New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: rock music

A Smoldering Acoustic Set and an Electric Williamsburg Gig by Lizzie & the Makers

The blues can be primeval, and otherworldly, and sometimes just plain chilling. Lizzie Edwards, frontwoman of Lizzie & the Makers, doesn’t limit her songs to a simple 1-4-5. And her subject matter extends a lot further beyond your usual soul/blues turf . Last week, her band’s flickering, blue-flame, semi-acoustic set at Pete’s Candy Store featured a song about a breakdown on the highway and all its ominous implications, along with a handful of angst-fueled oldschool soul ballads. But there was also a number drawing on the Orpheus/Euridyce myth, another inspired by the Rachmaninoff C Sharp Minor Prelude, and a sardonically moody, psychedelically enveloping one about getting fired from a well-known Brooklyn music venue. Lizzie & the Makers are plugging all of their amps in for their next show on August 26 at 9 PM at Black Bear Bar on North Sixth Street in Williamsburg (the old Galapagos/Public Assembly space), where you can expect the band to deliver their usual mix of thrills and chills. But in its own quiet way, last week’s show was every bit as intense.

Most high-voltage bands are completely out of their element in an acoustic setting. This band is all about dynamics, which explains why they didn’t lose any edge even if the volume was way down. And it gave Edwards and her harmony singers this time out- Mary Spencer Knapp and Sarah Wise – a chance to bring extra nuance and mystery to the songs’ darkest corners. Lonely Soul, with its eerie three-part harmonies, took on a Halloweenish tinge, bassist Tony Tino supplying a brooding pulse for this doomed exploration of abandonment in Greek mythology. Guitarists Greg McMullen and James Winwood exchanged solos, moving from elegant spirals to deep-sky psychedelia in Far from Home, the late-night breakdown scenario

In front of the band crammed onto the stage behind her, Edwards rocked a fire-engine-red vintage sundress. By halfway through the set, she was into her second glass of straight whiskey, but even in the evening’s tropical heat, it didn’t visibly affect her. The dusky ambience extended from the band to the crowd and held everybody in its grip. A darkly rustic oilcan slide guitar solo from McMullen lit up Hopeless, an uneasy nighttime street scene. You might not think that an acoustic version of a big barnburner would play up its underlying southern boogie feel, but that’s what the band did with Free. The most psychedelic of all the songs was the brooding, distantly Beatlesque anthem Sleep It Off, as woundedly imagistic as it was bleary-eyed in its allusive account of the aftermath of getting fired from the old Trash Bar. Edwards, who also worked at Pete’s for a time, knows her turf. They wrapped up the set with a soaringly crescendoing take of the full-tilt boogie The Bear and its tense wee-hours tale of averting disaster at the last second, something Edwards also seems to know something about.

Bent Knee Bring Their Intense, Unpredictable, Explosive Art-Rock to Bed-Stuy

Imagine a female-fronted Radiohead. Boston art-rockers Bent Knee don’t sound much like Radiohead, but their esthetic is the same, catchy hooks within arrangements that are endlessly surprising and often epic. Unease and anger pervade their enigmatic  lyrics. Frontwoman/keyboardist Courtney Swain sings with an arresting, sometimes angst-fueled voice that trails off with a brittle vibrato. They’ve got a new album, Say So – streaming at Bandcamp – and a 10 PM show on August 24 at C’Mon Everybody. Cover is $10.

This band never bores you. Most of the tracks seem completely through-composed. Very little if anything ever repeats; the hooks come at you fast and frantic, kaleidoscopically. The amount of memorization this material requires for live performance is staggering. The album opens with Black Tar Water – as in “dumping out the black tar water,” be it bongwater, asphalt, drug residue, or strictly a metaphor. Catchy and shapeshifting at the same time, it sets the tone for the rest of the record. Swain’s dramatic flights to the upper registers contrast with chilly, techy keyboard timbres over tricky meters, negotiated nimbly by bassist Jessica Kion and drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth.

Guitarist Ben Levin nicks a droll Beatles trope as Leak Water opens, Swain lamenting that “I try to speak, but I only leak water.” A brief mininalist intro  hardly foreshadows the punchy, ornate neoromantic crescendos in store: Wounded Buffalo Theory comes to mind. Counselor is a dramatic mashup of creepy circus rock, funk, roaring arena rock and hints of horror film cinematics. “Give me kisses, something squishy,” Swain entreats – yikes!

