New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: pop music

George Usher and Lisa Burns Channel 50 Years of Gorgeously Erudite Rock Songcraft on Their New Album

Some artists get overlooked if they aren’t playing shows regularly, an unfair disadvantage to say the least. George Usher and Lisa Burns earned their cred playing all over New York beginning as far back as the 80s. There’s a harrowing backstory and a happy ending, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, behind their album The Last Day of Winter (streaming at Spotify).

Usher earned iconic status as a powerpop songwriter and bandleader with House of Usher, Beat Rodeo and other groups dating from the CBGB days (and wrote the title track of Laura Cantrell‘s classic 2000 debut album, Not the Tremblin’ Kind). Burns also enjoys an avid cult following as an innovative crafter and reinterpreter of classic soul, powerpop and occasionally psychedelic sounds. While making a successful recovery from cancer, Usher decided to reinvent himself as a lyricist since he was too debilitated to play, and Burns set those lyrics to music. The result is a pensive, often plantive, richly arranged blend of janglerock, powerpop, Americana and new wave, one of the best albums of 2015.

Happily, Usher’s back to playing his guitar, and also piano on this album. The opening track, Wake Me When Tomorrow’s Here has the soaring crescendos of the Church, Burns’ soulful, vibrato-heavy harmonies mingling with Usher’s understatedly triumphant vocals: he’s been through a lot. Burns widens that vibrato all the way in the vintage C&W-tinged ballad Depression Glass, a vividly downcast Flyover America tableau. More Than That I Cannot Say amps up the late 60s folk-rock that Burns does so well.

Lost in Translation has a slow, hazy sway that’s part Beatles, part pastoral Pink Floyd, spiced with Usher’s spiky, minimalist piano accents. The wrly shuffling My Precious Wisdom gives Usher a platform to stay at the keys and ripple through some ragtime. If It Ever Comes to Pass is the album’s best track, a snarling minor-key, darkly new wave-tinged gem fueled by Mark Sidgwick’s lead guitar. The guy/girl harmonies bring to mind legendary late 90s/early zeros New York band DollHouse.

Usher airs out an unexpectedly powerful upper register on another real gem, the brooding, metaphorically charged honkytonk ballad Dark Blue Room, lowlit by Jonathan Gregg’s high lonesome pedal steel. Then Usher returns to the 88s as Burns sings the angst-fueled Wasn’t Born to Belong: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Matt Keating catalog.

Drummer Wylie Wirth’s elegant brushwork pushes the gorgeous, ominously bittersweet Never Ever Land while Usher handles its big, restless acoustic guitar chords: “It’s a cloudy dream and a slow return when the fire has nowhere to burn,” Usher and Burns warn. Then they go back to channeling the Church in 80s folk-rock mode in the understatedly savage kiss-off anthem The World That Rested on Your Word. The album’s creepiest track is The Ferryman’s Name, evoking both the Fab Four and CSNY with its harmonies and surreallistic death imagery. The album winds up with its magnificently saturnine – and ultimately hopeful – title track, Jeff Hermanson’s horn sailing over Claudia Chopek’s stark string arrangement.

Musically speaking, this is arguably the strongest collection of tunes Burns has ever written, pretty impressive for someone who’s been at it as long as she has. Usher himself has been recording since the 60s, beginning as a pop prodigy in his native Cleveland. Fun factoid: as a kid, he was known to take credit – or at least not deny credit – for Gary Puckett’s hits, since they were credited to one G. Usher (the unrelated producer Gary Usher). But he’s a generation younger than McCartney and Jagger and the rest of the guys from that era. His voice may have weathered a smidge, but it’s still strong. Long may it resonate.

Singles for the End of August

You notice that today’s piece doesn’t say “the end of summer,” right? Uh uh. In the global warming era, summer goes on forever. To soothe the burn, here’s a self-directed playlist, about 40 minutes of music to lift your spirits in this depressingly hot week.

