New York Music Daily

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Category: pop music

Karen Hudson Reinvents a Favorite Linda Ronstadt Album on the Upper West Side

Thursday night at the Triad Theatre, Americana songstress Karen Hudson paid homage to her biggest influence, Linda Ronstadt, with a simmering performance of one of the iconic singer’s more eclectic records, Living in the USA. It was an interesting choice: you might think that someone who was once a thirteen-year-old singing into a hairbrush and noshing on Twinkies while a Ronstadt record spun on the turntable might have picked Heart Like a Wheel, or maybe even Hasten Down the Wind. By contrast, Living in the USA was a departure into harder-rocking territory, hinting at the new wave Ronstadt would flirt with a little later in her career while remaining true to her singer-songwriter roots. Hudson channeled all that while adding a livewire edge.

Seeing her out in front of a first-class band without her trusty acoustic guitar slung over her shoulder was unexpected, but she picked a role that suits her. Lord knows how much she must have practiced it with that hairbrush. “Even though our rock n roll queen has stopped singing, her voice will live on in our hearts,” Hudson asserted.

Appropriately, she was rocking a blue baseball jacket to match Ronstadt’s album cover and inner sleeve photos, switching out the gym shorts for a shimmery black dress. Guitarist Mike Fornatale kicked off the title track playing spot-on, blazing Chuck Berry riffage on his vintage Gibson SG, pedal steel player Glenn Spivack’s sailing lines adding a down-home edge that looked back to Ronstadt’s early 70s work. Meanwhile, bassist Jeff Gordon and drummer Tommy DeVito held the rocket to the rails.

Hudson reached for Ronstadt vibrato for an understated poignancy in a duo with Roth’s echoey, lullaby Rhodes in the second song, When I Grow Too Old to Dream. That’s where the baseball jacket came off and stayed off.

Roth’s first couple of chords hinted at at Warren Zevon hit – but not the one you might think – as the band pounced their way into a version of Just One Look than rocked harder than either the original singer (or Ronstadt, for that matter) probably ever envisioned, Hudson holding down the lead line forcefully beneath Suzanne Hockstein’s soaring high harmonies.

Hudson reinvented Elvis Costello’s Alison as something that would have fit in on his Taking Liberties album, pedal steel mingling with James Noyes’ sax as her phrasing echoed the original more than the Ronstadt version. Introducing a dynamic, gospel organ-driven take of J.D. Souther’s White Rhythm & Blues, Hudson goofed on the audience with a projection of what she thought might be the love child between Ronstadt and Steve Martin, considering that the two had been an item for awhile.

Hudson explained that the first song on side two, All That You Dream, was written by Little Feat’s Paul Barrere and Bill Payne as a reflection on that band’s impending breakup, her vocals matching the keening steel over a steady, flurrying groove.Next, she went deep into the elegant soul-jazz roots of the big radio hit, Ooh Baby Baby, much in the same vein as Karla Rose was singing it five years ago.

The two singers joined voices forcefully for a beefed-up take of Mohammed’s Radio, one of the more memorable Warren Zevon tunes Ronstadt recorded. Likewise, Hudson worked a defiant if heartbroken edge in Blowing Away. She closed the show in an acoustic duo with Fornaatale on an aptly fond version of Love Me Tender.

They stuck with the with the Ronstadt catalog for the first of the encores. Hockstein took over lead vocals on Love Is a Rose, with Hudson on guitar, Fornatale on banjo and Jaden Gladstone on fiddle. Their spirited, oldschool C&W romp through Silver Threads and Golden Needles offered a nod back to Skeeter Davis. The crowd wouldn’t let them go, so they pulled together a deliciously clanging, careening version of the Stones’ Dead Flowers.


The Penniless Loafers Take Centerstage on a Killer Ska Triplebill at Otto’s Tonight

We are overdue for another ska revival. And it looks like it’s happening.

By the time the fast one-drop got popular in the US, it was already retro. And then it got corporatized, and watered down. And as the years went by and the diehards who played the oldschool stuff got old, the crowds that used to pack the Tribeca-era Knitting Factory trickled down into little bars like Don Pedro’s and Spike Hill and then finally Otto’s. If you’re a diehard who might be interested in seeing the glorious past and promising future of slinky formerly Jamaican sounds in New York, that’s where you can find a triplebill tonight, April 14 which has both.