Eve begins as a Kate Bush-style tone poem of sorts, awash in tongue-in-cheek echo phrases until the crushing guitars kick in along with violinist Chris Baum’s crazed swipes and spirals. Stomping peaks alternate with Pink Floyd lushness and lustre as it goes on; an ominous spacerock interlude that haphazardly balances guitar and strings ends this ten-minute monstrosity. From there, an early Bill Frisell-tinged miniature segues into The Things You Love, Swain musing caustically on the emptiness of materialistic excess, over still, starlit ambience that eventually gives way to more horror film textures, pouncing King Crimson-esque ornateness and eventually a funny, faux-dramatic outro.

Nakami hints at tinkly lounge jazz, then moves toward dissociative Peter Gabriel-era Genesis intricacy, with a long, explosively sweeping Japanese-language outro. From there they segue into the sarcastically bustling Commercial, Levin’s bombastic guitars matching Swain’s fake-cheery vocals and keyboard sarcasm.

Hands Up comes across as a case where the satire cuts so close to the bone that it’s hard to tell whether this is a spoof of American Idol cliche-pop, or a halfhearted stab at a genuine Radio Disney hit – although the band seem far too smart to believe they’d ever get corporate radio airplay. The album winds up with Good Girl, rising out of Levin’s darkly spacious solo guitar intro to Swain’s most caustic lyric here:

Don’t be a hassle
Don’t be a rascal
Great minds think too much
But you’re not a scholar
Nor a philosopher
Turn that little light of yours off
Sing with me
And count to three
Soon it will be
Over

A dis at a wet-behind-the-ears limousine liberal, or feminist empowerment anthem? Swain leaves that trapdoor open. Count this beguiling, unpredictable, wickedly smart album among the very best of 2016.

Free Music Fridays at the American Folk Art Museum: Manhattan’s Most Vital Americana Roots Music Scene

“When you think about it, how many real listening rooms are left in New York?” Lara Ewen, folk noir singer and impresario of the pretty-much-weekly Free Music Fridays series at the American Folk Art Museum, mused the other night. She’s on to something. Outside of the jazz and classical worlds, it’s hard to find a space in Manhattan that caters to an audience for less loudly amplified or acoustic sounds like the Americana roots music, and its descendents, that her series promotes.

Sure, people come to listen at Barbes, and the Jalopy, and the Owl, and sometimes Pete’s Candy Store when there isn’t a din at the bar. But all those places are in Brooklyn. In Manhattan, there’s hardly anything left. Rockwood Music Hall is a Jersey tourist trap, the Bleecker Street dives have been a joke since the 60s ended, and Sidewalk, while noticeably improved lately, still draws heavily on the autistic types who play the open mic there. And autistic people aren’t known for their social graces.

Which leaves Free Music Fridays. The series went on hiatus for a few weeks to accommodate an exhibition, then returned with a vengeance in early July with a simmeringly low-key performance by darkly lyrical former Madder Rose frontwoman Mary Lorson, who played an intimate, acoustic duo set with percussionist John Sharples. Since then, the series has been on a roll, requiring extra rows of seats since the audience continues to grow.

The highlight of last week’s installment was the opening set by aphoristic newschool country blues songwriter Nathan Xander, in a stark duo performance with a similarly purposeful fiddler. Since the series returned, other than Lorson, the most dynamic, exciting show was an impressively eclectic, smartly lyrical, historically-informed couple of sets by a roughly five-piece subset of mighty acoustic Americana powerhouse M Shanghai String Band. Ewen called them one of New York’s best bands, and once again she was on the money.

Frontman Austin Hughes distinguished himself with his clever wordplay, poignant and relevant historical references and plaintive harmonies, sung by everyone in this edition of the band (which can number more than ten people onstage). This version also featured Philippa Thompson on – take a deep breath – fiddle, bass, lead vocals, singing saw, washboard and spoons – plus Glendon Jones on mandolin, Patty Hughes on bass and a couple of family members taking an animated cameo or two on harmony vocals.