Guitarslinger Allen Devine plays a clinic in smart, tasteful noir-tinged Elvis Costello-ish new wave rock on his Berlin-based band the Inside Tracks‘ single Ordinary Girl. The flipside, Your Baby has a snarling, period-perfect, all-too-brief early 80s style guitar solo. That’s Matt Keating channeling Steve Nieve on Farfisa! Listen on Soundcloud

Son of Skooshny‘s two latest singles are both gems. Frontman/rhythm guitarist Mark Breyer may be revered in powerpop circles, but he should still be better known than he is. Check out Cloud Cover, a wistful, dreamily uneasy transcontinental flight scenario. And his latest release, Just a Test is even better, a backbeat stomp that’s one of the funniest songs Breyer’s ever written…and then it gets dark. Multi-instrumentalist/producer Steve Refling turns in some of his finest work as a one-man version of the Church. Listen on Bandcamp

Coney Island Russian rock band Newborn‘s Runaround is sort of Gogol Bordello meets roaring vintage 90s LES rock. Opening with that wicked bassline was smart – and you gotta love the visuals, the sight gag is priceless. Have a laugh via youtube.

Don’t let the primitive drum machine intro to Iva Dawn’s Officer scare you off – it turns out to be a solidly good Lynchian bossa-pop number, tasty reverb guitar paired against her smoky organ. Listen on Soundcloud

Chirpy-voiced oldschool soul songstress Rebecca Jordan‘s Remember When is creepy, torchy bossa noir worthy of Clairy Browne. Click the music player button at Jordan’s site and fast-forward to track 4.

Growling fuzztone bass and catchy, skittish garage guitar propel Bad Bad Hats’ Shame, a Minneapolis/Australia mashup. Watch it on youtube

And speaking of catchy and new wave-ish, Motobunny’s Thinkin’ Bout Me ought to be on the same youtube page.

Cleopatra Degher Plays One of This Summer’s Most Enjoyably Catchy Shows at the Rockwood

Acoustic songstress Cleopatra Degher played one of the year’s funniest and most quietly devastating songs at her show at the Rockwood last month. It was a catchy, cheery little tune titled Rebecca Wood. See, Rebecca sometimes wonders what it would be like to be alone. But as Degher told it, she never is. “She gets to know all her friends on Facebook through all the pictures that they took.” The crowd didn’t start to chuckle until after the second chorus, but by then Degher had made her point.

The San Diego-based songwriter spent much of her childhood in Sweden. She’s still relatively young (early 20s), a nimble and very eclectic guitarist, has a way with a catchy, anthemic tune and sings in a strong, determined mezzo-soprano, informed by all sorts of oldtimey folk and Appalachian music as well as more current sounds. Auspiciously, her set was mostly new material along with a few numbers from her most recent album Pacific (streaming at Bandcamp). She opened with I Saw the Sky, her fast fingers picking a flurry on the strings up to one of her signature anthemic choruses. She followed with Nothing to Worry About Now, a driving, sparkling mountain music-inspired number.

Her agile hammer-ons and dynamic shifts, up to doublespeed and back, propelled Burden of Tomorrow. Keep on Moving, inspired by the long winters she endured in Sweden, blended hints of a Grateful Dead classic into its optimistic crescendos, a springboard for Degher’s steely upper register. Nothing But a River was as stunningly and bittersweetly hopeful as it was anthemic, Degher reaching back for all the force she could muster on the chorus. It was almost as she was going to use sheer force of will to make sure this relationship would go somewhere instead of falling through right at the start.

By contrast, Shame had more of a shuffling oldtimey feel, but once again hit a towering peak on the chorus: Degher can deliver a lot more raw energy than most musicians who employ just guitar and vocals. She also did a stately waltz written by her dad, Darius Degher, as well as a high-voltage cover of Ring of Fire. She spends a lot of time on the road: let’s hope she makes it back to town sooner than later.

St. Bernadette Packs the House in Their NYC Debut at City Winery

The debut of chanteuse Angela McCluskey and pianist Paul Cantelon‘s sophisticated new dancefloor project St. Bernadette packed the house at City Winery last night. They treated the crowd to a mix of songs as eclectic as you would expect from the the brain trust of popular 90s folk-rockers the Wild Colonials. They’re sort of a hi-de-ho swing or noir cabaret take on Beats Antique: if they want to take this act on the road, they could make a killing. It was rather incongruous watching the crowd sitting still, more or less, while McCluskey swayed animatedly across the stage, trading grins and the occasional riff with her bandmates, including a nimble bassist, jazz trumpeter and polymath multi-instrumentalist Rachelle Garniez, who doubled on accordion and claviola. Behind them, loops and a drum track swirled and thudded, Cantelon sometimes enhancing the textures with his own multi-keys.

