New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: soul music

A Brilliant, Starkly Smoldering Album From Guitarslinger Phil Gammage

Phil Gammage is one of the great polymath guitarists in New York. He got his start as a hotshot lead player with second-gen CBGB band Certain General while still in his teens,. But the native Texan always stayed in touch with his Americana roots. Over the years, he’s gone deep into Chicago blues, hard country and even spare dustbowl folk. On the mic, he’s a crooner with a noir streak. In the years before the lockdown, he could be found at small venues across Manhattan, and he’s back at a favorite haunt, 11th Street Bar in the East Village tonight, June 22 at 8:30 PM.

His latest album Nowhere to Somewhere – streaming at Bandcamp – is his strongest and most diverse release in a long and underrated career. The level of songcraft matches the vast stylistic range in Gammage’s bag of riffs. He opens with Walk in the Sun,-a dirty bumpa-bumpa blues, Hound Dog Taylor mixed with Sleepy LaBeef and a little peak-era mid-80s Gun Club.

Gammage switches to acoustic twelve-string for Between the Tracks, then adds simmering electric layers and spare piano for a distantly menacing Dream Syndicate ambience. Greg Holt’s violin swirls over Michael Fox’s lithe drums and Brian Karp’s low-key bass in Voice on the Phone, a tasty mashup of 70s Stylistics soul and early 50s pre-rockabilly.

Gammage reinvents the Appalachian gothic ballad Alone and Forsaken as spare Mark Sinnis-style cemetery and western with funeral-parlor organ lurking in the background. Then he picks up the pace with What Would I Do, blending slurry blues riffs, sophisticated countrypolitan phrasing and spare, incisive Chicago blues.

Gammage works a warmly familiar four-chord front-porch folk progression in Come on Lightning, Holt’s violin weaving and dancing overhead. He returns to Nashville gothic for the gloomy electric Hank Williams shuffle Just Another Traveling Man, the ghost choir of Michele Butler and Joe Nieves lingering in the background.

It’s impossible to think of a more creepy, lurid, Lynchian cover of Night Life than the spare, sepulchral one here. Next, Gammage mashes up classic Carl Perkins rockabilly and a little southern-fried mid-80s boogie in Never Ending Setting Sun.

He works terse contrasts between acoustic and electric, major and minor in the nocturnally swaying Shadow Road. So Long and Goodbye, the closing cut, is the closest thing to 21st century Americana here. Like so many albums that came out in the musical dead zone that was the fall and winter of 2021, this one pretty much sank without a trace, which is too bad because it’s a clinic in purist guitar. Fans of Eric Ambel, Steve Wynn and the edgy first wave of Americana bands from the 80s like the Long Ryders will love this.

Slinky, Sophisticated Organ Jazz That Might Have Slipped Under the Radar

Dr. Pam Popper, who has emerged as one of the brightest lights  since the 2020 lockdown, has made a big deal of the fact that no matter how disturbing the current situation becomes, we can’t afford to let our joie de vivre be stolen from us. And what’s better to lift our spirits than funky organ jazz? Jared Gold, one of the most sophisticated organists in that demimonde, is leading a trio tomorrow night, June 22 at Smalls, with sets at 7:30 and a little after 9; cover is $25 cash at the door.

Gold has put out plenty of good albums of his own: his 2012 release Golden Child is the most distinctive and in its own defiantly thorny way, maybe the best of the bunch. A record that’s probably closer to what he’s likely to deliver in a venue like Smalls is guitarist Dave Stryker‘s slinky but urbane Baker’s Circle, streaming at Bandcamp (Gold has been Stryker’s main man on organ for quite awhile). Like a lot of albums that came out during the dead zone of the winter of 2021, it’s flown under the radar, which is too bad because it’s a great party record.

The first of Stryker’s originals here is the opening track, Tough – a briskly shuffling, catchy, soul-infused Styker original full of precise, warmly bending guitar lines, bright tenor sax from Walter Smith III and subtle flashes from across drummer McClenty Hunter’s kit. Gold stays on track with the band in his solo, with his steady blues riffage.

