New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: pop music

Two Red Mollies Play Their Own Individualistic Americana at Pete’s

There’s going to be a rare Red Molly reunion of sorts this Nov 14 at 8:30 PM at Pete’s Candy Store when brilliantly incisive dobro player Abbie Gardner – who has a Tuesday night residency there this month – opens a twinbill with her old Red Molly bandmate, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Carolann Solebello.

Obviously, Red Molly have been back in action for awhile, with Molly Venter in Solebello’s place. The Pete’s show is a chance to hear two longtime friends and distinctive Americana artists in an intimate setting, doing their own material and very possibly working up new stuff.

The last time this blog caught up with Solebello, she was playing a fantastic twinbill at the American Folk Art Museum on a Friday night last spring with brooding New England gothic songsmith Nathaniel Bellows. With the first soaring notes of the bittersweet, opening country ballad, Brooklyn in the Rain, her strong, clear, insistent vocals were a potent reminder why she’d gotten the Red Molly gig to begin with. That, and her purist, similarly eclectic guitar chops. The fluidity of Solebello’s fretwork, whether with her chords or fingerpicking, should be the rule rather than the exception, but in what’s left of the singer-songwriter demimonde, it seldom is.

She told a funny story about her experiences as a struggling Brooklyn-born-and-raised songwriter dating an Upper West Side yuppie with season tickets to the opera, and then followed with a bouncy, pouncing, defiant, bluegrass-tinged post-breakup narrative. Like many of her songs, it was equal parts urban and bucolic, traditional and in the here and now: clearly, the dude was a fish out of water in her Lower East Side Americana scene.

That defiant quality is a consistent trait: she doesn’t feel at home in the role of victim. She added a gentle touch of vintage Judy Collins-style vibrato to a swaying, pensively catchy number after that, then brought the lights down for a fond reminiscence of her grandmother. The rest of her tantalizingly brief set was much the same, acerbic major/minor chord changes and often surprising dynamic shifts in support of vivid narratives that transcend the usual lovelorn coffeehouse girl stereotype. There will no doubt be plenty of those at the Pete’s show, times two, and maybe a duet or two.

And the ongoing Friday night series at the Folk Art Museum continues on Nov 17 at 5:30 PM with low-key, plainspoken, populist folk-pop songwriter Jeremy Aaron.

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Little Coyote Bring Their Relentless Angst to Bushwick

The alienation and sadness are relentless through Toronto band Little Coyote’s debut album The Trouble With Teeth, streaming at Bandcamp. Frontwoman/keyboardist Teagan Johnson blends brooding, neoromantic piano with Mike Poisson’s lushly elegant synthesized orchestration, yet with remarkable restraint: there’s more 21st century minimalism than there is Chopin or Tschaikovsky in her emphatic anthems. Little Coyote are headlining an excellent triplebill this Friday night, Nov 10 at Bushwick Public House at around 10 PM; trippy electro/downtempo chanteuse Pearla opens the night at 8, followed by excellent, catchy rainy day psych-pop band Minor Poet at 9. Cover is 5.

“I’ll figure it out,” Johnson intones uneasily as the album’s first full-length cut, The Bottom, winds up – but at that point her voice breaks. All the bluster that led up to it, bassist Aretha Tillotson’s lines rising like waves amidst a hurricane over the insistent drums, can’t lift Johnson out of the gloom that persists throughout this album.

“All my old friends say they can’t breathe,” she laments as the icepick piano chords of Medicine kick in. “Setting off atom bombs in the desert, said there’s nothing wrong wiith forever,” she broods as the alienated rainy-day ballad Daylighit Twilight begins its relentless sway. “Black water, black water swallow me whole/Oh daugher, oh daugher, when will you control the darkness?” she asks.

Teeth Rot is Cure-influenced without being a total ripoff: it’s the poppiest track here (and could do double duty as a commercial for small-batch toothpaste). Annie’s Dead rises from a plaintive, elegiac intro to a roaring blend of noir cabaret and stadium rock: “I’m just a memory, too easily replaced,” Johnson muses.

Byron Patterson’s icy tremolo-picked guitar mingles with stately piano in Lucy Get Blue, while the pounding, turbulent swirl of Electric mashes up two generations of goth: 17 Seconds-era Cure and Amanda Palmer. With its torrents of water imagery, Handshake Tragedy is the album’s most hypnotic track.

