Rock supergroups in New York are in short supply right now, but the Bastards of Fine Arts are at the top of the list. Guitarists Matt Keating and Steve Mayone are connoisseurs of classic songcraft, from powerpop to Americana to soul. And it’s impossible to think of a more colorful, melodic rhythm section than bassist Jason Mercer and drummer Greg Wieczorek. Keating and Mayone got their start as a duo. After putting out a series of viral videos on a certain social media platform that this blog boycotts, they survived the 2020 lockdown to release their debut album, A Good Sign, streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing 11th St. Bar on Nov 30 at 8 PM.
They open with Hardest Part, a gorgeous, slowly swaying anthem that would fit in perfectly with the late 90s Jayhawks catalog, right down to the vocal harmonies. The way Mercer winds his way up out of the last chorus is a characteristic, luscious touch.
Track two, Take the Fall, is a punchy Keating take on vintage Lou Reed. The band add strings from violin superstar Claudia Chopek and organ from Keating in Happens All the Time, a tale of abandonment which winds from wry to absolutely vindictive: the ending is way too good to give away.
Mayone moves to banjo for the front porch Americana-tinged waltz Enough to Make You Cry. They stick with 3/4 and Mayone on banjo as they pick up the pace with Any Old Town, a cynical glimpse of rust belt anomie.
Row Away, an elegy, features a glimmering noctural interweave between Keating’s electric piano and Mayone’s sinuous lead work. Then the band kick in harder with the snidely strutting, ragtime-inflected Can’t Get My Head Around It.
They remake an earlier slow song, A Walk in the Park, as briskly chugging mid 70s British pub rock. Hole in One is brooding 60s soul through the prism of Abbey Road Beatles – right down to the watery analog chorus guitar patch, plus some neat tarantella work from Chopek and the rest of the crew..
Comin’ Home, a hushed folk-rock tune, celebrates a return from California to a now-vanished New York: these days it’s six of one, half a dozen of another. What a beautiful time it was when a song like this made you feel at home.
Keating takes over on gospel piano in You on My Arm. Next up, the band blend punchy Keith Richards riffage into a big Jayhawks-style anthem in the album’s title track.
Keating slows down for Kids, a wryly amusing look at trans-generational angst (incidentally, he is very good at the generational stuff: his daughter Greta is a similarly sharp, melodic multi-instrumentlist and songwriter). The group close the record on a benedictory note with a wee hours saloon blues tune of sorts, Lucky Stars.