One of the band’s biggest audience hits, the broodingly lilting Sea Monster, turned out to be a contemplation of how instant internet access to information can stifle the imagination. At a distance at least, it’s more fun to ponder the existence of apocryphal creatures than to dismiss them. The similarly uneasy, harmony-driven Two Thousand Pennies resonated even more as an anthem for the New Depression. Aptly, toward the end of their second set, the band played Vivian Girls, an even moodier look at the inner life of disturbed outsider artist Henry Darger, whose work was first featured in a career retrospective at this museum.

M Shanghai String Band’s next show is back at their home base, the Jalopy on September 3 at 9 PM; cover is $10.. And the highlight of this Friday’s free music, this August 19 at around 6:30 PM at the museum, is Moji Abiola, whose eclectic sound blends oldschool soul into their paisley underground psychedelia.

Sandcatchers Play a Magical Mix of Psychedelia, the Middle East and Pastoral Jazz

Guitarist Yoshie Fruchter has been involved with a ton of great projects, from John Zorn’s Abraxas to Frank London’s big band, but his most intriguing one may be his own. Fruchter plays oud in Sandcatchers, who could be described as a Middle Eastern pastoral Americana jamband. Their hypnotic, intricately intertwining, psychedelic instrumental mini-epics are unlike anything else in New York. The only group they bear any resemblance to, and that’s because of Myk Freedman’s resonant lapsteel, is the much louder if similarly psychedelic metal band Greek Judas (who have a gig coming up at Barbes on August 25 at 10). Sandcatchers have a weekly residency at Cheryl’s Restaurant, 236 Underhill Ave. in Ft. Greene on Wednesdays starting at around 8, which is where they’ll be tomorrow, August 17. There’s no cover charge; the closest train is actually the 2/3 to Brooklyn Museum.

Their show at Barbes a week ago was packed with all sorts of fun. They opened with a spiky, misterioso oud intro over drummer Yonadav Halevy’s misty cymbals and washes of pedal steel. From there they hit an understatedly somber minor-key groove with some wry tradeoffs between the oud and Michael Bates’ bass, with a trick ending and then a moodily scampering outro lit up with lonesome trainwhistle steel. After that they did what could have been a Macedonian highway theme, Fruchter’s purposefully strolling oud over vast, deep-sky atmospherics.

The next number was a slow, summery theme that slowly and deliberately moved into the shadows, much in the same vein as Big Lazy‘s big-sky cinematic mood pieces, with an enigmatically tiptoeing bass solo over sotto-voce clip-clop percussion. Halevy had brought a dinner bell, which he used for chuckles on more than one occasion.

The sternly pulsing chromatic anthem after that, with its blasts of steel and then a searing solo, was the closest thing they played to Greek Judas’ rembetiko metal. After that, Bates hinted at a classic Geezer Butler riff throughout a long bass intro that kicked off a slowly majestic, swaying Middle Eastern number, again shifting dramatically but seamlessly to the Great Midwest and then back with a big crescendo. With the steel going full blast over Fruchter’s elegant, purposeful oud, they were like a Middle Eastern Friends of Dean Martinez.

Halevy had tuned his kit like a series of goblet drums, ramping up the boomy, mysterious ambience to introduce the number after that, a mashup of blazing southern rock and what could have been a Greek hill country dance. After that they contrasted with a gentle, backbeat-driven nocturne. Then they got a little funky, winding up their set with their most eclectically expansive tune. These and many other flavors may appear in the mix tomorrow night.

The Sway Machinery and Hydra Stage a Magical, Otherworldly, Psychedelic Collaboration at Joe’s Pub

While a whole lot of New Yorkers were up at Lincoln Center Out of Doors to hear Lucinda Williams, an audience of cognoscenti filled Joe’s Pub to witness this city’s most auspicious musical collaboration this year, between the magically Balkan-influenced all-female trio Hydra and the Sway Machinery, who could be described as a cantorially-influenced psychedelic desert rock band. Hearing frontman/guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood’s impassioned, melismatic baritone amidst the pulsing, distantly gospel-inflected harmonies of Luminescent Orchestrii’s Rima Fand, Nanuchka’s Yula Beeri and Black Sea Hotel‘s Sarah Small was viscerally spine-tingling. Lockwood might be the strongest male singer in New York, and stood out even more when bolstered by the three women’s uneasy, deep-sky close harmonies.