McCluskey explained that she’d gotten the inspiration for this group after having done a session fronting a sixteen-piece jazz orchestra for a piece for the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack. Not having the full orchestra available, she decided to take matters into her own hands and bring them with her, even if that meant having them in the can rather than actually onstage.

Cantelon’s lustrously rippling piano in tandem with muted trumpet set the stage for McCluskey’s balmy, roots reggae-inflected take of her catchily vamping hit You and Me. McCluskey is a woman of many, many voices, depending on the song or the emotional content she’s putting across, channeling a completely different persona – a brassy seductress with a hint of smoke in her delivery – on the torchy swing number after that.

They revisited the vamping anthemic quality of the opening number, then brought a moody, Ethiopiques-tinged sway to the slow swing number after that: McCluskey is a far more nuanced song stylist than Amy Winehouse, but there were echoes of that singer’s sad, smoky delivery all the same. From there the band made their way through wary bossa-pop, the bittersweetly lowlit, accordion-fueled noir swing of What About Us, more Cab Calloway-inflected material and eventually the dreamy, narcotized boudoir disco hit In the Air. Garniez turbocharged the songs’ pulse with her rhythmic claviola lines, finally getting a solo on accordion and made the most of it with a torrent of low-midrange chords and rivulets

Late in the set Cantelon and McCluskey reprised their cover of Wild Is the Wind from their performance earlier in the week at Pangea – but where the version they did there was a glistening river of sound, this was pure high lonesome angst, echoing a chilling sense of abandonment. But Cantelon lept into that nocturnal sparkle on the ballad that followed that. The group wound up the set with a suspensefully subdued cover of My Baby Just Cares for Me – a surprising number of people in the crowd knew it and sang along. Or maybe that shouldn’t be such a surprise: you’d think that people who like Nina Simone would also be drawn to McCluskey’s work. She, Cantelon and Garniez continue their weekly Monday 10 PM residency at the third stage at the Rockwood; cover is $10 plus a $10 drink minimum.

Rachelle Garniez Stuns and Seduces the Crowd at Pangea

Many cognoscenti in the New York music scene consider Rachelle Garniez the best songwriter in town, and some would argue that she she might simply be the best songwriter anywhere. A couple of nights ago at Pangea she bolstered that argument, playing to a rapt and wildly appreciative hometown crowd in a duo show with bassist Tim Luntzel. Despite having to sit because he was in a walking cast, he supplied terse, elegantly elastic lines to anchor Garniez’s acerbic, erudite, occasionally feral playing as she alternated between acoustic guitar, accordion and piano.

As a performer, Garniez is devastatingly funny, although her songs often pack a wallop that comes from the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. One of her favorite tropes is to introduce them via slow, contemplative, frequently psychedelic intros that give her a launching pad for deviousy surrealist, deadpan humor that seems completely fresh and off-the-cuff but is actually more thoroughly composed than anyone realizes. What varies from show to show is the punchlines: it’s impossible to think of anyone who has as much fun flying without a net as Garniez.

And there’s always something relevant lurking behind the jokes. What seemed like it would be blissed-out musings on deep-forest beauty turned in a split second into caustic commentary on global warming…which then introduced a sly, vamping, bluesy stripper theme. That one she played on accordion, accenting the song with some unexpected horror on the low end and then a coyly sinister flatline motif at the very end. Likewise, she painted a dreamy early morning riverside scenario and then flipped the script, tying it into the perils of gentrification. That led into the metaphorically slashing if gently waltzing Tourmaline, the semi-precious gem in the title a metaphor for all things not quite perfect, or accepted, embellished with Garniez’s usual umpteem levels of meaning. As Garniez tells it, anyone who might dis you for having something in common with that stone “Is only just snow on your screen.”

Playing piano, she made the connection between Facebook and crack cocaine (Garniez is equally disdainful of both) in the gospel-tinged God’s Little Acre, an unrepentant kiss-off from a former party animal who’s been tracked down (or stalked) by a fling from a past decade. And in a bouncy, blackly amusing new one, just bass and vocals, she explained that at her funeral, she doesn’t want any ordinary Cadillac hearse: she wants an El Camino instead. How many other songwriters would identify a funeral flower car by its make and model, never mind using that image as a metaphor?

