New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: rock music

A Surreal, Catchy New Stoner Americana Album from Odetta Hartman

You might expect to see someone named Odetta Hartman in a band with people calling themselves Howlin’ Wolf Matsuzaka and Nina Simone Bjornquist. But that’s this singer/multi-instrumentalist’s real name. Her Bandcamp page – where her new album 222 is streaming – is tagged “experimental country club cowboy soul experimental pop future folk new york city.” Auspiciously, it’s available on cassette for seven bucks – cheaper than a download, semi-permanently archivable, safe from phone glitches and hard drive crashes. She’s playing the album release show on October 8 at 8 PM at the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $10.

The opening track is Creektime, a brain-warping mashup of hip-hop and torchy oldtimey blues, with a flurry of shivery strings and a plaintive violin solo when you least expect them. Tap Tap deals with “making deals with the devil,” sparely and nebulously – flitting strings and electronic touches add to the sepulchrally rustic ambience. Hartman runs her banjo through an amp for some tasty distortion on Dreamcatchers, a pretty irresistible and funny return to the oldtimey/newschool dynamic.

Lazy LA – an oxymoron, right? – has a delicate, distantly Brazilian lullaby feel – is that a tenor guitar, maybe? By contrast, Batonebo is a stark, minor-key noir guitar blues. Limoncello is a heavy-lidded, torchy come-on, Hartman’s voice doing that tenth-wave Billie Holiday thing that never seems not to be all the rage among girls with acoustic guitars. The most unselfconsciously attractive and anthemic number – i.e. the big hit – is the oldschool soul-inspired Hard Wired. The album winds up with the surreal Lucky Dog, which may be fueled by the “suspicious contraband” that Hartman alludes to. Throughout the album, she impresses with her dexterity and insightful familiarity with a vast expanse of instruments and styles usually far beyond the reach of most bedroom popsters. Not bad for the scion of an independent New York pizza parlor mini-empire.

Looking Forward and Back to a Couple of Tantalizing Album Cover Nights

An allstar cast of downtown New York talent got together this past August 27 at Hifi Bar, where they played Young Marble Giants’ cult favorite 1981 album Colossal Youth – right at the same time that the regrouped original band was doing the exact same thing at Royal Festival Hall in London. It’s not clear if the London show was recorded, but thanks to Elemental Films – who’ve also captured a ton of amazing, rare footage of Molly Ruth, the Shootout Band and many others – the night was immortalized, and you can watch it on youtube!

“In the year 1980, songs like Babe, by Styx and Lady, by Kenny Rogers were at the top of the pops…and this album was happening at the same time, something beautiful and stark and more powerful because it had such a sense of loneliness about it. Becuase of that, it has withstood the test of time. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to listen to Babe – I want to listen to Colossal Youth,“ organizer and Elk City forntwoman Renee Lobue explained with more sincerity than snark.

Without further ado, Lysa Opfer stepped to the mic for Searching for Mr. Right, guitarist Sam Weisberg supplying a spare proto-skronk as bassist Tom Shad held down a similarly stark reggae pulse in tandem with syndrum player Joe Fee. Shad, in particular, had a ball with Philip Moxhan’s incisive, all-over-the-place lines, pretty much note-for-note with the original, for the most part sticking to a biting, trebly tone. On guitar, Weisberg and Andy Wellington beefed up the originals, no surprise since they were using far better amps and a real sound system as opposed to a cheap four-track recorder. Speed the Plough‘s John Baumgartner supplied aptly swirly, noir-tinged organ lines when the songs required them. On the other hand, most of the singers – some of them guys – lent their own original style to the vocals rather than trying to match Alison Stottam’s muted, moody vocal delivery.

But many of those voices were as individualistic as hers, and made these new interpretations every bit as compelling as the originals. Paula Carino‘s assertively velvety vocals on Salad Days beat Stottam at her own game, a real treat. Earlier, Toot Sweet‘s Mary Spencer Knapp ramped up the angst over the stuttering bass and guitars on Constantly Changing. The Bush Tetras’ Cynthia Sley added color and dimension to the title track, and Lobue brightened up The Man Amplifier. Lobue, Carino, Opfer and Verena Wiesendanger joined voices at the end for a bittersweet take of Final Day. Even Hifi owner Mike Stuto – the man stoking the “starmaker machinery behind the unpopular songs,” as Kendall Meade recently put it – made a cameo on the mic midway through The Taxi.

