New York Music Daily

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Category: soul music

A Passionate Lincoln Center Debut By Charismatic Detroit Singer Thornetta Davis

What better place than Lincoln Center for Thornetta Davis, “Detroit’s Queen of the Blues,” to unveil her new horn section? “I just learned about her a year ago and had the great fortune to see her at B.B. King’s,” explained Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez, who programmed Davis’ impassioned, sweaty, unselfconsciously workmanlike performance this past evening.

Since the 80s, Davis’ career has taken a slow, steady upward tangent, to the point where she’s just as popular in Europe as she is in her hometown. Not bad for a woman who, as a single mom back in the 80s, considered herself lucky to be pulling in a couple hundred bucks a week singing with Motor City group the Chisel Brothers. Fronting her eight-piece band –  guitar, five-string bass, keys, drums, congas, tenor sax and trumpet – she put a fresh spin on a popular old sound. 

In just the first two minutes of the opening instrumental, the group swung their way from gritty Fender Rhodes funk into sunnier, trumpet-spiced soul ballad territory. Regal in a sparkly all-black outfit and a serious mane of an afro, brandishing a witchy peacock-feather fan, Davis took the stage with a cool but insistent take of I Gotta Sing the Blues, a pulsing vintage Tina Turner-style anthem. Guitarist Carlton Washington took a jaggedly tasty, clanking early-70s style solo before Davis drove the music upward, cutting loose with her vibrato.

Washington’s lingering chords against the steady thump of the congas lent some noir latin flavor to A Pretty Good Love, Davis reaching to the bottom of her formidable low register at the end. The band hit a no-nonsense vintage Chicago-style blues shuffle in That Don’t Appease Me, Washington’s purist riffage again matching Davis’ defiant delivery. Then his spare Smokey Robinson-like lines mingled with keyboardist Phil Hale’s spare gospel lines in the gorgeous vintage 60s-style soul ballad Am I Just a Shadow.

Hale’s scampering Rhodes added extra funk to When I’m Kissing My Love. “I wrote this song because this brother kept calling me, messing with my head,” Davis explained as the band launched into the slow, simmering blues ballad I’d Rather Be Alone. “That key in your hand don’t unlock my door,” she cautioned, building to a slow, impassioned peak along with the horns, Hale’s slinky, purist electric piano. and Washington’s shivery vibrato-toned lines. She brought it down at the end with a sly series of disses for a guy who’s too full of himself for his own good.

They got funky again with I Need a Whole Lotta Lovin to Satisfy Me – by this point, the dancefloor in front of the stage had filled up, kids on the Broadway side of the room, oldsters closer to the doors on Columbus Avenue. The the group ripped through the blues classic Further On Up the Road, Washington bobbing and weaving between the horns. 

Washington saved the night’s most intense pyrotechnics for a long solo in the lush ballad after that. “We need prayer every time we can get it in, especially these days,” Davis mused, introducing an elegantly fervent version of the B.B. King classic Please Send Me Someone to Love. She shimmied and took a couple of leaps to kick off the swinging shuffle Get Up and Dance Away Your Blues. After a Memphis-tinged take of Honest Woman, the optimistically swaying title track from her latest album, she closed with I Believe, a simmering, slide guitar-driven roadhouse blues.

In an era where the blues has become a legacy style, like bluegrass and roots reggae – and a lot of bands play it like it’s an artifact in a museum – Davis and her band are a blast of fresh air.

One particularly enticing, upcoming free concert at Lincoln Center’s atrium space just north of 62nd St. on Broadway is on May 31 at 7:30 PM with charismatic crooner Zeshan B “doing Memphis blues with a little Pakistani feel,” as Benitez put it. Get there early if you’re going.

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Edgy, Danceable B3 Grooves From the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio

Seattle band the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio are akin to Booker T & the MG’s with more of a guitar-oriented, often darkly cinematic focus. These irrepressible, constantly touring groovemeisters are bringing their party to the big room at the Rockwood this April 18 at 10:30 PM; cover is $15.