It wasn’t until late in the set that Fand persuaded Lockwood to explain the origins of his band’s songs. He related modestly that they drew on Jewish liturgical melodies that vary widely, depending on where in the Jewish diaspora you come from, to the point of being very individual, from family to family. What he didn’t add is that he’s the scion of a famous cantorial legacy, and that the Sway Machinery’s songs take those millennia-old themes into the present day via a host of influences every bit as global.

Lockwood’s guitar playing draws equally on his mentor, the late country bluesman Carolina Slim, as well as loping, hypnotic Saharan Tuareg rock and Afrobeat: it wouldn’t be a stretch to call the Sway Machinery the American Tinariwen. When his voice wasn’t reaching for the rafters with a soaring, sometimes imploring intensity, he drove the band with his slinky, snaky, incisively spiraling Telecaster riffs and a handful of snarling, tightly coiled solos. In one of the night’s most dynamic numbers, there were two basslines going, Nikhil P.Yerawadekar on the low end and Lockwood slightly higher up the scale, holding down his low E with his thumb while fingerpicking out a snaky lead at the same time. Strat player Tim Allen alternated between airy, astringent textures, jangly interplay with Lockwood and a couple of blue-flame solos. Drummer John Bollinger kept a tricky, rolling beat going, punctuated by Matt Bauder’s tenor sax and Jordan McLean’s trumpet.

Midway through the set, the Sway Machinery left the stage to Hydra to sing a brief and tantalizingly dazzling, eclectic set. The interplay between the three personalities was as interesting to witness as their harmonies. This may seem overly reductionistic, and it probably is, but Fand the mystic, Beeri the Secretary of Entertainment and Small the badass, tall and resolutely swaying to the beat, brought a dynamism and nuance that was every bit the sum of its formidable parts.

Their first number without the band behind them evoked Small’s innovatively intimate arrangements of Bulgarian choral music. While that’s what she’s made a name for herself with in the popular trio Black Sea Hotel, Beeri and Fand proved just as much at home in those eerie close harmonies and microtones. From there they ventured into a diptych of flamenco and Ladino-tinged Spanish folk tunes, then a starlit, mandolin-driven lullaby by Fand, a stark Russian Romany tune, then the Sway Machinery returned for the night’s most intricately orchestrated, ornately thrilling mini-epic. Between everyone onstage, they sang in Hebrew, Spanish, Ukrainian and English. Let’s hope this isn’t the only time this otherworldly, entrancing collaboration gets staged in this city.

Keeping Tabs on Gringo Star

Gringo Star‘s previous album Floating Out to See put a wry, lo-fi newschool stamp on classic 60s psychedelia and garage rock. This time out, their new album The Sides and In Between – soon to be streaming at Bandcamp  – goes deeper into the past and has a welcome gravitas. While several of the songs are darker, the rest are funnier than the more upbeat stuff on the band’s previous effort, spiced with plenty of woozy 60s guitar and keyboard effects. They’ve got a couple of New York dates coming up; on August 19 at around 9, they’re at Shea Stadium for $12. The following night at 9 they’re at Cake Shop for two bucks less. Ever think you’d live to see the day when a Bushwick show was more expensive than one in Manhattan?

The new album’s opening track, Rotten blends tongue-in-cheek psychedelic soul in the same vein as Clear Plastic Masks or White Denim with tinny, organ-fueled Sergeant Pepper-era Beatles. It’s a dis at a spoiled rich brat. Track two, Magic is true to its name: imagine ELO covering a mid-60s Hollies hit that’s one part Byrds and one part doo-wop. That might sound misguided to the extreme, but somehow the band makes it work, seamlessly. .

Frontman/guitarist Nick Furgiuele’s sardonically exuberant vocals in Get Closer come across as a cross between White Hassle’s Marcellus Hall and that guy from NOFX, punctuated by a starry tremolo-picked guitar solo. Still Alive sounds like a skiffle band taking a stab at the Everly Brothers, with blippy organ tacked on for extra surrealism..

Going Home is a droll doo-wop pop number that if not for the annoying whistling would be a dead ringer for something from the Simon Chardiet catalog. Knee Deep uses acoustic country blues as a stepping-off point for a hypnotically uneasy, mellotron-infused sway, a study in hi/lo frequency contrasts. Likewise, the irrepressible oldtimey swing-flavored Heading South, which might well be a spoof.