Another cover night that could be off the hook happens this Monday, October 5 at 7:30 PM when a similarly talented cast including jazz and folk noir chanteuse Erica Smith and fiery, gospel-infused belter Lizzie Edwards play Paul McCartney’s Ram album all the way through at Bowery Electric. Shad being one of the masterminds of the Young Marble Giants night, it’s likely that he’ll be a big part of this too, alongside Charly Roth, the rare player who’s equally adept at drums and keyboards, plus a similarly strong band alongside them. Cover is $10.

CC Carana Opens a Killer Twinbill Sunday Night at the Treehouse at 2A

Noir songwriter CC Carana opens an excellent twinbill at the Treehouse upstairs at 2A with a rare live performance this Sunday, October 4 at around 9 PM. Reliably charismatic, intense ghoulabilly/Americaa/blues crooner/personality Reid Paley headlines at around 10.

Carana has an intriguing, elegant ep, Maybe Because, streaming at Bandcamp. The opening track, Thank You For Breaking Up With Me sets the stage, a slow, slinky, saloon blues-tinged piano ballad with aching strings, Parker Kindred’s brushy drums and Carana’s sarcastic lyrics. It’s something akin to Tom Waits covering Harry Nilsson.

The second cut, I’m Tired is a gorgeously Lynchian, swaying Nashville noir pop number, Carana’s volume-knob guitar fading up and around Tyler Wood’s eerily twinkly piano. With its eerie slapback guitar and spare drum thud, See You Again goes deep into noir blues shadows, Carana’s melismatic, distantly soul-inspired voice flitting elusively through the melody. Nobody Wants to Die blends the best of the two styles, part Twin Peaks ballad, part doomed blues, a tersely vivid look at a “broken man’s dreams.” The final cut is Still a Clown, a sad, soaring oldschool soul anthem in the 6/8 time signature that Carana likes so much. If dark rock is your thing, this is a show worth coming out for on a Sunday night.

The Bright Smoke Bring Their Darkly Fiery, Intense Art-Rock to Park Slope

Earlier this year, the Bright Smoke released one of the year’s most haunting and brilliantly lyrical albums, their full-length debut Terrible Towns. The album release show at the Mercury this past spring mirrored the swirly, ominously swaying ambience of the band’s studio work. But their most recent Mercury show was a ferocious, fiery, occasionally explosive breakthrough: all of a suddden, this band has become one of New York’s most exciting live acts. Their next show is at Union Hall in Park Slope on October 3 at 9 PM; cover is $10. Synthy 80s goth/darkwave act Elle Le Fantôme opens the night at 8; popular, intense, dramatic female-fronted powerpop band the Shondes make a good segue afterward at around 10.

Last time out, guitarist/frontwoman Mia Wilson didn’t waste any time establishing a wounded, enigmatic atmosphere right off the bat with one of the new album’s tracks, Hard Pander, tricky polyrhythms shifting between Karl Thomas’ drums and Yuki Maekawa Ledbetter’s laptop. The band raised the menace factor immediately with a corrosively crescendoing take of City on an Island, a sardonically vivid look at the diminishing returns an artist faces in New York in 2015, lead guitarist Quincy Ledbetter rising from watery mid-80s Cure jangle to a napalm mist of distortion. He did the same thing in On 10, almost imperceptibly, as Wilson’s defiant alto rose to a dismissive wrath:

Join, join, join the ranks
Of the pretty, white, and jobless
And pray your daddy’s money away
At St. Sebastian’s School for the Godless

They opened the next number with a brisk postpunk stroll, but by the time they hit the chorus Thomas was scraping the guardrails with his cymbals and tumbling snare riffs, and Ledbetter was going deep into the blues with a similarly unhinged attack that went spiraling out in a blast of reverb-drenched noise. They went back to suspenseful for a catchy, moody backbeat-driven new song, part Joy Division’s The Eternal, part brooding soul ballad, lowlit by Ledbetter’s mournful belltone lines. Then on the next number Ledbetter shifted between fuzztone grit and off-the-rails Chicago blues.