Their latest album Close But No Cigar – streaming at Spotify – bubbles and simmers with influences from a half-century of soul, funk and groove: these three guys live for throwing riffs back and forth, whether original ones, or hooks from obscure 1960s singles. The record opens with the title track, a catchy strut that’s like a mashup of the Meters and early James Brown, the bandleader’s subtly tremoloing organ contrasting with guitarist Jimmy James’  sharp funk lines over drummer David McGraw’s edgy snare hits and snowstorm cymbals. James’ wry, warpy, tone-bending guitar solo midway through is irresistibly fun.

Little Booker T is a self-effacing title for a slow but purposefully swaying soul groove driven by snarling guitar that shifts between distorted, staccato rhythm and big expansive chords, in contrast to Lamarr’s suammery fills and pulses. Ain’t It Funky Now is truth in advertising, a vintage JB’s-style slink. As with a lot these tracks, the organ and guitar switch up roles, between melody and rhythm, a trick most B3 bands use too infrequently. James indulges in some twangy blues over Lamarr’s leadfoot stomp midway through.

James vamps on an edgy 70s soul-jazz riff and variations in Close But No Cigar. Memphis – a Lamarr tune, not a cover – is another vampy number, Lamarr and James casually trading licks, with a couple of bluesy organ solos punctuating the interplay. Al Greenery – these guys are good with titles – is closer to the gritty noir cinematics of the City Champs than Rev. Green, bristling with wide-angle minor-key guitar over Lamarr’s slithery lines. Likewise, James’ serpentine, sparkly Marv Tarplin-ish lines propel Can I Change My Mind.

The no-nonsense strut Between the Mayo and the Mustard falls somewhere between Jimmy Smith, Booker T and the Meters, with a big powerful chorus packed with tense echo phrases – you can almost hear the horns. Raymond Brings the Greens bursts and pulses with oldschool soul-funk flavor; it’s the album’s funniest track. The trio wind it up with their only cover, a slow, simmering, heavily camouflaged take of the Burt Bacharach classic Walk On By

Oh yeah – you can dance to all this.

At 72, Soul Survivor Bettye LaVette Releases Her Best Album At a Sold-Out Show at City Winery

Friday night at City Winery, soul music legend Bettye LaVette bragged that she was the oldest living artist with a new record deal. She joked with the sold-out crowd, explaining that at 72, she’s at the point where she needs a cheat sheet – except that onstage, she can barely read the thing. But she’s never sung better, nor has she had such a great band behind her. It was a shattering performance by someone who’s dedicated herself to transcendence probably more for simple survival than as a career strategy.

LaVette was the first of a long line of soul music rediscoveries back in the 90s, rising from near destitution in Detroit to a level of popularity that had eluded her since a promising start as a teenager in the 1960s.  Most recently, a member of her inner circle had floated the idea that she should do an album of Bob Dylan covers. That took shape with her latest release, Things Have Changed, streaming at youtube. A cynic would say that it’s the kind of last-ditch stunt a cash-starved label would pull, recycling whatever they have left in the vaults that still might generate any income. Yet LaVette reinvents these tunes, many of them on the obscure side, as the guy who wrote them never could. As Dylan cover albums go, the only two that rank alongside this one are Mary Lee’s Corvette’s thrilling, chilling live performance of Blood on the Tracks, and The Byrds Play Dylan.

The band behind LaVette had brilliance to match LaVette’s gritty, simmeringly impassioned vocals. Guitarist Brett Lucas was more slash than flash with his purist, pristine minor-key blues licks. Bassist James Simonson and drummer Darryl Pierce switched from swing to lowdown slink. Keyboardist Evan Mercier shifted between deep echoey shadows from his electric piano, to moody washes of organ.

LaVette didn’t waste time bringing the blue-flame intensity to redline with the album’s title track, stalking along over reverbtoned electric piano and Lucas’ minor-key surgical incisions. In her hands, “I’m locked in tight and I’m way out of range” took on as many meanings as its author possibly could have intended. Later in the set, the syncopated tension of The Times They Are A-Changin’ underscored the sudden relevance that song’s taken on since the fateful 2016 Presidential election. LaVette also mined new depths in a defiantly strutting version of Ain’t Talkin, a surreal travelogue in a world that grows ever more “mysterious and vague.”