“We’ll make it out alive,” Johnson asserts in the bouncy Delirium, but again, she sounds far from certain. It’s clear that it’s going to take more than a relationship to pull this woman up from the bottom of the well: “My heart breaks easy and my bones do too.” The album winds up with the title track, which hints at ragtime but never goes there. Fans of the Mynabirds and Holly Miranda – and all the girls who’ve outgrown that New Zealand goth chick who was all the rage a couple of years ago -ß ought to check this band out. Dig out that black eyeliner and jump on the L this Friday night. 

Dawn Oberg’s Nothing Rhymes With Orange: 2017’s Funniest Political Album

What’s more Halloweenish than Putin’s little bitch in the Oval Office? That’s what Dawn Oberg calls him in the scathingly hilarious, Beatlesque parlor-pop title track of her new ep, Nothing Rhymes with Orange. It’s streaming at Bandcamp, and she’s making a relatively rare New York appearance at 2:45 PM at Matchless in Williamsburg on Nov 12. Similarly lyrical, unpredictable, wickedly catchy keyboard-fueled art-rockers Changing Modes eventually follow later in the evening at 5:45; cover is $10.

Oberg is unsurpasssed at sardonically funny, insightful tunesmithing. With her sharp wit, erudite gospel-inspired piano chops and quirky vocals, she’s been pursuing her distinctive, literary parlor pop and artsy rock since the early zeros. She never met a good pun she could resist, and slings one of those after another at the failed casino magnate whose unlikely ascendancy to the one public office he’ll ever hold left the world in a state of shock and horror last November. Until the slow wheels of impeachment reach their inevitable destination, we have this record to soothe the burn.

Oberg’s band here includes Roger Rocha on guitar, Shawn Miller on bass, Erik Ian Walker on organ and Andrew Laubacher on drums. They shuflfle along with with Oberg’s tumbling piano and torrents of lyrics in Information Is Your Friend, a snide response to the deluge of fake news being sent out by the “tweeting twat” in the White House:

Someone smart said a long time ago, the truth will set you free
And it sucks I even have to say it, that I have to sing and play it…

That disillusion is echoed in I’d Love to Be Wrong, which alludes to Oberg’s classic breakup-as-earthquake anthem End of the Continent:

I see four guys on horses
The sky growing dark,
I can hear the rattle of chains
They ain’t coming to help us
Their hostages already slain

Oberg is no stranger to political satire, or irresistible jokes – her 2008 album is titled Horticulture Wars – but this is the funniest thing she’s ever done. And it’s reason to look forward to what she has to say when hubris catches up with that tweeting twat. Let’s just hope he doesn’t start a real war when he finally figures out that he bit off way too much more than he could chew.

Dark, Brooding, Catchy Powerpop and New Wave From Lauren Hoffman & the Secret Storm

Today’s Halloween album, streaming at Bandcamp, is The Family Ghost, by Lauren Hoffman & the Secret Storm. As with yesterday’s album, it’s anything but cartoonish: the unease is pretty relentless, and when there’s menace, it’s typically implied. The music is on the dark side, blending artsy parlor pop, powerpop, and new wave – and it’s catchy as hell. Hoffman’s clear, uncluttered voice is a powerful vehicle for these mostly sad songs.

The opening track sways along on a trip-hop groove, Hoffman’s elegantly restrained vocals evoking Changing Modes’ Wendy Griffiths over Tony Lechmanski’s lingering, Lynchian guitar clang. And then the song hits a blazing crescendo. It’s about being hunted, and escaping that: it’s not clear who the girl and her little brother are running from. In a city where the subways and buses are on track to become part of a surveillance-based system by 2023, songs like this really resonate.

Feel It All Over is a catchy minor-key new wave powerpop hit bolstered by Ethan Lipscomb’s piano and Cathy Monnes’ one-woman string section, Hoffman’s protagonist determined to live at full throttle until the curtain falls. A Britfolk-tinged waltz amped up with burning guitars, Let the Waves Crash on Me is a love song to a would-be escapee: I’ve got your back, I’ll hold your guns while you make a break for it, Hoffman insists.