The song after that had Wilson’s steady, ominously looping fingerpicked riffs building tension against Ledbetter’s echoey cumulo-nimbus resonance, rising to fullscale horror as his attack grew more insistent, throwing off some invisible demon. Likewise, on Exit Door, the band left the spare, shuffling gloom of the album version for a raw, screaming guitar drive, Wilson again holding it to the rails with her elegant fingerwork. The end of the show was intense to the extreme. Wilson explained that a friend had convinced her to revisit some older material from her days leading a similarly dark, intense band, the French Exit, so she played one of their best songs, a towering, anguished 6/8 anthem about “totally losing it,” she said. As the song escalated toward sheer terror in a cauldron of reverb and overtones, Wilson fell to her knees, rocked back and forth, wailed without a mic and ended up with blood-streaked strings after she’d slashed at them.  Calmly, she assured the crowd afterward that she was ok. There hasn’t been such an intense moment onstage anyhere else in New York since then. Hopefully there won’t be any blood or bruises at Union Hall, but the energy is going to be through the roof regardless.

Intense Polish Art-Rock Bandleader Karolina Cicha Brings Her Otherworldly Jewish Music Project to Drom

For whatever reason, Balkan music in New York has evolved to the point where there’s a sort of Balkan solstice, in winter and late summer. Golden Festival takes place in mid-January, a worldwide gathering of bands and singers, held for the past several years at Grand Prospect Hall at the southern tip of Park Slope. The New York Gypsy Festival features many similarly first-class acts, spread across several weeks and venues in September and October. One of the highlights of this year’s festival promises to be the performance of rare Jewish songs from Polesia by charismatic Polish art-rock/folk noir singer and keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Karolina Cicha with cellist Bart Palyga at Drom on Sept 28 at 8 PM. $15 advance tix are very highly recommended.

Cicha is an intense performer who deserves to be better known outside her home country. At this show, she and Palyga will be playing songs from her 9 Languages project, a mix of somsetimes driving, sometimes haunting, often otherworldly Jewish folk material from the badlands of Polesia, bordering Russia, Belarus and Lithuana, a desolate region that for many decades was home to a more-or-less thriving Jewish community. Cicha has a thing for rare and antique instruments, both winds and strings, which may be a part of this.

Cicha’s vocals are starkly ornamented, plaintive and often anguished: avant-garde Carpathian chanteuse Mariana Sadovska often comes to mind. For a taste of Cicha’s goth-tinged antiwar art-rock, check out her video page. For her more folk-oriented material, there’s a page of intriguing audio at Flipswitch. The first track starts out seemingly blithely, a flute-driven dance that quickly goes into creepy art-rock territory. The second is a breathless folk-rock stomp with jawharp, accordion, shivery fiddle and ominuous layers of throat-singing. There’s a pulsing art-rock fiddle tune with hypnotically soaring mulititracked vocals, and an even more hypnotic, gorgeously atmospheric one with accordion and layers of strings and vocals. There’s also an eerily bouncing piano-and-accordion vamp, a swaying lute dance that sounds like a sea chantey, a mournful klezmer accordion tune from her hometown of Bialystock, and an angst-fueled vocalese-and-cello piece that sounds like a Polish Randi Russo, just for starters. Those who want to go deeper into Cicha’s fascinatingly eclectic catalog can also check out her ethnocloud and youtube channels.

Lorraine Leckie and Pavel Cingl Release Their Enigmatic, Witchy New Album at the Mercury on the 29th

Among rock songwriters, few are as capable as Lorraine Leckie in writing across a vast array of different styles. New Yorkers know her best as the leader of a whipcrack-sharp psychedelic Americana rock band that she fondly calls Her Demons. Yet as straightforward as her work with that group is, her other projects can be much harder to pin down. Her latest album, The Raven Smiled – a collaboration with similarly eclectic Czech violin star Pavel Cingl, streaming at Bandcamp – is her most enigmatic, her most beguiling and arguably her best. She and Cingl are joined by those Demons – lead guitarist and recent Blues Hall of Fame inductee Hugh Pool, bassist Charles DeChants and drummer Paul Triff – at the album release show on September 29 at 8 PM at the Mercury. Cover is $10, and you get a free copy of the cd with paid admission.