The rest of the set followed a dynamic, up-and-down arc, from Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight – reinvented as Lou Reed soul by way of Karla Rose, maybe – to the Rhodesy, bluesy Seeing the Real You At Last, with a resolute backbeat drive as Steve Wynn could have done it.

Lucas and Simonson joined forces with suspenseful downward chromatic riffage to punctuate Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others) as LaVette channeled distant venom, yet held back from fullscale drama: she knows to always leave you wanting more. She explained that it had taken her a couple of bottles of champagne to get a handle on how to sing Emotionally Yours – but also that the song had made her cry. She encored with her one original of the night,  Before the Money Came, a brisk career retrospective that was surprisingly much more sweet than bitter, the band giving it a summery Memphis groove.

LaVette’s current tour continues; lucky Oregonians can see her on April 22 at 7:30 at the Aladdin Theatre, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave. in Portland for $35, cheaper than any other recent show of hers. If soul or gospel music is your thing, don’t miss the Resistance Revival Chorus, who came out of the first Women’s March on Washington and whose allstar all-female cast sing lavish, brand-new gospel-flavored protest songs. They’re at City Winery on April 12 at 8 PM for $15.

Slinky Female-Fronted Funk and Soul From Shelley Nicole’s BlaKbüshe at Lincoln Center

“It is going to be an amazing, amazing night,” enthused Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh as politically fearless singer Shelley Nicole took the stage there last night with her shapeshifting eight-piece band blaKbüshe. This was the latest of a long series of Lincoln Center performances for the veteran member of kaleidoscopic New York avant funk institution Burnt Sugar.

Dressed in a natty grey suit with gold sleeves and vest, sporting a short mohawk and smacking a tambourine, she and her nine-piece band kicked off the party with BlaK Girls, a slinky latin-flavored funk tune that took a turn into classic 70s disco and then back. Keyboardist Leon Gruenbaum wound it up with a bubbly Rhodes solo. He teamed up with bassist Ganessa James for a thunderstorm low end as the band pounced into Box – as in “You’re not gonna box me!” – a heavy, cinematic funk tune driven by drummer Hiroyuki Matsuura and percusionist Shawn Banks.’

As the show went on, members of the Burnt Sugar family pitched in. One intoned a heartfelt, elegaic poem, For Marjory over a spaciously twinkly Isaac Hayes psych-soul backdrop. From there the group segued into the Harlem River Drive boudoir soul ballad Give It to Me, the bandleader’s impassioned vocals in tandem with harmony singer Ki Ki Hawkins, handing off to T. Jeffrey Smith’s smoky tenor sax and then a moody trumpet solo from Lewis Barnes before a big horn raveup.

Burnt Sugar guitarist Ben Tyree materialized at the back of the stage as Jerome Jordan switched out during that band’s Somebody to Love You, a slow-jam salute to motherhood punctuated by resonant, wee-hours muted trumpet and some snazzy, flickering tremolo-picking. Meanwhile, videos played on the screen overhead – one particularly strong image was a woman being embraced from behind, “Our love is militant” lipsticked on her chest.

A Doobie Brothers cover by any other band would have cleared the room, but you have to give this crew credit for having the chutzpah to do Long Train Running, reinventing it as a brisk soul-clap tune with a growling Jeff Jeudy metal guitar solo midway through.  A poetic tribute to Nina Simone was a big hit, followed by the catchy, determined hard-funk anthem I Am American, inspired by the promise of Obama’s first campaign.

“Puerto Rico is not in the news cycle. Let us not forget,” Nicole reminded, explaining that she’d welcome any contributions for a family with two little girls there that she’s helping through hard times. Then she launched into her new pro-choice single Punnany Politixxx – but before she did that she made sure everybody knew what punanny is. Images from recent womens’ marches played overhead as the group built momentum up to a rapidfire dancehall reggae coda featuring Jua Kali. 