There’s lithely tumbling latin flair in the second track, El Camino, matched by Smith’s precise, chromatic downward cascades, Stryker’s drive toward a spiraling attack and a tantalizingly brief Gold solo.

Smith and Gold harmonize tersely over the tricky syncopation of Dreamsong, the bandleader channeling a late 50s soul-jazz vibe over lurking, resonant organ. They make tightly strutting swing out of Cole Porter’s Everything I Love, with carefree yet judicious lines from both the bandleader and then Gold. The lone Gold tune here is the aptly titled, scampering Rush Hour, with rambunctious solos from Smith and then Stryker.

The quartet rescue Leon Russell’s early 70s tune Superstar from the circle of hell occupied by groups like the Carpenters, then launch into the title track, the last of the Stryker originals. No spoilers about what jazz classic that one nicks: percussionist Mayra Casales adds subtle boom to the low end.

Likewise, they play Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues as a tightly straight-up clave tune with Stryker’s spikiest work here, Gold’s edge in contrast with Smith’s balmy approach. Stryker finally goes for Wes Montgomery homage in Love Dance, by Ivan Lins. They close the record with Trouble (No. 2), a reworking of the old Lloyd Price hit that while short of feverish, owes a lot to Peggy Lee.

If you’re wondering what the album title refers to, it’s a shout-out to Stryker’s mentor and guitar teacher David Baker.

Summery Sounds From Guitarist Yuval Amihai and Pianist David Kikoski

Go to pianist David Kikoski’s discography page, and as you would expect there are plenty of albums where he’s the bandleader. Scroll down to his sideman projects and you’ll find that the very first album listed is the Mingus Big Band’s sizzling Live at the Jazz Standard album from 2010. Big surprise: Kikoski is a big reason why that album is one of the most exhilarating of the past dozen years. He’s lyrical, he has an edge and he gets a ton of gigs, which is why he doesn’t often get a chance to lead his own projects here. He’s doing that this June 11 with a trio at 10:30 PM at Mezzrow. Cover is $25 cash at the door; he’s back in that intimate space on June 25.

Kikoski is also very versatile. One new album that gives him a chance to go in a direction he hasn’t gone in much lately is Israeli guitarist Yuval Amihai‘s My 90s Summer, streaming at Soundcloud. Kikoski plays Rhodes electric piano on this one, which in general is closer to soul and downtempo music than it is jazz.

Amihai opens with the title track, a swaying, summery soul theme with a balmy horn chart: Julieta Eugenio on tenor sax, Wayne Tucker and Itai Kriss on flute giving way to carefree solos by Amihai and Kikorski and a big cheery crescendo. It sets the stage for much of the rest of the record.

The band prowl like a lynx, sleek on its feet but lethal in MEDB (Middle Eastern Desert Blues), with deliciously simmering harmonies from the bandleader and Kikoski’s Rhodes. It doesn’t sound the least bit Malian and it doesn’t sound particularly Middle Eastern either. as Kikoski winds his way through a twinkling, nocturnal solo.

Gwen’s Groove is a vampy trip-hop launching pad for bright, matter-of-fact solos from guitar and Rhodes. The band reach for a balmy, summery lullaby soul sound in Song For Sasha. They follow that with the aptly titled Smiles, Kikoski switching to acoustic piano for a typically glistening, rather impetuous interlude over the tiptoeing syncopation of bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Jeremy Dutton. It’s the best and most traditional jazz number on the record.

Amihai revisits the furtive nocturnal slink of the album’s second number, if less ominously, in Yitgaber. The album’s big epic is Coming Through, which sounds like a late 70s/early 80s Steely Dan song without words, Kikoski back on piano for an emphatically strolling, blues-infused solo. Amihai gives the record a warmly swaying coda with Saturday Afternoon.