Sick With Love is every bit as plainspoken and morose as the title indicates, Hoffman pondering what who’ll miss the random strangers in the street when they’re dead. Over an anthemic four-chord powerpop hook, In the Sun broodingly contemplates the hope for something genuinely transcendent. “I’m not that strong, but I’m strong enough to suffer if that’s the price I have to pay,” she laments.

She goes back to mid 80s style Go-Go’s powerpop with I Just Broke up With a Guy Who Looks Kinda Like You, whose title doesn’t come close to hinting at where the muted, somber vocals and narrative are going. The snarling, Middle Eastern-tinged title track is both the album’s musical high point…and its lyrically weakest track. OK, seduce the dude, whatev. And skip the next track – even some tasty, fluttery cello can’t redeem that one.

With its blend of enigmatic guitar, swooping cello and incisive keys, the album’s most ornate, witchiest number is The Dragon: “You’re a tease and a flirt,” Hoffman tells the monster. The album closes with the sad waltz Til it Lasts: “I won’t be so brave next time,” Hoffman tells herself, “You die for their love, or die of it.” Nothing more Halloweenish than that.

Dori Freeman Brings Her Eclectic, Tasteful Americana to the Lower East Side

The big news about Dori Freeman’s second album, Letters Never Read – streaming at NPR – is that Richard Thompson plays on it. The song where he makes a cameo bristling with his signature, shivery, incisive Strat lines, is actually pretty slight, if tastefully assembled by Thompson’s son Teddy.

Much as it takes nerve to ask Richard Thompson to play on your album, it takes even more to cover the iconic Richard & Linda Thompson anthem I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. OK, it’s not the original, but Freeman’s version does it justice, with some clever psychedelic touches. The rest of the album is more trad, and mines the same diverse Americana styles she explored in her debut album last year. And for what it’s worth, it’s somewhat less gloomy.. She’s playing the big room at the Rockwood this Thursday, Oct 19 at 8:15 PM; cover is $12.

Freeman gets a lot of props for her voice, and she’s earned that: it wouldn’t be overhype to compare her subtle, curlicuing blue notes in the second track, Just Say It Now, to Laura Cantrell. The pulsing country soul of Lovers on the Run brings to mind early 70s Melba Montgomery – Freeman gives it a more wintry delivery over Nick Falk’s almost martial drumbeat and Roy Williams’ steady piano chords:

I’ve looked into another’s eyes
When all the world was still
And just as I began to fall
They went in for the kill

From there Freeman mixes it up. With Alex Hargreaves and Duncan Wickel on austere fiddles, Cold Waves has a hazy, slowly vamping 70s Britfolk ambience, perhaps due to the Thompsons’ presence here. Freeman sings the bouncy Roger Miller-ish bluegrass tune Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog a-cappella; Falk switches to banjo for the similarly retro, trickily syncopated take of the country gospel tune Over There.

Is that tubular bells, or one of those portable organs that Thompson likes to use, on the spare singalong Turtle Dove? Both, maybe? Likewise, the kiss-off anthem That’s All Right has a similar, muted nocturnal atmosphere, blending Jon Graboff’s spare steel guitar with piano and layers of guitar. It’s not clear who’s playing what: Neal Casal and Kacy & Clayton also contribute to the album. It winds up with a wry vocal-and-drums cover of Jim Reeves’ Yonder Comes a Sucker. If you go for eclectic Americana tunesmithing, purist playing, an unselfconsciously nuanced voice and lyrics that jump out and bite you when least expected, Dori Freeman is for you.

Ella Atlas’ Debut Album Builds Hauntingly Cinematic Twin Peaks Ambience

Stephen Masucci is best known for his film music and for his lead guitar in one of the most haunting, Lynchian New York bands ever, the Lost Patrol. Since that group ground to a halt a couple of years ago, he’s been busy with a new, similarly dark, cinematic project, Ella Atlas, with compellingly enigmatic, eclectic singer/multi-instrumentalist Tarrah Maria. The duo’s deliciously reverb-drenched new album The Road to Now is streaming at Bandcamp.

It opens with the catchy, distantly shimmering When the Gods Are Fading, swirly late 70s ELO through a surreal new wave prism peppered with references to wars and death. Masucci’s icy clang fuels the slowly swaying Red Kingdom, Tarrah Maria’s vocals lush with a similarly chilly allure.