The night’s best song was the defiantly undulating, organ-fueled latin soul anthem In Your View. They closed with Power on the Floor, its latin-funk message of empowerment inspired by the character Trinity in The Matrix. Fans of this band should also check out the free show on April 13 at 7:30 PM at the Lincoln Center atrium space just south of 63rd St. where singer Martha Redbone will collaborate with the similarly eclectic Brooklyn Raga Massive for a mashup of Indian and African-American sounds. Get there early if you’re going.

Captivating Cutting-Edge New Indian Sounds from  the Women’s Raga Massive

True to their bandname, the Brooklyn Raga Massive draw on a huge talent base, including but not necessarily limited to players who specialize in Indian classical music. Their rise from their early days at a grungy little Fort Greene bar to big summer festivals is a rare feel-good story in recent New York music. These days, they reinvent John Coltrane and Terry Riley, put on all-night raga parties and push the envelope with where Indian music can go.

Because all of their members are busy with their own careers, the cast is constantly rotating. The Brooklyn Raga Massive also have a subset, the Women’s Raga Massive, whose new compilation, compiled by brilliant violinist Trina Basu, is steaming at Bandcamp. 20% of the proceeds from the album are being donated to the nonprofit Indrani’s Light Foundation, dedicated to empowering women and combating gender violence. They’re playing Joe’s Pub tonight, March 31 at 7 PM; cover is $20.

The artists here are a mix of singers and instrumentalists. Although most of the tracks ultimately draw on centuries-old melodies, most of the arrangements are brand-new and very innovative. The album opens with flutist Rasika Shekar’s Uproar, rising from a brightly modal swirl to a mashup of Afro-Cuban jazz and modal carnatic riffage fueled by Hooni Min’s emphatic piano.

Basu’s string band Karavika contribute The Time Is Now, its warmly undulating melody over alternately scattergun and hypnotically thumping percussion. Cellist Amali Premawardhana’s memorably gentle solo sets up a brightly soaring response from Basu. A bit later on she and her violinist husband Arun Ramamurthy join forces with the aptly titled, epic Tempest, building from a hypnotic, rhythmic pulse to echo effects, a funky sway and all kinds of juicy, microtonal bends and churning riffs before a final calm.

Multimedia artist/singer Samita Sinha represents the avant garde with the sparse, childlike vocal piece Suspension. Arooj Aftab’s poignantly melismatic vocals swirl over Bhrigu Sahni’s delicate acoustic guitar and Baqir Abbas’ bansuri flute in the sparse, spacious Man Kunto Maula, a more traditional piece.

Mitali Bhawmik’s vocal ornamentations rise from restraint to pure tremoloing bliss in Miyan Ki Malhar, above a stately backdrop of Ramachandra Joshi’s harmonium and Meghashyam Keshav’s tabla.

Pianist/singer Ganavya Doraiswamy’s Nithakam: Dedication to Prashant Bhargava is a somber Indian take on Gershwin’s Summertime. Violin/piano sister duo Anjna & Rajna Swaminathan team up with guitarist Sam McCormally for the broodingly modal Indian gothic trip-hop anthem Ocean of Sadness. Then paradigm-shifting carnatic choir the Navatman Music Collective flip the script with their playfully hip-hop tinged Urban Gamaka (Hindolam Thillana), singers Roopa Mahadevan and Shiv Subramaniam trading shivery microtonal licks over a steady, swaying backdrop.

Navayee, by Persian-American singer/guitarist Haleh Liza Gafori is a balmy love ballad animated by Matt Kilmer’s clip-clop percussion. Psychedelic soul singer Shilpa Ananth works subtle dynamics with similarly lush atmospherics in Enge Nee, against Takahiro Izumikawa’s bubbly Rhodes piano.  

The album’s longest and most trad track is sitarist Alif Laila’s twelve-minute-plus segment of Raga Kedar, a brisk romp right off the bat that doesn’t wait to get to the shivery, spine-tingling heart of the matter. It’s arguably the high point of the album; the ending is a complete surprise.