Beyond an irresistibly funny, sarcastically operatic shout-out to Jean-Claude Van Damme and his  endorsements for antidepressants, the best song of the night was a starkly baroque-tinged new guitar song inspired by her European tourmate Kyrie Kristmanson. Yet again, Garniez filled in the details of what would seemingly turn out to be a comfortable, sympathetic portrait of an old lady and her tchotchkes…but revealed the source of the money funding all the decor as “The bludgeon and blade.”

And she is New York to the core. Feeding off the crowd’s energy, she wound up the set with People Like You, which opens as an uneasiy and ambiguous Far Rockaway reminiscence, then takes on a blithe, boppy Rickie Lee Jones bounce before Garniez drops the artifice and bares her fangs, in a withering sendup of gentrifier status-grubbing:

It’s people like you who don’t know pride from shame
It’s people like you who always stay one step ahead of the game
It’s people like you who never place a face before a name

Then she quoted from Taylor Swift and brought down the house.

Garniez is just as fearless when it comes to having special guests: other vocalists might be intimidated by sharing the stage with singer Carol Lipnik and her otherworldly, soaring four-octave range, but not her. Lipnik and pianist Matt Kanelos delivered plenty of thrills with a spellbinding, melismatic take of Oh, the Tyranny, a hauntingly awestruck track from their new album Almost Back to Normal. A little later, torchy chanteuse Angela McCluskey provided some plaintive intensity of her own in a Billie Holiday-inspired diptych, pianist Paul Cantelon providing brilliant, Debussy-esque ripples and lustre.

Garniez has a long-awaited new album due out on November 13; her next gig is at Barbes on Sept 3 at 8 PM. Lipnik continues her weekly Thursday 7 PM residency at Pangea this month. And McCluskey and Cantelon debut their new dancefloor groove band, Saint Bernadette – with Garniez on accordion – tonight, August 26 at City Winery at 7.

Cricket Tell the Weather Bring Their Imaginative, Original Bluegrass-Inspired Sounds to the Tri-State Area

If you’re up for a fancy, sit-down night of newgrass and bluegrass, Cricket Tell the Weather are playing the third stage at the Rockwood at 8:30 PM on August 14. Cover is $10 and there’s that $10 drink minimum too. Much as it might seem incongruous not to be up on your feet dancing to this high-energy, original band, if you’re into hot picking, watching their fast fingers fly in this intimate space gives you a chance to figure out how they do it.

Their album – with production help from Lake Street Dive‘s fantastic bass player, Bridget Kearney – is streaming at Bandcamp. The opening track, Remington, looks back to hard times in firearms manufacturing in late 19th century Connecticut, singer Andrea Asprelli’s astringent fiddle sailing over the intricate web of Doug Goldstein’s banjo, Jason Borisoff’s guitar, Hans Bilger’s bass and Dan Tressler’s mandolin. Embers kicks off with an insistent guitar intro over an ominous bass drone: it’s a stark elegy for Borisoff’s mom, “Embers from afar, where the stars used to be,” as he broodingly asserts.

With its fire-and-brimstone imagery, four-part harmonies and banjo drive, Who’s that Knockin’ at My Door? is a swinging, retro Bill Monroe-style number. Likewise, the band-on-the-road tale Call You Home, sung by Asprelli, has jaunty solos around the horn. They bring the lights down for a glimmering, slow fingerpicked ballad, Let It Pass, looking back to 70s British hippie folk but without the cliches.

Rocky Mountain Skies is a triumphantly soaring salute to Asprelli’s native Colorado – her down-to-earth, unaffected vocal delivery is refreshing, and both Jeff Picker’s bass solo and Goldstein’s banjo solo will give you chills. So Fast So Long is a brisk, pouncing, catchy Britrock-tinged shuffle disguised as newgrass.”This town’s got eyes as wide as the Brooklyn Bridge,” Asprelli intones on the similarly edgy No Big City, with its blend of newgrass and darkly rustic Appalachian flavor. The album’s last song, Salt and Bones, has an unexpectedly funky rhythm and a pensive ambience that brings to mind Jenny Scheinman‘s adventures in Americana songcraft.

Since recording this, there’ve been some changes in the band, Jeff Picker taking over on guitar and Sam Weber replacing Bilger on bass. For Long Island and New Jersey bluegrass fans – or for anybody who might be up for a summer daytrip – the band are at the Long Island Bluegrass Festival at Tanner Park in Copiague the following day, August 15 and then at Parker Press Park, 401 Rahway Ave. in Woodbridge, New Jersey at 6 PM on the 16th.