At 8 PM there’s Barbicide, a more punk-oriented spinoff of 90s legends Mephiskapheles. The 9 PM act is the Penniless Loafers, who are what No Doubt would have been if they’d been good. Third-wave ska trombone legend Buford O’Sullivan, who has played with everybody starting with the Skatalites, headlines with his band the Roosters. A show this good ten years ago would have set you back at least twenty bucks. Tonight, it’s a pass-the-hat situation. Make of that what you will.

The Penniless Loafers represent the future on this bill. They have horns, and keys, but as much of a classic powerpop influence as oldschool ska and punk. In a style almost completely dominated by dudes, their all-female frontline sets them apart. Their latest album Living the Plan B – streaming at Bandcamp – came out while this city was still under Cuomo’s nightmare lockdown and deserves to be better known.

The opening track, Milo, is probably the only ska song ever written about a cat: it’s got jangly guitars, and sleek roller-rink organ, and brass, and an unexpected, irresistible halfspeed reggae breakdown. It says a lot about the band’s sense of humor.

Track two, New Face is a rocksteady song, like a beefier version of the Big Takeover. The band’s frontline – Veronica Gonzalez, Lynsey Vanderberg and Casey Walker – join soul-infused harmonies in Moving Along, a catchy reggae-janglerock mashup with icy chorus-box guitar, bright horns and bandleader Tim Firth’s layers of organ.

The horns take centerstage in Sneaky Little Thoughts, a more brooding reggae tune, the band picking it up suddenly with a sizzling Noah Axelrod guitar solo. Hearts of Pyrite, a shimmery, upbeat but bittersweet tune with gospel-tinged call-and-response vocals, is one of the album’s strongest cuts.

They switch to a blazing mashup of dark fuzztone surf rock over a 60s go-go beat in M.I.A. and then go back to rocksteady with I Spy (a cynical original, not the Pulp anthem).

The band really take the songs to the next level as the album winds up. Day and Night is a smolderingly successful detour into towering, angst-fueled vintage noir soul territory. The band return to moody reggae in One for the Stars and then range from delicate Lynchian pop to a venomous kiss-off anthem in This is Getting Heavy. There’s also a gorgeous bonus track, Lost Love where they slowly make their way up from a wounded noir nocturne to rocksteady.

Turfseer’s Majestically Tuneful Protest Song Playlist Reaches Epic Proportions

Turfseer is arguably the world’s most prolific protest songwriter. Queens-based, theatrical art-rock tunesmith Lewis Papier, who records under that name with a rotating cast of characters, began offering sonic solace and validation for the noncompliant starting in the late spring of 2020. He hasn’t stopped since.

The first time this blog visited his Scamdemic Collection at Soundcloud, there were 33 songs on it. The playlist has since grown to 47. That’s impressive by any standard, let alone during a time when musicians were officially locked out of studio space (and some were too fearful to go inside until NPR assured them it was ok). Considering the consistent quality, relentlessly cynical humor and boundless stylistic breadth of Turfseer’s output, that’s an Elvis Costello/David Bowie-class achievement.

The review here from February 2022 called Turfseer “the missing link between Jeff Lynne and Jello Biafra,” and referenced both the Alan Parsons Project and the New Pornographers. What else is new here, or that hasn’t been covered before?

A lot of his songs turn plandemic “guidelines” inside out, and The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, a distantly 50s-tinged ballad is typical. “We trust our experts all the way, no time to question, we must obey.” The fleeting soul guitar-and-organ break toward the end is tantalizingly delicious.

The Beatlesque piano ballad The Scam takes the mass psychosis a step further:

Keep your six feet distance to the inch/Isolate, no contact, it’s a cinch!
Everything must go without a hitch, as long as you are certified a snitch

Turfseer has a vaudevillian side, and that’s front and center in Fact Checker, a vindictive mashup of Brecht/Weill dark cabaret and 70s Supertramp. My Mystery Cult is a very subtle orchestrated pop broadside that connects the dots between plandemic compliance and climate change hysteria. Just for the record, New York Music Daily was once in the global warming cult and wishes to apologize for spreading that unscientific bullshit in past years.