Most of this is not heavy music, but Amihai really knows how to create a mood and keep it going. Clearly, the 90s were a happy time for him. How little those of us who were there knew how much we would eventually miss those days.

Punk-Soul Legend Jon Spencer Bursts Out of Lockdown With a Funny New Album

If Jon Spencer never made another record, his place in New York rock history would be secure. The genius of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was that they were able to carve out a distinctive niche in the gutter blues scene here by adding a more colorful, focused soul and garage rock-influenced sound. Where, say, the Chrome Cranks pursued an unhinged, doomed junkie fixation, JSBX played party music. And (along with their more lyrically inclined colleagues White Hassle) they beat the White Stripes to the bassless shtick by several years.

Fast forward to 2022: Spencer has a new band, the HITmakers, and a new album Spencer Gets It Lit streaming at Bandcamp. This isn’t the first time Spencer has worked without a guitar sparring partner: his foil on the record is keyboardist Sam Coomes. M. Sord plays drums; former Sonic Youth Bob Bert is credited with “trash.” His bangable metallic objects punch through the surface from time to time, but the effect is more organic than industrial. All of this you can dance to.

They open the record with Junk Man, a fuzztone Stooges take on roller-rink soul. Then they pull back on the fuzz and ramp up the catchy 60s psych-pop riffs in Get It Right Now.

There are a grand total of fifteen tracks on this album: Spencer does not cheat his fans. Among them, there’s a skeletal, hypnotic one-chord stomp punctuated by a couple of creepy surf interludes. Spencer cleverly pokes the TV Eye riff out over clouds of buzzy synth. He mashes up Roky Erikson clang with a 90s loopiness, then does the same a little later on with late 70s Rockpile twang and woozy new wave.

Sometimes he harmonizes his riffs with the keys, sometimes he lets the synth weave around: he’s never played more minimalistically than he does here. He often throws in some surreal, sometimes sinister spoken word that draws a straight line back to Iggy through the Eels’ Mark E. Beyond sheer craftsmanship, this isn’t particularly serious music, but there are lots of good jokes if you listen closely.

Slashing Twin-Guitar Intensity on Jane Lee Hooker’s New Album

Jane Lee Hooker play a snarling, distinctive mix of gutter blues, retro soul music, psychedelia and 70s acid rock. Their latest album Rollin’ – streaming at Spotify – is their most ambitious, soul-oriented and strongest release yet.

They open with Lucky. a heavy soul anthem. Frontwoman Dana Athens’ raw, impassioned vocals ring out in between stomps from the guitars of Tracy Hightop and Tina T-Bone Gorin. As bassist Hail Mary Zadroga and drummer Lightnin’ Ron Salvo lay down a lithe, incisive 6/8 groove, the two guitarists diverge into separate channels, flinging bits of blues at each other and an exchange of solos from simmering to savage.

That slashing, conversational dynamic recurs memorably throughout the rest of the record. Athens punches in on both piano and organ on the second track, Drive, a seething retro 60s-style soul tune. They follow a twisting trajectory in Jericho, from a brisk anthem down to a lull, only to explode out at the end.

The band bring a restless, relentless energy to a well-worn gospel-tinged soul jamband sound in Weary Bones: if only the thousands of other groups who play this kind of stuff could steer clear of cliches as well as this crew do.

They hit a roaring, catchy early 80s-style powerpop drive in All Good Things, then slow down a little for the organ soul tune Mercy Mercy Mercy, a vehicle for Athens’ powerful pipes. Then the band’s two guitarslingers switch out their electrics for an acoustic and a National steel model in White Gold, a delta blues stomp.

The rampaging boogie Runaway Train comes across as a more jagged, female-fronted take on peak-era 70s Blue Oyster Cult. They close the album with Mean Town Blues, a deliciously unhinged, stampeding gutter blues tune with the album’s longest guitar duel.

Jane Lee Hooker are on European tour right now. Their next restriction-free show is on June 7 at 8 PM at Samlingsstuen, Andresens Købmandsgård 4 in Kerteminde, Denmark; cover is 250 kr.