The influences on this album, through a glass darkly, seem to be PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, although the music here bears more reflection than resemblance to either artist’s work. As you would expect from the instrumentation – Leckie’s Telecaster or piano paired with Cingl’s violin – the sound is a lot closer to the folk noir of Leckie’s spare 2010 album Martini Eyes. However, Cingl’s judicious production frequently adds misty atmospherics and more ornate textures, in the same vein as Leckie’s haunting 2013 album with Anthony Haden-Guest, Rudely Interrupted.

The opening track, The Man That Walks in the Rain sets the stage, cryptic and mysterious, along the same lines as Dylan’s Man in the Long Black Coat. Leckie has made no secret that she is a devotee of the black arts, so it should come as no surprise that Climb Ya Like a Mountain would be a homage to Aleister Crowley (who, as Leckie tells it, was an avid mountain climber – and a surprisngly buffoonish persona for someone enamored with the dark side).

Leckie explores that light/dark dichotomy from the opposite angle with Dangerous Friends, its triumphant continental party narrative set against a hazy backdrop channeled via one of the unorthodox guitar tunings that she employs so often here. By contrast, the baroque-tinged piano ballad Story of Your Life has a lustrous, minimalist sheen, a homage to Prague, a city whose history and beauty clearly resonate strongly with Leckie.

Awake is even more minimalistic, Cingl’s lullaby violin gently building the somnambulistic ambience. By contrast, That Ain’t Nice is a launching pad for Leckie’s dissociative, noisy guitar explorations in tandem with Cingl’s blizzard of glissandos. Witches Heart tersely mashes up early PJ Harvey, witchy mid-70s Marianne Faithfull Britfolk and 80s goth, enhanced by the eerie close harmonies of backup singer Lisa Zwier. “My little doll, you were born under a broken star, I am sorry,” Leckie intones with a cool inscrutability as the album’s most distantly ominous track, Medicine Man, gets underway. The title cut, an enigmatic piano vignette, closes the album on a decidedly unresolved note. As with the rest of the songs here, there’s charm, but also menace, the defining characteristic of this allusively intriguing collection.

Roots Reggae At Its Deep, Psychedelic Best at Maxwell’s Thursday Night

Thursday night at Maxwell’s, the buzz was that Kiwi – the tri-state area’s most consistently entertaining and original roots reggae band – was going to school the two out-of-town acts on the bill. To their immense credit, both Myrtle Beach’s Treehouse and Boston’s High Hopes Band rose to the occasion, resulting in a wickedly good late-summer festival of deep psychedelic grooves.

One of the measures of a band is how well they play to an empty room. Seriously – any band can feed off the energy of a good audience, and the crowd was slow to arrive when Treehouse hit the stage at nine sharp. But they played as if they were headlining Coachella. They were by far the loudest and hardest-rocking of the three groups. Guitarist Jeremy Anderson had a blast with the dozens of settings on his huge pedalboard: he likes an icy tone and plays leads with furious flurries of tremolo-picking, building to several unexpected cumulo-nimbus peaks. Bassist Matt Link plays his five-string with a pick, but he doesn’t let it slow him down, with a serpentine, melodic attack that featured several slinky solos this time out. Drummer Trey Moody has an individualistic style, building a deep pocket with his classic roots beats but then picking up to a steady four-on-the-floor rock drive on the band’s louder material. Anderson doubled (tripled?) on melodica and trumpet, used his loop pedal to lay down a couple of psychedelic, cumbia-influenced riffs to underpin a couple of songs, and finally ended the band’s set on a blistering, explosive note with a dynamically shapeshifting number that veered back and forth between dancehall, ska and edgy rock.