Violinist Nistha Raj matches and then jauntily trades riffs with alto saxophonist Aakash Mittal in Jayanthi, which is only slightly shorter. Yalini Dream narrates an imagistic antiwar poem over Ganavya’s vocalese and atmospherics to close the album. Fans of cutting-edge Indian sounds like these should also check out the Brooklyn Raga Massive’s other albums, especially their Coltrane covers collection, which feature some of these artists.

Populist Songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews Reinvents Classic Americana at the Mercury Tonight

Don’t let the hazy faux-70s Polaroid filter on the album cover of Courtney Marie Andrews’ latest album May Your Kindness Remain – streaming at Bandcamp – fool you. It isn’t dadrock. It’s a vivid, sobering collection of narratives set in a bleak, impoverished Trump-era milieu. The instrumentation behind the Americana songstress’ wounded wail is an unlikely blend of churchy organ and resonant, sometimes roaring washes of electric guitar. You might think that this mashup of oldschool soul, vintage C&W and psychedelia would be jarring to the extreme, but it works. Andrews is at the Mercury tonight, March 27 at 8 PM; cover is $12.

Andrews opens the record with the title track, a broodingly vivid 99-percenter ballad, hope against hope in a dingy blue-collar setting where kindness is “not something that can be bought or arranged.”

Lift the Lonely From My Heart is an oldschool country ballad reinvented as lingering psychedelic tone poem:  “Do you still see the good inside me or am I a shell of who I once was?” Andrews asks, dreading the obvious answer. The band – Dillon Warnek on lead guitar, Daniel Walker and Charles Wicklander on keys, Alex Sabel on bass and William Mapp on drums – pick up the pace with Two Cold Nights in Buffalo. “El Nino brought a blizzard…only the cheap motels were open, wrong side of the tracks,” Andrews recounts, ”That American dream dying, I hear the whispers of the ghosts.” As a paint-peeling indictment of real estate bubble era greed and despondency, it ranks with Jack Grace’s Get Out of Brooklyn for relevance and bite.

Andrews goes back to mashing up gospel and psychedelia in Rough Around the Edges: you could drown an entire congregation with the amount of reverb on that slightly out-of-tune piano. Fueled by echoey Fender Rhodes and sunbaked guitar, the southwestern gothic ballad Border salutes the resilience of Mexican immigrants: “You cannot measure a man until you’ve been down the devil’s road.:”

Andrews’ narrator manages to find solace amidst crushing poverty in Took You Up, another slow, enveloping psych-soul number. She keeps that ambience going with This House – hey, it’s a dump, but it’s home – and then lets the embers blaze through the wickedly catchy, embittered Kindness of Strangers. “How do you dive deeper in a shallow riverbed, when the current pulls your further?” Andrews wants to know.

The sarcasm in I’ve Hurt Worse is crushing: “Being with you is like being alone,” the woman in this relationship tells her abusive boyfriend. Andrews winds up the album with the swaying, summery, considerably more optimistic slide guitar ballad Long Road Back to You. Andrews’ previous album Honest Life was solid, but this is a quantum leap: fans of acts from Lucinda Williams, to Tift Merritt and Margo Price ought to check out Andrews.

A Lavish, Twisted, Trippy Album by One-Man Band D. Treut

One of the most strangely beguiling albums of recent months is multi-instrumentalist D.Treut’s solo release, some of which has made it to Bandcamp. Dave Treut is best known as a drummer with a long association with Brandon Seabrook, one of the jazz world’s most distinctive, assaultive guitarists and banjo players. But Treut – whose solo project is pronounced like the lead poisoning capital of the world – is also a talented multi-instrumentalist and singer. He’s just back from midwest tour, leading his group at around 10 on March 1 at C’Mon Everybody. Adventurous guitarist Xander Naylor plays at 9; cover is $12.