Likewise, Hotel You begins with blue velvet tremolo guitar chords but quickly hits a brisk new wave take on a roadhouse rock groove, Tarrah Maria’s voice taking on a hint of a country twang in a luridly aphoristic tale of conflagration and escape. The slower. even more plush Waking Up has a spacerock sweep, the frontwoman’s voice bringing to mind Karla Rose at her most subtly torchy and dynamic.

Meteor shower atmospherics build to a propulsive chorus in Horses on the Run. Breaking Ice comes across as a noir surf-influenced take on the kind of angst-fueled retro new wave the New Collisions mined so memorably around the turn of the past decade.

Something to Be Desired is part hearbroken Nashville gothic pop, part Cocteau Twins, Tarrah Maria turning in her most ominously pillowy vocals here. The duo make an enveloping anthem out of an On Broadway vamp in Blindful & Bliss, then build strutting, turbulent, red-neon ambience in Can’t Go Back.

“I know that this will end, but I’m addicted to the view,” Tarrah Maria intones in Leave Me in Blue, the most darkly lingering, epically sweeping track here. The album winds up with Skin & Bones, rising out and then back to spare, rainy-day melancholy. As with the Lost Patrol, a persistent unease and distant sense of dread pervades these nocturnes: they’re songs for our time. Arguably the best debut album of 2017 so far.

Ladama Keep the Heat Simmering at Last Weekend’s Hot Pepper Festival in Brooklyn

Last weekend at the annual chile pepper festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, high-energy pan-latin band Ladama were charged with the thankless task of following Red Baraat , whose  brass-fueled bhangra vindaloo opened the festivities. That Ladama could hold their own, and hold the crowd gathered out of the sun and away from the long lines of chile heads in line waiting for a fix, attests to how refreshingly unpredictable and fun this group is.

Frontwoman/guitarist Sara Lucas gave that away during soundcheck. “Baile la cumbia,” she grinned, and although it wasn’t until later in their set that they hit a slinky cumbia groove, the party started pretty much right from the first bouncy beats of their opening tropical acoustic pop number. The mostly-female band’s not-so-secret weapon is Mafer Bandola, whose axe is the spiky Venezuelan bandola llanera. Throughout the show, she played with flash and fire and a purposeful focus: fast as her fingers are, she doesn’t waste notes. And she varied her textures, sometimes with a bachata-like ring, other times flicking her way through with a staccato attack, as if she was playing a mandolin. When she finally would cut loose with a furious flurry of tremolo-picking, or a slide up or down the scale, the effect was breathtaking.

The women in the band have contrasting voices that blend intriguingly. Lucas has a bright, soaring delivery, while drummer Lara Klaus – who finally emerged from behind the kit to take over lead vocals on a muted, suspenseful number – has a lower, calmer voice. Percussionist Daniela Serna comes across as the troublemaker in the band – taking a turn out in front, she rapped her way through the boisterously irrepressible Porro Maracatu, a rapidfire mashup of Brazilian rainforest rhythmic riffs and reggaeton from the band’s brand-new debut album. She also took a hypnotically rumbling solo on Colombian tambor alegre drum during a long, psychedelic take of the vamping, bossa-tinged Confesion as Lucas’ vocalese sailed overhead.

Bassist Pat Swoboda shifted elegantly from a funky pulse to starker, bowed lines, switching to Fender on one of the night’s most propulsive, Bahian-flavored numbers. Trombonist Alex Asher and trumpeter Andrew McGovern spiced a handful of the song with some rousing, punchy charts. The sardonic anger of Sin Ataduras (No Bandages) contrasted with the serpentine, joyous Cumbia Brasileira; given plenty of time onstage, the group jammed out intros and outros and left room for brief, tantalizing solos from throughout the band. Ladama’s current US tour continues:

10/7-8/2017- Shakori Hills Festival– Pittsboro, NC
10/20/2017- Columbus Theater– Providence, RI
10/24-25/2017- Dartmouth University– Hanover, NH
11/2-3/2017- Tedx Charlottesville– Charlottesville, VA

As far as hot pepper is concerned, the available samples – the ones with healthy ingredients, anyway – were a disappointment. Most of the sauces didn’t raise any real red flags – other than Hell’s Kitchen’s deliciously spiced Cinnamon Ghost Punch, that is. The westside Manhattan boutique’s sweet Rockin’ Rasta habanero sauce wasn’t quite as hot but just as flavorful and left most of the out-of-state contenders in the dirt. 