Kiwi were their usual slinky selves, and High Hopes followed a similar deep-roots groove afterward. Kiwi has six members, High Hopes seven, so the music wasn’t as focused on guitar as Treehouse’s was. Both bands have sensationally good, trippy keyboardists. Kiwi’s Dave Stolarz brought a dramatic, cinematic edge with his synth work, when he wasn’t playing swirly organ or tersely bluesy piano. High Hopes’ Paddy McDonnell went further into artsy Pink Floyd territory, with just as atmospheric a dub style as Stolarz. Likewise, both bands have deep rhythm sections grounded in a classic late 70s Jamaican sound. Both bassists, Kiwi’s Steve Capecci and High Hopes’ Julie Feola, anchored the music with their purist, effortlessly boomy lines. Kiwi’s drummer, Ramsey Norman, was both the night’s hardest hitter and also its most oldschool one-drop expert; behind the kit for High Hopes, AJ Maynard worked a nimble, acrobatic approach.

The crowd had come to party, and they got louder as the show went on. So Kiwi frontman Alex Tea brought the music down to just Norman’s woodblock and percussionist Mike Torres’ scraper – and in a second the room was silent. Using a wide palette of sounds that brought to mind peak-era Steel Pulse as well as late 60s rocksteady, Tea led the group through an eclectic mix of songs that shifted from deep dub, to Beatlesque jangle and echoes of late 70s Burning Spear. Jazz chords, unexpected major/minor and loud/soft shifts kept things interesting, everybody in the band contributing something into the mix.

High Hopes have two distinctive guitarists: Jason Dick likes surrealistically atmospheric wah-wah lines; Sebastian Franks plays precise, catchy, soaring single-note leads. Like Kiwi, they varied their tempos and energy levels, opening with an instrumental medley, shifting on a dime between one mini-segment to another: an old Jamaican custom. Also like Kiwi, they had an awful lot going on, lots of it unexpected, shifting from dub to doublespeed to a goodnatured bounce, then bringing things down to a simmering ballad or two. The funniest moment of the night was when McDonnell hit a rapidfire echo riff during one of their deepest dub segments and then slowly, slowly turned his reverb knob, putting the brakes on the echo until it was finally in sync with the rest of the band.

At this point in history, roots reggae is a legacy style like swing jazz and bluegrass: beyond the festival circuit, it’s next to impossible to find three reggae acts on a single bill, let alone three this good and this original. Treeehouse and High Hopes are on tour; their next show is Sept 24 at 8 PM at one of Atlanta’s funnest venues, Smith’s Olde Bar.

Amir ElSaffar’s Intense, Brooding Crisis Transcends Middle Eastern Music, Jazz and Everything Else

“Driving and to the point, Amir ElSaffar’s music is beyond categorization: not jazz, world music or any facile fusion thereof but a world unto its own.” A lot of bravado there, but the Chicago-born, New York-based trumpeter backs it up. His fifth album, Crisis – a suite inspired by his year in Egypt in 2012, as witness to the Arab Spring – is just out from Pi Recordings, and it’s arguably his best yet. Towering, majestic, haunting, dynamically rich, often grim, it might be the best album of 2015 in any style of music. Here ElSaffar – who plays both trumpet and santoor and also sings in Arabic in a resonant, soulful baritone – is joined by brilliant oudist/percussinonist Zaafir Tawil, fiery buzuq player Tareq Abboushi, tenor saxophonist Ole Mathisen, bassist Carlo DeRosa and drummer Nasheet Waits. Since the album is just out, it hasn’t hit the usual streaming spots yet, but three of the tracks are up at ElSaffar’s music page. ElSaffar and all of these players perform the album release show tonight, September 17 at 8 PM at Symphony Space. Cover is $25.

Rumbling, tumbling drums underpin a alow, stately, chromatically edgy trumpet theme distantly echoed by the oud as the introduction, From the Ashes, rises and falls. ElSaffar switches to the eerily rippling santoor for a serioso solo, utilizing the exotic microtones of the Iraqi classical maqam music he’s devoted himself to over the past fifteen years after an auspicious career start bridging the worlds of jazz, latin music and the western classical canon.