Drummer Kresten Osgood Airs Out His Funky Chops on Hammond Organ

Here in the west we emphasize musical specialization to the point of absurdity. In the Middle East and Africa, pretty much everybody is expected to be a competent drummer: after that. you find your own axe or axes. In that context, it’s less surprising that Kresten Osgood, the popular Danish drummer, would also turn out to be a very inspired organist. His new album, Kresten Osgood Plays the Organ for You is due to hit his Bandcamp page on June 3.

After playing behind the kit for organists including Dr. Lonnie Smith and Billy Preston, Osgood decided to take matters into his own hands and leave the organ envy behind. The result is a purposeful, thoughtful party record.

The opening number. Play it Back features Osgood’s steady, catchy, vampy riffage over a loose-limbed groove with Fridolin Nordsø on chicken-scratch wah-wah guitar, Ludomir Dietl on drums and Arto Eriksen on percussion. Exactly what you would expect from a drummer: everybody is in on the beats!

Osgood really chooses his spots from there, spacing his clusters, spirals and a logical, playful counterpoint in the second track, Poinciana. The group make their way through the slowly swaying thicket of percussion in Wildfire, a catchy Booker T-style theme with an incisive, psychedelic wah solo from Nordsø

Når lyset Bryder Frem – “when the lights go on,” roughly translated – is a warmly major-key retro 60s soul-funk tune. Osgood wraps his hands around some big chords in his longest, most undulating tune here, Baby Let Me Take You in My Arms, Nordsø taking off into space and spinning back down to earth before the jungle of beats takes centerstage.

The band pick up with a harder edge in Onsaya Joy, then Osgood launches into the catchiest, but also most complex number on the album, Dansevise, with its shifts between major and minor, jazz and 60s psychedelic soul.

The quartet wind up the record with a bouncy midtempo funk cover of By The Time I Get to Phoenix Osgood artfully edging his way into the melody. His next New York gig is behind the kit on May 28 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery, in an interesting improvisational trio with trumpeter Herb Robertson and tuba player Marcus Rojas.

Guitarslinger Stew Cutler Brings Purist Oldschool Flavor to His New Blues Record

The trouble with jazz guitarists who venture into the blues is that most of them are not very good at it. Too many notes! Marvin Sewell and Andre Matos are rare exceptions – and so is Stew Cutler. His new album The Blues From Another Angle is streaming at Spotify. And it’s not all blues: Cutler tackles oldschool 60s soul and Booker T & the MGs-style soul-funk grooves as well.

Bobby Harden sings the opening track, a cover of Tyrone Davis’ Can I Change My Mind, pianist Tom Wilson taking a gorgeously bittersweet, stiletto solo over the low-key pulse of bassist Booker King and drummer Bill McClellan. Cutler modestly limits himself to spare, muted, purist chordal work.

On the album’s first instrumental, Blews, Cutler plays through a chorus effect for an early Albert Collins evocation, setting up a terse Wilson piano solo. As goofy as parts of that one are, Cutler completely flips the script with Can I Say It Again, a sleek, sophisticated minor-key groove, Wilson’s organ beneath the bandleader’s alternately mournful and fiery lines.

Cutler breaks out his slide for some searing swoops in Get It While You Can, with his wife Mary Jean on the mic. He mashes up some bright Wes Montgomery octaves into a vintage soul theme in Janque, with a blippy Wilson organ solo. Harden takes over the vocals on Plane to a Train over a Booker T-style backdrop, Steve Elson adding jubilant sax.

Cutler follows the vampy Please Mr. Vibration with the wry slide-driven soul tune Say What You Mean. He shifts from brisk to pensive in the vintage George Benson-esque The Passing of RR Moore – a tribute to the great Rudy Ray Moore, a.k.a. Dolomite – Wilson kicking in a long, crescendoing organ solo.