The women in the band also sing All the King’s Horses – a brooding art-rock original, not the Erica Smith classic – offering rapt homage to a “Dr. Doom” who keeps falling apart and somehow his cult members keep putting him back together again.

Masters of Fear is one of Turfseer’s most successful keyboard-fueled mashups of late 70s ELO, Carl Newman powerpop and noir cabaret. It’s all about “winning the war without firing a single shot.”

Over a dynamically shifting chamber pop backdrop, Turfseer takes a witheringly sarcastic look back to the Thanksgiving 2020 fad du jour in The Testing Trap. The best jokes in The Great Reset are not lyrical but musical – the bombast is irresistibly spot-on.

In addition to ornate 70s rock, he has a thing for country, and Just Too Good to Be True is a prime example, an understatedly harrowing look at the psychology of denial. For all the orchestration and flashy flourishes in the rest of these songs, this is one of the best of the bunch.

There’s a return to glittery, emphatic neoromantic piano in The Back of the Bus, a coldly scathing analysis of the newest Jim Crow. Cardboard Cutouts in the Stands, a swaying C&W tune, looks back to the aborted 2020 baseball season, a chilling reminder of how quickly the national pastime was transformed into fear porn.

Lush orchestration and melancholy, insistent piano pervade Perchance to Dream, a guy/girl duet about a girl in a coma. The rape metaphors in are just as offhandedly chilling in You Didn’t Recognize Me, a lavish psych-pop song that could be Amy Rigby.

Turfseer found a dramatic, forceful frontguy to go over the top in front of nimbly scrambling piano and electric keys in Expert Opinion. More recent songs have tackled issues beyond the plandemic, notably Walking in the Woke Man’s Shoes, a brisk, ridiculously funny Kelley Swindall-style country tune sung from the point of view of a poor girl whose guy suddenly decided he wasn’t one after all.

The Dish is arguably Turfseer’s most macabre song, a musical counterpart to painter Sasha Latypova‘s research into lethal batch-by-batch variations in the covid shots. Where Have You Gone Tiffany Dover?, a goofy ragtime tune, addresses a question which has become clearer now that mockingbird media are airing actresses pretending to be the country nurse whose late 2020 death on live tv made her the poster child for the Pfizer shot.

The final track on the Soundcloud page – as of today, anyway – is My Polyanna Summer, a snide warning to keep our eye on the ball whenever restrictions are relaxed. To keep up with Turfseer: you might want to bookmark his Substack, where his latest releases usually appear first.

Smart, Catchy, Provocative Freedom Anthems From Alicen Grey a.k.a. When Humans Had Wings

Alicen Grey is an intuitive. She works at what some might call the intersection of energetic healing, spirituality and the paranormal. She’s down-to-earth, and entertaining, and also one of the growing legions of freedom fighters who have emerged since the 2020 global coup. She shares her insights into the ongoing Great Awakening – including a wild experience with mysterious, symbolic wreckage in the Arizona desert – via her Substack and youtube channel.

And she’s a musician as well, recording catchy keyboard-based songs under the name When Humans Had Wings. She released her most recent album Run Rabbit Run – streaming at Bandcamp – in 2022. After a provocative bit of an intro, she launches into I’d Rather Be High, a swaying, hypnotic trip-hop anthem: “I dare you to seek until you find the power that sleeps in your spine,” she challenges. The instrumentation is simple, just Grey’s echoey, layered keys plus occasional guitar and drums from Sean Seybold.

Track three, Ears to Hear is a resolute protest anthem:

They got you wearing a mask
Got you wanting the past
Got you nervous to ask any questions
Got you looking at me
Like I’m your enemy
Got you turning your words to weapons

The synths get more fuzzy and the lyrics get more cynical in the album’s title track: “I wonder what you wanted to show me back when I gave a fuck,” she tells her antagonist. The fifth cut, a pulsing escape anthem, is titled Pray, Animal: it’s an intriguing mashup of vintage krautrock and Bjork with hints of psychedelic late Beatles.