Undone takes a turn into carnivalesquely waltzing territory (would somebody in the band please put a muzzle on that whistler?), pushed along by bassist Josh Longino and drummer Jonathan Bragg. It’s You is sort of a three-quarter-time rewrite of Runaway. The album winds up with The Last Trace, a strange mashup of downstroke indie pop and Tex-Mex rock. Two chances to get a dose of this Friday and Saturday night.

A Rare West Village Appearance by Vivid, Guitarslinging Tunesmith Michelle Malone

Georgia songwriter Michelle Malone gets a lot of Lucinda Williams comparisons. Which makes sense: both artists have a thing for the blues, and oldschool C&W, and bands who can rock the hell out of their songs. But Malone’s a better singer and a better guitarist too. Where Williams rasps, Malone belts. And her slide guitar playing has snarl and bite. She’s making an unexpected appearance at 9 PM on August 17 at the Bitter End. Cover is $15.

Malone’s latest album is Stronger Than You Think, streaming at Spotify. It opens with Stomping Ground, a big, defiant, swaying paisley underground anthem straight out of the Dream Syndicate playbook. Although Malone’s message is that nostalgia is a quicksand pit, the song will resonate with any New Yorker – or anyone, for that matter – whose old haunts have been been bulldozed for “luxury” condos.

Vivian Vegas, a Johnny Cash-style shuffle lit up with some jaunty, jazz-tinged 50s style country guitar riffage, wryly recalls the ups and downs of a hard-rocking gal’s career. My Favorite Tshirt, a slow, blue-flame Georgia Satellites-style stomp, celebrates an escape from an abusive relationship. Malone brings things down with the elegant acoustic soul-jazz ballad I Got An Angel, contrasting with the lighthearted, amped-up folk-rock of When I Grow Up.

Malone follows Swan White, an enigmatic backbeat janglerock number, with the strutting, indomitable rocker Keep My Head Up, a dead ringer for classic early 80s Tattoo You-era Stones. Likewise, the swaying midtempo kiss-off anthem Don’t Want to Know, with its honking blues harp, and Ashes, a bluesy, Stonesy strut fueled by Gerry Hansen’s spot-on Charlie Watts impersonation behind the drum kit, and some of Malone’s tastiest guitar work here.

The vivid, wistful current-day Great Depression anthem Ramona paints a chillingly detailed picture, in an Amy Rigby vein: “I learned a fresh start can hurt like brand new shoes,” Malone recalls. Then she flips the script with the droll, surreal happy-go-lucky Fish Up a Tree and keeps that cheery vibe going through Birthday Song (I’m So Glad). As dynamic and guitar-fueled as this album is, Malone has a reputation for incendiary live shows and is likely to add fuel to that fire on Wednesday night. 

The Cactus Blossoms and Dwight Yoakam Capture New York in 2016

“I want to dedicate this to a son of Bakersfield,” Dwight Yoakam told the sold-out crowd at this year’s concluding Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival concert Sunday night. “I don’t mean Buck,” Yoakam explained, referring to iconic Telecaster player Buck Owens, who transformed the sound of country music in the early 60s. “He’s great, but Merle was such a mentor to me.” And then led his high-voltage, expert hard honkytonk band through a brief, poignant set of Merle Haggard tunes. There was an aptly airy, wistful version of Silver Wings, a bouncy take of Mama Tried…and a singalong on Okie From Muskogee, the widely misunderstood early outlaw-country anthem where everybody in the crowd knew the words. If you grew up a fan of country music, obviously you know them by heart. But you might not expect several thousand New Yorkers (and a smattering of tourists) to know them as well. And they did. Folks, this is what New York is listening to in 2016. Festival producer Jill Sternheimer and her crew were definitely not asleep at the wheel this year.

In a marathon, nonstop, tireslessly workmanlinke two hours onstage, Yoakam crooned as strongly as he did back in 1985, when, as he related, he opened for the Blasters at the old Ritz (now Webster Hall). He thanked anybody “still ambulatory” from that era who might have come out for this show – and a handful of folks apparently did. He kicked things off with Guitars Cadillacs, from his first album from a year after that, when he was one of the great new hopes in purist country music, along with Steve Earle, Ricky Skaggs and Rodney Crowell. But Yoakam rocked harder than any of those guys, at least at the time, as he did here. Alternating between electric and acoustic guitars, Yoakam showed off some snazzy flatpicking chops, no surprise since his forthcoming album takes a turn into bluegrass (he’s another guy who has his finger on what kids these days are listening to).