Mathisen doubles the reverberating pointillisms of the santoor on The Great Dictator, until a flurrying trumpet riff over distorted electric buzuq, and suddenly it becomes a trickly dancing Middle Eastern art-rock song. Abboushi’s long, slashing solo is one of the most adrenalizing moments committed to record this year, the song moving toward funk as Mathisen sputters and leaps.

After ElSaffar’s plaintive solo trumpet improvisation Taqsim Saba – imbued with the microtones which have become his signature device – the band slinks and bounces their way into El–Sha’ab (The People), which for all its elegantly inspired shadowboxing between the oud and the trumpet is a pretty straight-up funk song. The aptly titled, apprehensively pillowy Love Poem, a variation on the introductory theme, overflows with lyrical interplay between santoor, sax and oud, as well as a graceful pairing between santoor and bass. It takes on an unexpectedly dirgelike quality as it winds out.

The epic Flyover Iraq – as cruelly ironic a title as one could possibly imagine in this century – begins as bright, syncopated stroll, goes back to funk with a lively trumpet/buzuq duet, ElSaffar then taking flight toward hardbop with his trumpet. DeRosa takes it out with a lithe, precise solo. The suite’s most titanic number, Tipping Point introduces an uneasily contrapuntal melody that expands throughout the band, follows an upbeat, funky trajectory toward a fanfare, then vividly voices a theme and variations that literally follow a path of dissolution. ElSaffar’s somber trumpet solo out sets the stage for Aneen (Weeping), Continued, a spare, funereal piece that brings to mind similarly austere material by another brilliant trumpeter with Middle Eastern heritage, Ibrahim Maalouf. The album winds up with Love Poem (Complete), a more somber take on the first one. Clearly, the revolution ElSaffar depicts here has not brought the results that he – or for that matter the rest of the world – were hoping for.

The Naked Heroes Bring Their High-Voltage, Charismatic Assault to Grand Victory and the Rockaways

When the Naked Heroes’ George Jackson takes a flying leap from the stage, clears a monitor, lands directly in front of you and then slams you – all the while wailing on his Strat – you know you’ve been hit. With primal punk energy, a sly new wave sense of humor and lots of danceable, catchy tunes, there’s no other band in New York who sound anything like them. They’re very visual, too. They love to stop songs on a dime and then restart them…or leap from one into another. Jackson is a very expressive performer with his googly-eyed monster-movie faces, sometimes droll, sometimes with more than a hint of menace. Much as a lot of what he does is completely over-the-top, a lot of it isn’t, leaving room for the possibility of genuine danger. Meanwhile, statuesque drummer/singer Merica Lee sometimes hangs back with a swing groove, other times bounding around the stage, walloping on a tom-tom or a sampler loaded with explosive dancefloor thuds.

At the band’s show Saturday night at the Poisson Rouge, she was rocking a black-leather Catwoman-style bodysuit that didn’t leave much to the imagination. The mustachioed Jackson stuck to basic black jeans and shoes, with a button-down shirt left open to midway down the chest, his Robinson Crusoe necklace flying as he romped across the stage and then out over it to bodyslam the likes of unsuspecting music bloggers.

The band’s songs are as simple and irresistibly catchy as their beats. One of the set’s early numbers worked a feral, tribal early 80s Antmusic groove, Jackson blasting out a terse, mimalist two-chord vamp over it. There’s a lot of call-and-response, and wry repartee between the duo, sometimes involving the audience, in this case on an Ike & Tina Turner cover. Jackson is a hell of a guitarist (and bassist, as evidenced by his time as one of Lorraine Leckie‘s Demons) – who saves the flash for when he really needs it. His most impressive fretwork came on an unexpectedly ornate intro to a ballad that evoked Hendrix’s Little Wing without ripping it off. Likewise, the songs’ raw but incredibly tight riffage brought to mind bands as diverse as the White Stripes, the Black Keys, the Cramps and Bow Wow Wow without being imitative. On one number, Jackson went behind the kit and held down a beat on the kickdrum while playing guitar as Lee came out in front; by the end of the show, the two were out at the edge of stage, putting a mean dancefloor spin on an ancient gospel tune, wailing on the sampler and a single drum that Lee pummeled so hard that the mic came undone. The Naked Heroes are at Grand Victory at on Sept 16 at 8 PM, making a good segue with the 7 PM opening act, female-fronted horror punk/surf/darkwave band the Long Losts. Cover is $10. Then on Sept 27 at 5 PM the Naked Heroes are on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk.