Treut plays all the instruments on his lavish nineteen-track collection: drums, bass, keys, guitar and sax. Stylistically, it’s all over the place, with classic soul, jazz, psychedelic rock and unhinged experimentation, often all in the same song. It gets weirder as it goes along. The first track, A Dream Is a Wish, is a haphazardly orchestrated epic with a long, woozy portamento keyboard solo at the center. It manages to stagger as much as it swings: imagine Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized big band on really good acid.

The second track, Absolution – Saints & Demons is a long psychedelic soul ballad with chugging organ and a neat little alto sax break: when Treut’s voice finally goes way up the scale, he takes you completely by surprise. Whirlwind Woman  – (Sarah’s Song) is a careening, slowly disassembling mashup of glamrock, soul and a little Hendrix. If Oneida weren’t so pretentious, they might sound something like this.

Treut stays in vintage soul mode for The Way the Cookie Krumbels – (Chloe’s Song), with Let It Be piano in tandem with stomping kickdrum and misty cymbals. Grammy Tappy is a funny, noodly guitar instrumental – truth in advertising. Treut follows that with Everything I Did I Did For Love, an even goofier EDM spoof.

Churchy organ comes to the forefront over the stomp in A Gift; then Treut takes a detour into wooly post-Velvets rock with Full Moon Insomnia. He strips the instrumentation down to loopy, swaying drums and bass for Where Others Have Gone, then balances sax squeal with bass growl in 78 Miles, the first crazed jazz track here.

Likewise, a staggered organ loop anchors somewhat calmer sax in Skip 5, catchy riffs percolating to the surface and then sinking back into the morass. Uptown Downtown is gritty no wave disco, while Times a River comes across as Public Image Ltd. covering Lady Madonna, maybe.

Joe’s Bounce is a misnomer: it’s more of a loopy Terry Riley-style theme, with a drum track that artfully blends shamble and precision. Circle could be described as sliced-and-diced Afrobeat at halfspeed; the Seabrook inflluence comes across most vividly in the simmering, keening, blippy Skip Funk 5.

There are hints of both distant, fragmented menace and new wave amidst call-and-response vocals in Dreamed a Wish On. She’Wanna’Doo is the catchiest and poppiest track here; the album winds up with a little over a minute worth of Body & Soul, just disembodied sax and vocals.

As with a lot of good psychedelia, the obvious question is whether or not you have to be high to appreciate this. Let’s say that couldn’t hurt. And for anybody who remembers late 90s/early zeros Lower East Side kitchen-sink legends Douce Gimlet, this is a real treat.

And it was also a treat to catch Treut turning in a standout performance with the Icebergs at Pete’s Candy Store this past evening. Hitting offbeats on the bells of his cymbals and making those off-kilter accents sound perfectly natural, he stepped into the big shoes left behind when David Rogers-Berry left the band and filled them. Drums are typically more of a big deal in a trio. That Treut held his own alongside Tom Abbs – one of the great cello rockers, who plucks out basslines and chords on his axe like he’s playing a guitar – and charismatic frontwoman Jane LeCroy, was an awful lot of fun to watch.

Tasty Psychedelic Tropicalia and a Union Pool Album Release Show by Renata Zeiguer

Renata Zeiguer sings in a balmy, dreamy high soprano and writes tropical psychedelic rock songs that often slink their way toward the noir edges of soul music. Yet as Lynchian as the guitar textures can be, her music isn’t gloomy – if there’s such a thing as happy noir, it’s her sound. And her new album, Old Ghost – streaming at Bandcamp – sounds like she had a great time making it. She’s playing the release show this Feb 23 at 11 PM at Union Pool; cover is $12.

“You’ve got a grip on salvation, a heavenly whip, I know,” Zeiguer intones cajolingly in the album’s opening cut, Wayside, which rises from a simple, catchy bossa-tinged vamp to a catchy, anthemic backbeat sway. Once you get past the jarring out-of-tune guitars and lo-fi synth on the intro to Bug, it morphs into a starry, ELO-ish romp with a gritty undercurrent. That uneasy catchiness pervades Below, from its Ellingtonian intro, to its lemon-ice chorus-box guitar riffs and gently pulsing samba rhythm.