The most minimalist anthem here is The Madness of the Saints, Grey shifting between suspenseful electric piano, rapturous pipe organ and rainy-day piano textures over Seybold’s tumbling drums. The final cut is Alternate Universe, a big, delicious kiss-off to a narcissist bandmate.

Grey has a couple of singles up at Bandcamp as well. Earthquake, featuring Dosyble Sane, is super catchy, goes back a couple years and also deals with treachery. And Smoke and Mirrors, from 2022, is her most mysterious, cinematic track so far.

And if you’re interested in how she defines evil – and how to get it out of your life – check out her appearance earlier this week on Mickey Z’s Post-Woke podcast.

An Unusual, Eclectic Songwriter Triplebill on the Lower East on April 2

Songwriters in the round usually suck. That’s because, almost inevitably, there’s a weak link: a show-swap quid pro quo, an attempt by an underappreciated tunesmith to kiss up to a mediocrity with a larger but equally mediocre fan base, that sort of thing. But there’s a rare first-class song-swap show coming up on April 2 at 7 PM at the downstairs room at the Rockwood, where fantastic story-songwriter Lara Ewen, the enigmatically tuneful Shira Goldberg and Nashville honkytonk/southern rock songstress Mercy Bell share the stage. Cover is $10.

Ewen earned a place on the abbreviated best-shows-of-2020 list here and for several years booked the American Folk Art Museum when they had regular weekly music. Back home, Bell fronts an excellent, purist band. But Goldberg is the most intriguing of the bunch. Back in 2011 she put out a jazz-tinged bedroom pop record, then eight years later released an excellent ep, Caught Up in a Dream, which is streaming at Bandcamp.

The centerpiece is the title track, a subtly soul-infused, gorgeously bittersweet, distantly haunting janglerock masterpiece. But the rest of the songs are strong as well. The opening number, Keeping It Together is a stark, imagistic acoustic narrative. “The lines have gone dark, giving up the core,,,you can count me out,” Goldberg relates. “You can drive without the lights if you take it slow.”

She adds lingering layers of tremolo guitar in It’s a Beautiful Night, an optimistic oldschool soul-tinged ballad. She returns to a catchy blend of vintage soul and New Pornographers-style backbeat rock spiced with wry Dr. Dre synth in the last track, Who Am I to Say. Let’s hope we hear more from this individualistic voice.

Transcendent Soul Songs From Thana Alexa, Nicole Zuraitis and Julia Adamy

When the 2020 lockdown was unleashed on New York, singers Thana Alexa and Nicole Zuraitis and bassist Julia Adamy didn’t let getting locked out of their professions stop them from making a soul album. Together, the three women call themselves Sonica: their debut release, streaming at Outside in Music, is a simmering and frequently powerful collaboration. With terse bass, colorful drums and immersive layers of electronic keys, the trio transcend what was obviously a harrowing year.

The opening number, Doyenne, is a catchy, minimalist trip-hop song with ethereally contrapuntal vocals and empowerment-themed samples from iconic feminist figures. Adamy’s catchy funk bassline propels track two, Where Ya Gonna Go, the two-woman frontline delivering an understatedly snarky soul anthem that speaks truth to power about one particularly odious lockdown divide-and-conquer scheme, with playful, extrovert drumming from Adamy’s husband Ross Pederson,

The best song on the album is Come a Long Way, Zuraitis’ spare, misty take on 90s Sade sonics, a poignant message from mother to daughter during soul-crushing lockdown isolation: “Please don’t give up the fight!” That’s her husband Dan Pugach behind the drumkit.

Adamy’s spare, understatedly gorgeous cover of Stevie Wonder’s Love’s In Need of Love Today reflects hope for transcending a different kind of divide-and-conquer during the Trump years. Change It, with Thana Alexa’s husband Antonio Sanchez on drums, is the most majestic track here, with lush, fiery multitracked vocals. They close the record by reinventing Danny Boy as an innovatively harmonized choral piece.

And shooting for hypnotically drifting rainy-day pop in a cover penned by a notoriously whiny indie rock beardo is a questionable move, but it sure beats the original. Zuraitis is at Smalls on March 29 at 7:30 with Pugach’s jazz nonet. And Thana Alexa is with Sanchez’s band at the Blue Note at 8 on April 3.