Robin Aigner Brings Her Bittersweet, Richly Lyrical, Picturesque Americana to Barbes

Robin Aigner is one of the most darkly entertaning performers in New York. Long sought after as both a frontwoman and harmony singer – her time in chamber pop luminaries Pinataland ought to be at leat semi-legendary – she’s just as strong a songwriter. Her music draws equal on 19th century folk, Prohibition-era swing and oldtime hillbilly songs, with the occasional detour into Balkan sounds. And she can be hilarious: her lyrics are all about subtext, and double entendres, and history. She’s written about molasses floods in WWI-era Boston, inept Williamsburg buskers and imagined romances between such improbable figures as Irving Berlin and the first woman to come in through Ellis Island (she was Irish). And Aigner is an unreconstructed romantic – her characters get all bumped and bruised no matter what century they’re in, but they don’t quit. She and her charming chamber pop band Parlour Game are playing Barbes on August 8 at 8 PM, followed at 10 by Banda de los Muertos, a supergroup of NYC jazz types playing rousingly anthemic Sinaloa-style Mexican ranchera music for brass band.

Aigner is also an impresario: her previous gig was a mind-bogglingly eclectic, surprising, sometimes downright haunting night of Tom Waits covers at Freddy’s, featuring a diverse cast of characters including but hardly limited to Mamie Minch, Serena Jost, Pierre de Gaillande, Brooke Watkins, Dave Benjoya, Andrew Sovine and numerous others. She also put together the show before that, a magical night at the Jalopy with folk noir songwriter Erica Smith, rockabilly and retro guitar maven Monica Passin a.k.a. L’il Mo and devious accordion-and-violin duo the Wisterians. “Every month is World Wine Month,” Aigner announced to the audience at the Jalopy gig, and while she didn’t indulge in more than a couple of glasses during her set, that comment set the tone. Playing solo on guitar, she opened with Delores from Florence, an allusive yet minutely detailed tale of transcontinental love gone wrong set to a soaringly cantering, flamenco-tinged waltz.

After that, she did See You Around, a broodingly pulsing, wryly wistful number told from the point of view of a woman struggling to get past being smitten by a guy who clearly has no use for her in daylight. Pearl Polly Adler – an innuendo-packed shout-out to the legendary FDR-era bordello owner – looked back to early 20th century pop, when 90% of the stuff coming out of New York had a tasty, bracing klezmer tinge. For that matter, so did Kiss Him When He’s Down, a jaunty endorsement for giving a roofie to your significant other – or insignificant other – in order to get what you want.

Switching to uke, Aigner drew plenty of laughs with Crazy, a hilariously detailed litany of the kind of weirdos a woman can date if she sees fit. She went for darker ambience with the plaintive, alienated war survivor’s tale El Paraiso, then picked things up again with the jaunty Irving and Annie – Annie thinks Irving can play sonatas (he can’t) and later on in the song, she references Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island), which used to serve as a quasi-quarantine and was the site of one of New York’s first hospitals. After another moody, low-key number, Aigner teamed with Watkins on accordion to wind up her set with Greener, a soaringly anxious, bitter post-party alienation anthem that works on innumerable levels. If we’re lucky, she’ll play some and maybe all of these songs at Barbes.

Snarky Fun and Some Poignancy with Joey Arias and Paul Capsis at Joe’s Pub

Joey Arias seemed to be having the time of his life Sunday night at the end of last month at his sold-out show at Joe’s Pub, a twinbill with Australian singer/personality Paul Capsis. Arias’ firebrand lead guitarist and musical director Viva DeConcini was also having a ball, especially with her effects pedals, shifting deviously from one layer of whoosh and wail to another over the steady drums of Ray Rizzo, Mary Feaster’s melodic bass and Mara Rosenbloom’s characteristically judicious, elegant piano lines. Titled Rock & Roll Fantasy, the show was something of a departure for Arias, who’s best known as a jazz stylist, one of the few men alive who can channel Billie Holiday. “I feel like I’m at CBGB’s!” he grinned, with the authority of somebody who goes back that far and actually went to the place during its heyday. Maybe with Klaus Nomi, whom he worked with, and told a lascivious anecdote about, a naked and aroused Jean-Michel Basquiat walking out of Nomi’s bathroom in that one.