Nightshift Blues, a boomy concert recording, is a slowly unwinding vehicle for Cutler’s frenetically clustering phrases. He goes back to a George Benson vibe to close the record with Shine or Rain, with Wilson – who is the not-so-secret weapon here – adding yet another incisive organ break. Fans of purist soul and blues have a lot to sink their ears into here.

Martina Fiserova Brings Her Individualistic, Soulful Tunesmithing to the Lower East

From the mid-teens until the 2020 lockdown, Czech-born songwriter Martina Fiserova was a familiar presence and a distinctive voice in the New York small club scene. Her tunesmithing is sophisticated, purposeful and defies categorization, with elements of oldschool soul, chamber pop, 90s trip-hop and jazz. She plays electric rather than acoustic guitar, likes short songs and sings in strong English in an unselfconsciously direct, uncluttered voice. Since the lifting of restrictions, she’s back on the live circuit, with an early show tonight, May 22 at 5 PM at the small room at the Rockwood.

Like so many artists whose career was put on ice by the grim events of March 2020 and afterward, Fiserova hasn’t put out an album in awhile. Her most recent release, Shift, came out in 2015 and is still up at Bandcamp: it gives you a good idea of the many angles she comes from. She’s got a great band behind her: Brian Charette on organ and piano, and her fellow Czechs Tomáš Baroš on bass and Dano Šoltis on drums. In addition to guitar, Fiserova plays tone lyre, slate xylophone, bronze metallophone and keys.

She opens with Silver Streams, a slow, catchy, minimalist ballad awash in water imagery, that picks up with an unexpectedly funky pulse fueled by a cheery, blues-infused Charette piano solo. Track two, Crater is a hypnotically clustering number in 12/8: “The sleep is broken, tears are stuck in my throat… unseen forces, the pain spreads like white sheets…”

Song For Brian, a swaying, pensive number contrasts Charette’s strikingly direct piano with Fiserova’s more enigmatic guitar lines. “The sound of a breaking heart is stronger than a storm,” she muses in the intro to Cold, then the band leaps into a brisk, bracing offbeat shuffle, Charette on soul organ

She follows Misunderstanding, a slinky, low-key organ swing tune with Invisible Blood, the band slowly edging their way into waltz time as Charette adds iciness behind Fiserova’s elegant fingerpicking and more of that loaded water imagery.

An unlikely flock of pigeons serve as inspiration for the next track, And Fly!, Fiserova offering plainspoken, inspiring encouragement to leave fear behind. Little did she know when she recorded it how relevant this song would become five years later!

She keeps the fearless theme going in My Wind, with its rhythmic twists and turns. from jazz into oldschool soul and back on the wings of Charette’s organ. He blends organ and blippy Rhodes piano in Chasm, a brisk, twinkling, motorik soul tune that could be the album’s catchiest track. Then Fiserova completely flips the script with Silver Moon, rising from an understatedly dark, squirrelly free jazz intro to a big, soaring anthem. The final cut is the pensive, airily wary Closer. Since the album came out, Fiserova has pursued a more straightforward, guitar-driven sound: she is likely to take the volume up a notch at the Rockwood gig.

Sami Stevens Brings Her Blue-Flame Soul Intensity to the Lower East Side

Sami Stevens was sixteen when she sang the national anthem at Fenway Park. That’s a gig that’s just as difficult to get as it is to pull off. If there’s video evidence, it’s well hidden, which is too bad. It’s a fair bet that she hit it out of the park, sometime around the tail end of the Tito Francona era, in the years when the Red Sox were struggling to sustain the level they’d reached after their 2007 world championship.

More recently, Stevens has become one of the most electrifying singers in New York. She’s the not-so-secret weapon in faux-Italian psychedelic soundtrack band Tredici Bacci, and before the lockdown held down a popular residency at the Parkside in Ditmas Park. She’s back at an old haunt, the small room at the Rockwood in a couple of days, at 8 PM on April 28.