Pianist Laurie Bender and Sage Hana Release a Haunting Video Reflection on the Hope and Horror of 2023

Laurie Bender is the pianist that the legions of youtubers who post melancholy rainy-day solo clips can only dream of becoming. But Bender’s music is much more dynamic, and soulful, and spiritual. Based in Maryland, she plays solo as well as with choirs and singers. One suspects that she is used to playing for larger and more attentive crowds at her weekly church gig than most New York clubs can hold.

Give a listen to her quietly shattering, intuitive, and rapt but wounded solo performance of Michael W. Smith‘s guardedly hopeful ballad, Breathe. The way she picks it up on the second chorus will take your breath away if you listen closely.

As it turns out, she recorded it on her phone in a single take as the soundtrack for the latest harrowing, spot-on video pastiche by Sage Hana Productions. It’s a somber juxtaposition of freedom movement heroes in their element, alongside metaphorically loaded imagery. There’s Sucharit Bhakdi looking solemn and saturnine; a rare shot of Mike Yeadon in his garage working on his motorcycle; Mark Crispin Miller asserting, “In that case, we cannot…”  and a haunted, lustrously beautiful Celia Farber in a still from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s film The Real Anthony Fauci.

And notice the mysterious couple texting their friend upstairs from a snowy sidewalk on what could be Morgan Avenue in Bushwick.

Subtle Poignancy and Sophistication on Jazz Chanteuse Simone Kopmajer’s Latest Album

Singer Simone Kopmajer‘s latest album With Love – streaming at Spotify – is often lush, and symphonic, and sweepingly beautiful. Imbued with equal parts jazz and classic torch song, it’s akin to a vintage June Christy record with less of a mentholated cool and more breaks in the clouds. Kopmajer’s a little bit Jenifer Jackson, a little bit Paula Carino, another brilliantly nuanced singer from a completely different idiom.

Kopmajer, her band and string section waste no time in setting a mood, going full steam on the mist in the opening number, The Look of Love, rising from stark to lush over the spare piano accents from pianist John Di Martino and the tiptoe groove from bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Reinhardt Winkler. The orchestral sweep of violinists Sara Caswell and Tomoko Akaboshi, violist Benni von Gutzeit and cellist Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf elevate the song to new levels of expectant suspense, no disrespect to the Dionne Warwick original.

Kopmajer and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen float suavely over pianist John Di Martino’s spacious, sagacious chords in How Wonderful You Are. Next, they reinvent Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Until It´s Time For You to Go as a wistful nocturne for voice and restrained, gospel-tinged piano

I Can´t Make You Love Me is a subtle blend of trip-hop and jazz, with a low-key, soul-inspired sultriness. The first of the originals here, Opposites Attract, is a fond throwback to peak swing-era Ella Fitzgerald. The album’s piece de resistance is the alternately stark and lavish version of the BeeGees’ How Can You Mend a Broken Heart: Kopmajer’s restrained cadences unleash the song’s innermost angst.

Gottfried Gfrerer propels Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart with low-key acoustic and National steel guitar behind Kopmajer’s purist countrypolitan interpretation. Then she reaches toward Blossom Dearie territory as Allen wafts in and out in a low-key, swinging take of I´m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.

Stevie Wonder’s For Once in My Life gets reinvented as elegant chamber pop, with swelling, baroque-tinged violins. Kopmajer’s second original is Take It All In, with Di Martino on both organ and piano: it could be a more retro take on a Steely Dan ballad.

She duets with Sheila Jordan on a playful swing through Everything Happens to Me: the nonagenarian jazz legend is indomitable and has updated the song for the digital age! The take of the Aaron Neville hit Tell It Like It Is turns out to be an unexpectedly undulating jazz waltz with a dynamically shifting Allen solo at the center.

Kopmajer and Di Martino then turn in an intimate jazz ballad version of Nashville pop pioneer Cindy Walker’s You Don´t Know Me. There’s another song here, but its expiration date was up a long time ago. Kopmajer’s next gig is on March 10 at 8:30 PM at the Oval in Salzburg in her native Austria; cover is €32. And Allen is leading a trio with Andy Brown on guitar and Mike Karn on bass at Mezzrow on March 10-11, with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM; cover is $25 cash at the door.