Artsy Afrobeat-Inflected Tunesmithing and a City Winery Show from Jenn Wasner

Jenn Wasner is an anomaly in the indie rock world: a fluent, imaginative guitarist who uses just about every sound available to her and writes smart, pensive, lyrical songs. She’s bringing her band Wye Oak to a rare Manhattan gig tomorrow night, Oct 6 at City Winery. If you can get to Manhattan, you can also get home afterward since the show is early – 8 PM – and you won’t have to worry about the train leaving you at some random outpost in the remote fringes of Bushwick. And you can get in for twenty bucks at the door.

Wasner also has an intriguing side project, Flock of Dimes, whose debut album is streaming at Bandcamp. The songs blend icy, crisply produced ABC-style 80s art-pop with a stainless-topped, airconditioned 90s lounge feel over Afrobeat-inflected rhythms. Wasner likes dancing vocal melodies and tricky tempos which percolate throughout pretty much every song here.

Wasner’s lingering guitar resonates over a soukous-ish triplet beat on the opening track, Birthplace; “My love is not an object,” she asserts, then dancing, synthesized strings kick in. The Joke is a powerpop gem as the Talking Heads might have played it, with blippy synth and surrealistically echoing faux-Leslie speaker guitars: the steel solo that the song fades out on is anunexpected treat and over too soon.

Everything Is Happening Today pairs atmospheric verse against kinetic, metrically tricky chorus.  Likewise, Semaphore shifts from uneasy resonance to subtly crescendoing dancefloor-beat angst on the chorus, “Too far gone for a sempahore.”

The danciest and techiest track is Ida Glow. which could be Missing Persons or Garbage without the sexpot pose. Wasner goes back toward Remain in Light-era Talking Heads with Flight, an allusive, lushly textured account of betrayal.

With its watery layers of chorus-box guitar and similarly disembodied vocals, Apparition could be late-period Siouxsie without the microtones…and then it goes in the direction of the Fixx or Tears for Fears. Spiraling, Spanish-tinged guitars punctuate the gorgeous Given/Electric Life, which could be Linda Draper with slicker production: “I’m not in the ways of counting days, distract myself,” Wasner insists.

“We seem to be awake, but we are dreaming,” shse intones enigmatically at the end of Minor Justice, a return to icy, blippy Afrobeat-pop. “I couldn’t free you, I couldn’t free myself,” she laments in You, the Vatican – #bestsongtitleever, huh? The album ends with,…To Have No Answer, which sounds like Bjork at her trippiest and most atmospheric. Throughout the album, Wasner plays all the guitars and keys as well: she obviously put a lot of time and effort into this. It’s like an artichoke, one layer after another to unfold. If the album had come out thirty years ago, every graying Gen-Xer would still have the cd somewhere – and that’s a compliment.

Everybody’s Favorite Americana Harmony Trio, Red Molly, Make a Triumphant Return to City Winery

Is there another Americana band with as individualistic and spine-tingling a blend of voices as Red Molly? Actually yes – Bobtown, who played the Brooklyn Americana Festival on Saturday. More about them later.

Red Molly’s first New York show in two years last night at City Winery was epic. The harmony trio of dobro player Abbie Gardner, guitarists Molly Venter and Laurie MacAllister really give you a lot of bang for your buck. In two long sets, bolstered by bassist Craig Akin and Roosevelt Dime guitarist/percussionist Eben Pariser, they played a wickedly fun, dynamic mix of originals and a bunch of choice covers.

Each group member has a solo album in progress: MacAllister fretted about how the trio would be able to “shoehorn the songs into a Red Molly show,” but everything worked seamlessly. As usual, the women took turns on lead vocals, often in the same number. Venter took centerstage on one of the best of the new songs, Cold Black Water, a portrait of an indomitable single mother making a new start on the rugged Oregon coast, rising from an enigmatic, quiet suspense on the verse to a ferociously anthemic payoff on the chorus. Another standout was a hauntingly muted ballad by Gardner, told from the point of view of a war veteran’s wife who’s watching her wounded warrior trying to keep himself together.