Two of New York’s Best Psychedelic Acts and an Indie Stalwart at Cake Shop on the 13th

The headliner of the triplebill this Sunday night, Sept 13 at Cake Shop will most likely draw an older, 90s indie crowd. Hamish Kilgour, who plays at 11, is best known for his work with aptly named New Zealand indie rockers the Clean, whose coolly nebulous sonics influenced a ton of bands back in the day. But that crowd will be balanced, demographically at least, by the two acts who open the night. Ember Schrag, who began her career as a “great plains gothic” tour warrior in the late zeros, has gone deeper and deeper into psychedelia lately: her shows this year with her band have been transcendent. She kicks off the evening at 9 in a rare duo acoustic show with her similarly superb lead guitarist, Bob Bannister. Then she’s leaving Monday morning to go on tour as the organist for another dark psychedelic outfit, the Balkan-infused Alec K Redfearn & the Eyesores.

Schrag’s latest album, a live recording and free download in the Folkadelphia Sessions series, offers a look at what Schrag does with a band: it capturs them at the peak of their subtle powers. The opening track, Lady M sets the stage, the guitar interweave between Schrag and Bannister so tight that it seems like a single, otherworldly, rippling twelve-stirng – until he cuts loose with a wry Tex-Mex-flavored solo. Meanwhile, Susan Alcorn’s pedal steel soars elegantly in the background. Schrag has a Macbeth fixation: the chorus of “your children will be kings” cuts both ways, in true Shakespearean fashion.

Iowa, an older song, has been a live showstopper lately, a slowly swaying ballad heavy as stormclouds over the Midwest. Schrag takes a series of three metaphorically-charged roadside images, weaves them into one of the most menacing, apocalyptic songs released this year, and sings the hell out of it. Schrag has a thing for taking biblical imagery and turning it inside out, and this is a prime example.

Virgin in the Shadow of My Shoe packs the iconoclastic wallop of PiL’s Religion, but a thousand times more subtly, with its spiky, psychedelic sway. The final cut, The Real Penelope, works a misty, opaque groove fueled by drummer Gary Foster’s masterful malletwork: it’s the most hypnotic and enigmatic track here, capped off with a slowly spiraling, acid-wah Bannister solo. You’ll see this album on the best albums of 2015 page here at the end of the year if we all last that long.

Another album that’ll be on that page is the latest release from the 10 PM act,  Goddess – the full review is here. It was also great fun to catch the band play a rare house concert in south Brooklyn a couple of months back.That phantasmatorical, tragicomic psychedelic suite opened with singer Fran Pado soaring over a a mashup of jangly Laurel Canyon psychedelia and Abbey Road Beatles, introducing the tale of “Grinny,” a witchy figure who takes over a New Jersey family, who then struggle to break free of the evil spell that paralyzes them.

As the tale unwound, Andy Newman’s enveloping, shapeshifting keyboard textures took centerstage, then receded, then returned, in an early Genesis vein. An eerily twinkling, strummy folk-rock number followed: “Grinny was great on Halloween,” Pado revealed as the mellotron oscillated in the background. The band took a twisted bit of neo-plainchant and made a mantra-like groove out of it as Newman let his flute settings resonate above while the narrative grew grimmer. After a bit of a waltz, a spacious, minimalist intro grew slowly into a march, with hauntingly echoey vocal counterpart between Pado and one-string violinist Tamalyn Miler, who then took the creepiest solo of the night as the song built to a horrified peak. The band worked that suspensefully lustrous/macabre dynamic for the rest of the show, capped off by Miller’s shivery glissandos: it wouldn’t be fair to give away the ending.

Goddess will also be on WFMU at midnight on 9/15, joined by Bannister, Leah Coloff, and Peter Zummo, who will also be part of the festivities at the Cake Shop gig. Cover is $10.


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