ as Everybody Here’s Stained gets underway; it’s sort of a more gospel-infused take on classic Genesis. The album winds up with the pouncing, Joe Jackson-inflected parlor pop of Breakdown, an explosive coda to the mysteries that have been percolating up to this point.

Pete Lanctot Brings His Edgy, Lyrical Americana Rock Narratives to Bushwick

Multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Pete Lanctot’s latest album, No Sign of Love or Farewell- streaming at Bandcamp – is a series of richly lyrical character studies among the down-and-out. While the narrators change with each song, the characters interact in subtle ways: unraveling these mysteries is a lot of fun. So is the music. Tom Waits and Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan are reference points, along with the C&W, oldtimey blues and swing that influenced them. Among New York songwriters, the obvious comparison is Tom Shaner. Lanctot’s band is fantastic. Here he sticks to just guitars and vocals, leaving the violin to Ginger Dolden (who also plays Stroh violin, marxophone, music boxes and autoharp ).Joe McMahan and Adam Brisbin both contribute guitar, with Chris Donohue on bass and keys and Bryan Owings on drums. Lanctot is at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick at 10:30 PM on April 11.

The album opens with the swinging, bluesy, cynically aphoristic Could’ve Been Good:

Rattling the chain-link fence
Moon as white as a bone
Things stop making any sense
When you’re this faraway from home
Kicking at the gravel
Throwing rocks along the path
Got my pick and shovel,
I’m my own better half

A slow but rousing oldtime country waltz, Coming Around paints a vividly unsettled picture of smalltown nocturnal revelry. Lanctot switches to 6/8 time for the regretful Come to Me Now

I know people stare
I ain’t unaware
Let ’em stare til they’re blind if they like
I look at my feet
As I walk down the street
In my heart there’s a permanent spike

The band builds a richly burning web of acoustic and electric guitars as Used to Be a Rambler gets underway: Lanctot develops this character with a classic blues vernacular that gets funnier as you start to realize what direction he’s going in. The southwestern gothic tale Fifty Miles From Nowhere pulses along on a Bo Diddey beat: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Steve Wynn catalog. “I’m still carrying the kindling from the bridges that I burned,” Lanctot’s narrator muses vengefully.

He brings back the rustically waltzing charm with The Only Love I Know and follows that with the brisk, murky, nocturnal swamp-rock of Perdido:

Well my grip isn’t slipping, I let go completely
I’ve started telling lies in my prayers
Planted a seed in the soil of doubt
And resentment is the fruit that it bears

The album’s longest track, a doomed, oldschool soul-flavored travelogue, is I’ll Meet You at the End of the Line. Its most oldtimey number is the gospel-infused banjo blues Walk Right, a dead ringer for a Curtis Eller tune. Lanctot keeps the stark banjo shuffle going with Ride On Elijah, the album’s most overtly Dylanesque and final cut. Does it tie up all the loose ends here? That’s a mystery you’re going to have to solve yourself.

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