Fun fact: Kopmajer says she has sold thirty thousand cd’s in Thailand. If she did that here, she’d have a #1 album.

Cupid’s Nemesis Bring Their Catchy Retro Guitar Pop Sounds to the Rockwood

By last summer, when a substantial number of venues began breaking free of lockdown restrictions, it quickly became obvious that there wasn’t much left of the New York rock scene. However, that brain drain has opened a window of opportunity for some of the remaining talent here, much of which probably would never been able to score a gig at a “name” venue like Rockwood Music Hall on a weekend night That’s where power trio Cupid’s Nemesis are playing on Jan 28 at 10 PM.

Their new ep, Sleepover – streaming at Bandcamp – is a competent take on Big Stir Records guitar pop. The three brief tracks include a cynical, scruffy Shirts-style new wave tune, a decent, bittersweet powerpop anthem and an early 60s-style proto-Merseybeat number that could be an early song by the Who.

Their debut album, which they released last year, has a lot more detail, stylistic breadth and guitar textures – and it’s up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The band – guitarist/frontman Erik Reyes, bassist Antony DiGiacomo and drummer Declan Moy Bishow – stake their claim to a catchy mid-sixties four-chord Britpop sound in the opening song, Time Traveling Man, with keening roller-rink organ and layers of acoustic and electric guitars.

All of My Friends is a punchier midtempo take on Jacco Gardner sunshine pop. Then the group make trip-hop out of a jazzy Burt Bacharach-inflected sound in Amores. The best song on the album is Best Friends With a Ghost, a similarly jazz-tinged miniature that clocks in at barely a minute twenty-five.

The band leap forward thirty years into gritty indie pop with I Don’t Care. Then they go back to the sixties, bringing back the organ and adding some flute in Scary World, a gently strutting psych-pop tune.

Reyes hits his chorus pedal and DiGiacomo plays fuzz bass up to an unexpectedly swirly spacerock chorus in Drop Out. The album’s slow, catchy, melancholy concluding ballad is simply titled Me. Considering the more raw, stripped-down sound of the ep, the band may be going in a more straightforward direction, something you can find out this Saturday night at prime time.

In Memoriam: David Crosby

David Crosby. who with his guitarist bandmate Roger McGuinn invented janglerock in their iconic 60s band the Byrds, died yesterday at 81.

Like the Beatles, the Byrds played Rickenbacker guitars, which have a distinctively ringing, high-midrange tone enhanced by a high-pitched harmonic resonance. The Byrds maximized that effect, with McGuinn playing a twelve-string model.

Unlike the Beatles, whose early songs were based on chords and riffs, McGuinn and Crosby pioneered the use of broken chords and a slower style of bluegrass-inspired flatpicking. The Byrds were unsurpassed at Dylan covers; the group’s enormous influence on generations of jangly rock bands, from Big Star, to the Church, to REM, cannot be overstated. Crosby’s high vocal harmonies and imaginative guitar work were central to the Byrds’ sound. Their hit I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better remains one of the foundational songs in the style: pretty much every rock guitarist knows it.

Crosby’s career after the Byrds was erratic. He was a founding member of 70s harmony-rock band Crosby Stills Nash & Young, whose frequently pompous, cloying, folky sound has not aged well.

Crosby’s long solo career afterward was spent mainly on the nostalgia circuit. Tragically, he was imprisoned for crack possession in the mid-80s when he really needed rehab. He would later require a liver transplant due to his heavy cocaine and heroin use.

The 2nd Smartest Guy in the World Substack asks if Crosby was murdered by the lethal Covid injection. Crosby claimed on social media to have taken the shot, but with so many celebrities buying fake vaxx cards, we will probably never know the answer. On one hand, the world’s most-published cardiac physician, Dr. Peter McCullough, asserts that until proven otherwise, we should always assume that the Covid shot is to blame if someone who has taken it dies suddenly. On the other hand, very few people survive into their eighties after a lifetime of heavy drug abuse and an organ transplant.