After All comes across as a noisier take on Abby Travis-style orchestral noir – or 90s cult favorites Echobelly at their noisiest and dirtiest. Zeiguer’s coy melismas over the altered retro 60s noir soul backdrop of Dreambone evoke Nicole Atkins at her most darkly surreal – Zeiguer’s fellow Brooklynite Ivy Meissner also comes to mind.

The swaying Follow Me Down, awash in uneasily starry reverb guitars, depicts a lizard “Steadily slithering, steadily, patiently swallowing me whole.” The song’s mix of guitar textures – burning and distorted, keening, and lushly tremoloing – is absolutely luscious.

Neck of the Moon contrasts insistent syncopation and offhandedly noisy, flaring guitar work with Zeiguer’s signature starlit sonics. The dichotomy is similar in They Are Growing, pulsar guitar twinkles and pulses lingering over a brisk new wave shuffle beat. The album winds up with its title track, Gravity (Old Ghost), a steady, bittersweet lament about something that’s “only dissipating over time,” set to a catchy, Motown-inflected groove.

This is a great playlist for hanging out with friends on a smoky evening, adrift in the bubbling, percolating textures of the guitars and keys, Zeiguer’s comfortingly calm yet irrepressibly soaring vocals percolating through the haze. It would make a good soundtrack to that Netflix show about the weed delivery guy – now what’s that called?

Prolific Britrock Polymath Edward Rogers’ Latest Album Is His Best Ever

In 1976, the face of the next decade, if not the decades after was profoundly altered by the UK punk rock explosion. But does anybody remember what the bestselling UK album of 1976 was? It sure wasn’t by the Sex Pistols. And it wasn’t by David Bowie, or Pink Floyd, or Led Zeppelin either. It was a compilation by Americana hack Slim Whitman sold exclusively via tv infomercial. That paradox capsulizes the thought-provoking, sweepingly elegaic esthetic of Edward Rogers’ latest album TV Generation, streaming at Soundcloud. The epic fourteen-track collection chronicles the grim decline of a society that ignored digital intrusions on their privacy and their freedom until it was too late.  He’s playing the Cutting Room on Feb 22 at 7:30 M, opening for the world’s foremost twelve-string guitarist, Marty Willson-Piper, a similarly brilliant, acerbic songwriter and former member of Australian psychedelic legends the Church. Cover is $20.

Originally a drummer, Rogers narrowly escaped a grisly death in a New York City subway calamity that cost him the use of two of his limbs. But he persevered, reinvented himself as a crooner and songwriter and nearly twenty years down the line,  has built a formidable body of work that draws on classic glam, art-rock and psychedelic styles from the 60s and 70s. This latest album is his tour de force: in context, it’s his Scary Monsters, his Message From the Country, his London Calling, simply one of the best and most relevant albums released this decade.

“Are you wake it awake yet…let’s move along! Turn ont the tv!” Rogers hollers as the album’s tumbling, hypnotic, Beatlesque opening track,gets underway:

So many stories
Too many black holes
Keep you hypnotized
As they take their toll

With James Mastro’s simmering Mick Ronson-esque guitar paired against terse sax, 20th Century Heroes could be the great lost Diamond Dogs track, an enigmatic chronicle of corporate media archetypes whose fifteen minutes expired a long time ago falling one by one as the years catch up with them. Rogers follows that with No Words, a Bowie elegy set to a lush, elegantly fluttering  contrapuntal string arrangement.

The savage kiss-off anthem Gossips, Truth and Lies chimes along on a gorgeous twelve-string guitar arrangement capped off by a tantalizingly brief solo. By contrast, it’s easy to imagine ELO’s Jeff Lynne singing Wounded Conversations, a sunny, jazz-tinged 70s Stylistics-style soul-jazz ballad grounded by fluid, resonant organ.