Considering how funny Arias’ act is, would it be unfair to give away the jokes? In this case, probably not – he most likely won’t be using any of these in the near future, anyway. He and the band opened with Purple Haze, Arias winding it up by vocalizing the backward-masked effects on the album, then harmonizing way, way up in his falsetto against the feedback echoing from DeConcini’s amp. The only thing he missed was the chance to wail, “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy!”

A little later, he brought some Nomi-esque drama to Cream’s The White Room, evoking a hallucinatory, alien character, maybe locked away in a padded cell. Otherwise, Arias got plenty of laughs for what he didn’t do. When he reached the big crescendo on the chorus of Bowie’s Life of Mars, he didn’t budge from his midrange. Likewise, as the show wound out, he mumbled his way through Robert Plant’s faux-orgasmic vocalese on a couple of Led Zep radio hits as DeConcini wowed the audience with her flashy flights and string-wrenching bends. And in a departure from all the campy hijinks and theatrics, he brought an unexpected somberness and plaintiveness to the show with a lone Lady Day cover. As one audience member pondered during a recent Arias appearance at Pangea, how would his act go over in a mainstream jazz club? Would the black eyeliner, and the bling, and the garters distract from how otherwise unselfconsciously affecting, and distinctive, and purist a jazz singer Arias is?

Where Arias was making a stylistic depsrtuere, Capsis is all about the rock. Decked out as Amy Winehouse, he did a spot-on impersonation both vocally and jokewise, at one point practically drooling over someone’s food. His take on Janis Joplin was just as evocative, all frenetic and panting and breathless. Later on, after a change into a gold lame Elvis suit, he made the missing connection between the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams Are Made of These and the Doors’ People Are Strange. And the best song of the night might have been a chillingly expansive take of Patti Smith’s Pissing in a River: it was as if the ghost of Richard Sohl was wafting from the piano on that one. Arias is at Pangea (Second Ave between 11th and 12th Sts)  tonight, August 3 at 7:30 PM, back to doing his drag jazz chanteuse thing; cover is $25 and since it’s a small place, early arrival is a good idea.

Eleni Mandell Brings Her Hauntingly Wistful New Album to the Mercury

More elusive than Neko Case but just as revered in noir music circles, Eleni Mandell has enchanted listeners with her distant, memtholated allure and songs that bridge the gap between countrypolitan, torchy saloon blues and jazz since right around the turn of the century. If you were in New York back then, there wasn’t a single cool bar in town, from Max Fish, to O’Connor’s, to Hank’s Saloon, that didn’t have Mandell’s cd’s on the jukebox (remember those things?). Roughly fifteen years later, Mandell’s still putting her individualistic spin on retro sounds from the 50s and 60s. Her latest album, Dark Lights Up – streaming at Spotify – might be her best ever. Overall, Mandell tends to mutes the chill in favor of wary warmth – it’s a record for guardedly optimistic survivors. She’s currently touring it with a New York stop tonight, August 2 at around 8 PM at the Mercury. Cover is $10 and considering how devoted her following is, you might want to get there early.

The band on the album is fantastic. Mandell’s not-so-secret weapon is pianist Nate Walcott, with his glimmering blend of ragtime, slip-key C&W and jazz – to top it off, he also adds jaunty trumpet and flugelhorn. Jake Blanton plays lead acoustic guitar over the tasteful, subtle rhythm section of bassist Ryan Feves and drummer Mike Green. The first song, I’m Old Fashioned, sets the stage, both amusing and in its own unselfconscious way, pretty chilling. See, Mandell is oldschool: she likes to go into the bank and say hit to the teller, writes thank-you notes with pen and paper, reads the newspaper and picks the phone off the receiver when she takes a call. Has the world really changed so much since she released her cult classic debut album, Wishbone, in 1999? Yup.

What Love Can Do, the title track of sorts, has Walcott working gorgeously nocturnal, twinkling lines underneath Mandell’s bittersweet tale of longing and occasional redemption. She raises the angst level on the sad waltz Someone to Love – just think, maybe even Eleni Mandell might have stood in the back of the room some lonely night, hoping that someone would notice her. By contrast, the coolly blithe Cold Snap  puts a bouncy spin on rejection and disappointment, a classic dichotomy in Mandell’s work. It also doesn’t exactly paint her native Los Angeles as a mecca for single people.