And the voices were sublime. Gardner has jazz bloodlines and Venter is a connoisseur of Texas Americana, with blue notes peeking out from every secret corner. MacAllister contrasts with a disarmingly direct delivery. And while there was plenty of the usual banter between the group and what seemed to be a sold-out crowd, MacAllister came across as the ringleader in this merry band. Introducing a rousing number inspired by a gig in Alaska that wound up with a dude in the crowd throwing a taxidermied fox onto the stage, she related how, for a woman in a state with a gender imbalance, “The odds were good, but the goods were odd.”

The best song of the night was When It’s All Wrong. Gardner’s dobro slid and slithered through every macabre passing tone in the scale as her voice channeled a bitterness and menace that Lana Del Rey and all the other wannabe noir pinups would die to have written.                   

The covers were choice, beginning with the famous Richard Thompson tune from which they take their name. Gardner drew lots of chuckles with a sly little dobro lick on the intro to Crazy, which Venter sang with a nuance that would have made Patsy Cline proud. The three-part harmonies, backed by just bass, on The Fever were a lot of fun, while the group’s most calmly rapturous moment was their a-capella take of their original May I Suggest. As long as Red Molly are still together and touring – something that didn’t seem likely a couple of years ago – maybe, despite the madmen in the White House, we are truly living in the best years of our lives. The darkest times sometimes produce the greatest art. Red Molly’s current tour continues on Oct 6 at at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, CA; advance tix are $25.

Next month is a particularly good one at City Winery, Just for starters, Willie Nile – the world’s most obvious choice to sing Dylan – does that on the 10th at 8 PM: tix are expensive, $30, but this could be an awful lot of fun. And then there’s a killer twinbill on the 15th at 8 with blue-eyed soulstress and fiery guitarslinger Miss Tess followed by one of the great songwriters in noir Americana, Eilen Jewell, for $20.

And Gardner has a solo show at Pete’s on Oct 17 at 8:30 PM

A Wickedly Catchy Weekend Show by the Mysterious Melissa & the Mannequins

Melissa & the Mannequins are New York’s most exciting new band. There’s very little about them on the web. The only one of their songs that’s made it online so far is Slip Away, the gorgeously bittersweet, propulsively jangly number they closed their deliciously catchy set with at Long Island City Bar over the Labor Day weekend. They’ve been around for about  a year, tops. Quietly and steadily, they’ve put what’s obviously been an enormous amount of work into this band, equal to their formidable chops. Up-and-coming rock acts seldom have as much command of their instruments, let alone as many styles as this group winds their way through.

In roughly an hour onstage, frontwoman/guitarist Melissa Gordon sang with a cool, collected delivery over a tight rhythm section. Lyrically, most of the songs dealt with brooding breakup scenarios, often in contrast to the tunes’ bright,upbeat quality, Stylistically, they really ran the gamut. Several numbers worked a psychedelic soul vein, bringing to mind Chicano Batman with a woman out front and a more subdued, atmospheric keyboardist: throughout the set, the Mannequin on keys kept a tight focus and added all kinds of subtle textures and washes of sound.

Midway through the set, the band switched it up with an unexpectedly funky song, like Turkuaz in a rare low-key, trippy moment. There were also a couple of detours in the direction of Jacco Gardner-ish retro 60s sunshine pop and a distant Beatles influence. The most riveting song of the set might be called I Wasn’t Listening, an uncharacteristically haunting, epic, wounded noir soul ballad in 6/8 tiime, lead guitarist Steve Flakus capping it off with a long, biting, purist blues solo.

Gordon is also an excellent guitarist (which you wouldn’t know from her Soundcloud page, something she obviously put up as she was learning the fretboard). She and Flakus took a grand total of three perfectly synchronized twin solos: it wasn’t Iron Maiden, but it was just as tight. Gordon also engaged the crowd with her deadpan sense of humor: she seems to come out of a theatre background. LIC Bar also seems to be the group’s home base these days as they build a following, an aptly cool joint for this band. They’re also at Bowery Electric at 9 on Oct 1; cover is $10.