The album’s centerpiece – and one of the most haunting songs released in the last year – is Listen to Me. Over a brooding wash of mellotron and moody acoustic twelve-string guitar, Rogers offers a challenge to the distracted millions to escape the surveillance-state lockdown:

Voices we hear all around us
Are out to control
Don’t wait for a postmortem
No one wants to know about
Isn’t too long til lost promises
Is this what you want for your future
More lies than we can count
…written by me through your own peephole

Rogers goes back to rip-roaring Stonesy early 70s Bowie for Sturdy Man’s Shout. On This Wednesday in June begins spare and reflective and then explodes, recalling the 1989 Montreal Ecole Polytechnique mass shooting – how sad that this song would be so relevant at this moment in history.

The austere baroque-tinged Terry’s World sends a shout-out to one of Manhattan’s last newsstand owners – an endangered job, “a life denied.” Rogers follows that with The Player, a sardonic, Kinks-style ba-bump portrait of an old codger who can’t take his eyes off the girls he probably wouldn’t have kept his hands off a half-century ago.

The Kinks in baroque-psych mode also inform Alfred Bell, a brisk stroll through a burnt-out schoolteacher’s drab day. The question is, should we be feeling sorry for this poor sap, or the kids who get stuck in his class?

With its gloriously acidic lead guitar, the album’s catchiest and hardest-rocking number is She’s the One, a portrait of a girl who gets what she deserves since she nothing’s ever good enough for her. The album closes with the wryly titled TV Remixxx, a goofy psychedelic mashup of themes from the title track. If you wish that Bowie was still alive and making great records, get this one.

Future Soul Star Jalen N’Gonda Channels the Spirit of Stars Past at Lincoln Center

On one hand, there’s absolutely nothing original about what Jalen N’Gonda does. On the other, if this was 1967, he would be a major star in the world of soul music. As his tireless, methodical set at Lincoln Center Thursday night proved, he has an encyclopedic grasp of vintage 60s and 70s Stax/Volt and Motown riffs, he’s an understatedly strong singer, a gifted guitarist, capable pianist and also a hell of a tunesmith. He’ll always have a paying gig somewhere, playing his own material.

Born in Maryland of Zambian heritage and now based in Liverpool, N’Gonda played solo for more than an hour, varying his vocals from an allusive tenor to the occasional jump into falsetto. As the show went on, it was easy to imagine a brass section punching in behind him, maybe a smoky baritone sax accenting a slinky bass/drums groove. N’Gonda obviously has experience fronting good bands.

The night’s best song was Easy Street, a swaying, sunny, jangly number that would have been a strong tune in the Curtis Mayfield catalog. From there N’Gonda went into insistent minor-key reggae with I Guess That Makes Me a Loser and followed that with a doo-wop tinged anthem set to lingering jazz chords: it was hardly the only place in the set where Smokey Robinson’s influence could be felt.

N’Gonda opened Lucky Love with a bouncy blues bassline, then took the song in a jaunty mid-60s Carnaby Street pop direction. He switched to piano for the world premiere of his new ballad When You Belong to Me, building out of an anxious, lingering verse to a catchy chorus in a late-60s Marvin Gaye vein. From there N’ Gonda took a step in the direction of vintage Bacharach-style balladry with The More I See Your Face and then a more theatrical tangent  with Love Don’t Live Here, which brought to mind both David Bowie and Al Green.

N’Gonda made dancing Jackson Five-ish funk out of the riff from Blondie’s One Way or Another, hit a brooding Little Milton-style guitar shuffle groove, went deep into the blues and eventually evoked Gil Scott Heron more than once. In an age where every other band seems to want to rebrand themselves as the next Lake Street Dive, where any rich Long Island lawyer can pull some random, mopey beardo singer-songwriter off the tiny stage at Rockwood Music Hall, rechristen him as a blue-eyed soul crooner, throw a band of mercenaries behind him and send them all on tour at respectable midsize venues across the country, N’Gonda is a desperately needed breath of fresh air. Authenticity is a slippery concept, but if anybody has it, it’s this guy. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of him on this side of the pond.

The next free concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway north of 62nd Street is tomorrow, Feb 8 at 7:30 PM with singer Imani Uzuri and her mashup of vintage soul and many global styles; get there early to make sure you get a seat.