The gorgeously simmering China Garden Buffet is a musical Edward Hopper tableau, an uneasily balmy, improbable portrait of an unlikely liaison. Town Called Heartache, with its allusively tricky metrics and clever wordplay, wouldn’t be out of place in the Paula Carino songbook. Old Lady sets elegant Rachelle Garniez-esque wistfulness to a bouncy Beatlesque tune: “I’ll clean up your grandkids and sleep in the back room,” Mandell muses.

Magic Pair of Shoes looks back to pensively late 50s/early 60s Patsy Cline/Owen Bradley countrypolitan balladry. If You Wanna Get Kissed is a coyly hilarious, low-key take on classic honkytonk; likewise, the strolling Baby Don’t Call works a lowlit piano boogie groove. Butter Blonde and Chocolate Brown offers a charming portrait of Mandell’s gradeschool-age daughter and son, artfully casting them as adults. The album’s final cut, Do It Again – an original, not the Steely Dan classic – is its most optimistic. After a grand total of ten albums, this might well be Mandell’s best. You’ll see this one on the best albums of 2015 page here in a few months if we’re all still here.

The Dan Band Celebrate the Release of Their Sick New Album at Joe’s Pub

The Dan Band are best known for their assaultively fun live shows. Frontman Dan Finnerty kickstarted his career as a Hollywood actor as the foul-mouthed wedding singer in the film Old School, and has managed to take that shtick on tour for the better part of the past few years. What’s even more surprising is how much of a clamor there’s been for the Dan Band to play their smutty top 40 covers and parodies at actual weddings. To satisfy that demand, the band decided to put out their Wedding Album. For those who want a taste of Finnerty’s legendary stage antics, they’re playing the album release show at Joe’s Pub at 9:30 PM on July 11; cover is $22. Caveat: you might think twice before you sit close to the stage.

Finnerty’s no dummy. In an age where what was considered the mainstream imploded years ago, he sticks to some of the easiest targets from the past forty years, most of them from many years ago. Which makes sense: the people who grew up on radio and actually know these songs are getting old. And assuming that there is a crowd who know their cheeseball arcana, Finnerty chooses to open the album with an Air Supply number, duetting with Nicole Scherzinger. Who the hell is Nicole Scherzinger, you ask? Turns out that she’s a bit-part actress best known for her role in a liposuctioned-and-siliconed lipsync troupe, the Pussycat Dolls, about ten years ago. The song? Remarkably true to the original save for a few judiciously placed f-bombs.

One of Finnerty’s signature shticks is drunken fratboy ebonics, and he brings those front and center on a pair of schlocky old 90s “R&B” hits as well as one of 50 Cent’s more crass numbers. The joke with a couple of Beyonce songs is that Finnerty completely whitewashes them. One he does as hair-metal, revealing it for the crass, corporate caucasian commercial jingle it is. He and his competent if purposefully generic band do the other as singsongey Fall Out Boy emo-pop, a caustically spot-on illustration of how cynically corporate songwriters-for-hire construct their ditties.

The funniest numbers here are all Finnerty originals. Do It 2Night is a predictable mashup of familiar 80s new wave-tinged funk cliches, right down to the the tinny production, cheap synths and obligatory lame hip-hop bridge – which is where it gets LMAO. Three Way, a faux-sensitive Damien Rice-style ballad written with a guy from one of the kind of top 40 bands that Finnerty harshes on at his harshest, is even better, and politically incorrect to the extreme.

I Can’t Believe I Love You features Train, who in case you weren’t in gradeschool in the 90s, you probably missed; like Do It 2Night, it gets funny when you least expect it. Making Love Forever is a droll hair-metal duet with comedienne Bridget Everett,  who makes an especially good choice as a partner since her voice is so similar to Finnerty’s, and it’s hard to tell who’s singing what. The album ends with a synthy version of a strong contender for the worst song ever written – at least until the Disney autotune era – Total Eclipse of the Heart. If you’re actually thinking of using this at a wedding, spin it early before everybody’s completely in the bag and oblivious to Finnerty’s surprisingly subtle and acerbic satire. It wouldn’t be fair to spoil all the jokes here, but if you’re paying attention, most of these songs are about breaking up: just the thing you want to celebrate a marriage with, right? Taken on its own twisted merits, this album ranks with Weird Al Yankovic – and Meatloaf.

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