Stevens put out the full-length album And I’m Right in 2017 with her band And the Man I Love, which is still up at Bandcamp. The production is refreshingly oldschool, organic and features a full band with horns, shades of early Lake Street Dive. Stevens’ songwriting isn’t constrained to four minutes or less, and her songs are spiced with thoughtful sax solos and keyboard work (Stevens plays piano; it’s not clear if that’s her on the record). The title track to that one is a good indication of the kind of simmering intensity she channels onstage, a big, wounded, gospel-tinged struggler’s anthem in 6/8 time.

Stevens works a slinky/slashing dichotomy in Over and Over, another catchy, expansive ballad. She takes a more breathily expressive approach to Baby Blue, a retro Bill Withers-style tune, then follows a simmering, gospel-fueled upward trajectory in Where Will I Find My Best Friend. Then she picks up the pace with A Child They Said Was Mine, a parable of urban disquiet that rings just as true now

There’s also the catchy, steady self-empowerment strut Learn to Love, with its fluttery horns and starry keys; She Is God, a spine-tingling, impassioned shout-out to everyday female determination; and a slightly truncated single version of the title cut. If you missed this the first time around, it’s one of the most imaginative, purist albums of soul music released in the past several years.

Stevens’ most recent release is a short album, Make Your Mind, which she put out in the fall of 2020 and is also up at Bandcamp. In general, it’s more low-key, trippy and neosoul-oriented.

Sunday Singles – A Bombshell and a Movie This Time

In times like these, everybody is being called on to think outside the box, this blog included. That’s why today’s list of brief items includes a hilarious short film, a sobering little news bulletin and a schoolgirl speaking truth to power. As usual, click on artist or author names for their webpages, click on titles for audio or video.

Let’s start with the bombshell, which some of you have undoubtedly seen by now since Project Veritas is the #1 most-watched channel on Telegram. Until now, we haven’t seen a lot of big pharma whistleblowers, but this leaked Zoom call from the bowels of AstraZeneca on December 3,. 2020 is damning as hell. In the context of pitching a monoclonal antibody product as a potential Covid treatment, CEO Pascal Soriot cops to the fact that “There are millions of people in the world that will need a protection that cannot be coming from a vaccine.” Kaboom. Nuremberg 2.0, here we come.

Now a break for music with one of this blog’s alltime favorites: Everything But the Girl doing Little Hitler, a soaring, soulful anthem from their lavishly orchestrated 1986 album Baby the Stars Shine Bright Tonight.

Just to be clear, EBTG singer Tracey Thorn is being sarcastic when she sings “Every woman loves a fascist.” The thirteen-year-old Australian girl in this anonymous Rumble video clearly doesn’t, as she elegantly and articulately rips Klaus Schwab a new one. Who says all the kids today are sheeple!

For practically two years now, Dr. Pam Popper – author of the very first plandemic expose, COVID Operation and founder of Make Americans Free Again – has been putting out an endless series of easily digestible short videos on the news of the day. This one is not meant to scare but to inform. As she explains, there’s a “smart” health card currently being developed by a sinister coalition including Microsoft, Salesforce.com and, surprisingly, the Mayo Clinic. To cut to the chase, it’s a platform for a communist Chinese-style social credit scheme, scheduled to be deployed on a state-by-state basis. As of today, Arizona, Nevada and Utah are already on board, with West Virginia, Oklahoma and South Carolina close behind…unless, of course, people refuse to comply.. Deets in brief at Popper’s must-watch Rumble channel.

OK, now that we’ve gotten most all of the serious stuff out of the way, here’s a very funny short film. In just under thirty minutes, Doc Tracy is a venomously amusing mashup (and sometimes a parody) of The Matrix, Project Veritas and film noir in general. Listen as none other than Dr. Simone Gold chews the scenery in her role as a quasi-Switch! Watch as our hero tracks down the real-life Kristina Lawson, head of the California Medical Board, who as it turns out isn’t even a doctor! You can’t make this stuff up.