Behind him, drummer Mitch Marine and bassist Jonathan Clark put down a swinging backbeat, a platform for lead guitarist Eugene Edwards’ sizzling, resonant Telecaster and hollowbody Gretsch work. Behind them, multi-instrumentalist Brian Whelan dazzled the crowd with his dexterity on – are you ready – guitar, pedal steel, piano, organ, percussion and fiddle. When Yoakam mentioned the word “Grammy,” there was a predictable dip toward generic New Nashville, and the material from his latest album didn’t hold up alongside his earlier stuff. Putting everything in context, he and the band covered the early psychedelic Beatles as expertly as fat Elvis. It was like being at a Oklahoma county fair, but better.

Minneapolis five-piece opener the Cactus Blosoms stole the show with a brooding, often mesmerizing set of originals and a couple of covers, one a low-key reworking of an early Kinks hit and another that sounded like the Black Angels, whose moody resonance blended in well with the rest of the material. Frontman Page Burkum and his stagenamed rhythm guitarist brother Jack Torrey joined voices with similarly bittersweet high-lonesome sensibility that vividly evoked the Everly Brothers. Burkum also turned out to be an excellent guitarist, channeling Tal Farlow and an army of mid-50s pickers with his judicious, morosely twangy riffs and fills, bolstered by a Les Paul player whose similarly tasteful, spare lines lingered over the slow, echoey rimshot beat of drummer Chris Hepola in tandem with bassist Andy Carroll.

Their best song of the night was Powder Blue, a slowly swaying Nashville gothic number that used the opening notes of the Twin Peaks theme as a springboard. “We have some sad songs for you,” Burkum had cautioned the crowd as the group took the stage, and he meant it. Although there were a couple of jaunty Tex-Mex flavored numbers in the set, most of the material was slow to midtempo: as he explained, even the set’s lone lovestruck ballad had a similarly terror-stricken undercurrent, its protagonist dreading the moment his girl might leave him just as the others did. On one hand, what this band does is retro to the core, which might have something to do with their popularity. On the other, it’s cutting edge. It looks like we’ve come full circle, back to Nashville and Bakersfield, 1963. Which isn’t such a bad thing.

Eric Ambel Brings His Expert, Purist Tunesmithing and Sizzling Lead Guitar Back to Brooklyn

If a clinic in spine-tingling, dynamic. expert lead guitar is your thing, you could spend hundreds of dollars and make Ticketbastard rich and go see Richard Thompson at a place like City Winery. Or you could go see Eric Ambel and his band for free this Saturday night at 9 upstairs at Hill Country Brooklyn. The Brooklyn branch of the bbq franchise is 180 degrees the opposite of the Manhattan location. The staff are friendly and seem happy to be there, the crowd is local and multicultural, and while they don’t nceessarily come to listen, a lot of them do. That way, the band doesn’t have to try to drown out the touristy din like they do in Manhattan. And the Brooklyn branch’s sound system is better, too.

Ambel has been on tour this summer with his band – Brett Bass on bass, Phil Cimino on drums and Spanking Charlene‘s Mo Goldner on second guitar – so they should be stoked to be back on their home turf. Ambel’s most recent New York show was here on this same stage at the end of June, and it was amazing, one of the year’s best. Switching between his custom Telecaster and Les Paul, “Roscoe” delivered searing, string-bending intensity, judicious jangle and clang, choogling four-on-the-floor grooves, a couple of stomping detours toward punk rock, even some plaintive wee-hour C&W. All that in two sets, about two hours of music where the band finally ran out of rehearsed material and blasted through a couple of old R&B covers to close the night.

There were so many high-voltage moments, it’s impossible to separate one from the rest. The band opened the second set with a searing take of Song for the Walls, the first track on Ambel’s second solo album, Loud & Lonesome, part psychedelic Beatles, part acidic Kevin Salem rock. Lou Whitney’s defiant Thirty Days in the Workhouse (“If I’d been a black man, they’d have given me thirty years”) resonated especially with this audience. There was roadhouse rock like Scott Kempner’s Here Come My Love. country-flavored material like Jimbo Mathus’ Let’s Play with Fire, and a couple of snarling, Ramones-influenced numbers, the best of them being the snide Hey Mr. DJ. Introducing that one, Ambel told a hilarious story about the first time he saw the Ramones, as an eighteen-year-old party animal in Illinois. That story’s too good to give away here.

Spanking Charlene frontwoman Charlene McPherson came up to duet on a swampy take of Have Mercy, which she co-wrote with Ambel. Mary Lee Kortes – Ambel’s wife and an equally skilled tunesmith, whose long-awaited forthcoming full-length album The Songs of Beulah Rowley is awe-inspiring – lent her crystalline voice to a couple of numbers too. The night’s longest and most darkly simmering epic, Buyback Blues – a bittersweet look back at Ambel’s well-loved and dearly missed East Village venue, Lakeside Lounge – was as good as anything Neil Young & Crazy Horse could come up with. If memory serves right, the band ran through just about everything from Ambel’s latest solo album, also titled Lakeside.

Later in the second set Ambel entertained the crowd with his funniest song, I Love You Baby – if you don’t know it, the lyrics are also too funny to give away here. The show this Saturday night should be something like this, who knows, maybe even better. If we get lucky they’ll play Garbagehead, the ultimate Lakeside Lounge Saturday night party anthem.

Smart, Edgy, Charmingly Retro Swing Quartet Rosie & the Riveters Make Their NYC Debut on Thursday

Rosie & the Riveters sing irrepressible, irresistible, original four-part-harmony swing tunes inspired by 30s girlgroups like the Andrews Sisters, spiced with equal parts jump blues, 18th century African-American gospel, and vintage soul music. Their vocal arrangements are packed with clever, amusing twists and turns. Likewise, their lyrics have a playfully retro charm. Their delightfully electic new album Good Clean Fun is streaming at Bandcamp, and they’re making their New York debut at the small room at the Rockwood on August 11 at 8 PM.

The album’s opening track, Red Dress gets a gentle, coy intro and then a jaunty shuffle, fueled by piano, acoustic guitar and a.swinging rhythm section. Everybody in the band, each a strong solo artist in her own right, sings: Allyson Reigh takes the lead here, working every slinky angle in the blue notes, the band punching in with gospel harmonies on the chorus. All I Need, with its clever rhymes and blend of dixieland and Lake Street Dive blue-dyed soul, is a showcase for Alexis Normand‘s pillowy delivery:

I don’t need a Strat guitar
I don’t need a limo car
I don’t smoke a fat cigar
To know I’ve found success…

And the list goes on. Likewise, A Million Little Things. roses out of a slow intro, into a cheery, resolute, accordion-driven bounce, Melissa Nygren’s wise, knowing vocals channeling optimism in the midst of everyday annoyances, the women in the band taking a droll round-robin midway through. The group take an unexpected and bristlingly successful turn into noir oldschool soul with Bad Man:“Behind that liar’s tongue are sharp,sharp teeth,” Farideh Olsen asserts. “Love won’t even find you in the grave.”

The band keeps a brooding minor-key groove going with the rustic, oldtime gospel-flavored Ain’t Gonna Bother, Reigh channeling a murderously simmering nuance. Honey Bee, a cha-cha, contrasts the tenderness of Nygren’s lead vocal with a spiky, biting undercurrent, fueled by moody clarinet. Hallelujah Baby follows a briskly scampering country gospel shuffle on the wings of banjo and steel guitar. Milk ‘N Honey is sort of the shadow image of that one, a bluesy minor-key number that brings to mind the Asylum Street Spankers.

With its “we don’t get out of here alive:” chorus, the stark, spare Go On Momma has a chilling mid-50s country gospel feel. The slinky, latin-flavored take of Dancing ‘Cause of My Joy, sung with a retro soul triumph by Normand, makes a striking contrast. The band returns to a darkly bluesy, banjo-infused atmosphere with the creepy global warming-era cautionary tale Watching the Water Rise. The album winds up with another period-perfect 1950s style gospel number, the gentle, resolutely sunny Yes It’s True. Pretty impressive for a quartet of gals from Saskatchewan. Sometimes if you come from outside of a musical idiom, you have to do it better than the original to earn your cred, and that’s exactly what Rosie & the Riveters do here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 227 other followers