New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: soul music

Cellist Mia Pixley Puts Out a Thoughtful, Playful, Deceptively Deep Album of Soul Songs and Chamber Pop

Before she went solo, Mia Pixley was the cellist in the Debutante Hour, an all-female trio who charmed and needled New York audiences with their quirky, deceptively biting chamber pop throughout the late zeros and early teens. Since then, the individual members have done plenty of work on their own – Maria Sonevytsky in the worlds of Balkan and Ukrainian music, and Susan Hwang with the noir-tinged , cinematic Lusterlit and the erratically brilliant lit-pop collective the Bushwick Book Club.

On her new album Margaret in the Wild – streaming at Bandcamp – Pixley is a one-woman orchestra, gliding elegantly through undulating soul grooves and the occasional minimalist classical theme or chamber pop interlude. The songs are occasionally bolstered by piano, organ and slide guitar. Pixley plays bass and guitar voicings on the cello along with classical and blues phrasing, and her vocals have more depth and expressiveness than ever. This is one of those rare albums that sounds like nothing else that’s been released this year. Whatever you call this music – soul, cello rock, something that hasn’t been categorized yet – Pixley owns it.

She opens the record with Core, a terse but lushly orchestrated, nocturnally sweeping overture, the cello balanced by gentle, twinkly piano. In the Daylight, a lustrous, summery tableau, has Pixley’s lithe cello multitracks rising over a vamping lullaby. She follows with Good Taste, a slinky, catchy, soul and hip-hop-infused individualist’s anthem: “Don’t their education, don’t need their ok,” Pixley asserts. If songs like this got played on commercial radio, this would be the monster hit.

Mama’s Got Snacks is funkier, with a New Orleans groove and an amusingly aphoristic, defiantly feminist lyric. In Voices – a setting of a Christopher Shaw poem – Pixley reaches from hazy chamber pop to an assertively bouncy cello-rock theme.

The album’s centerpiece is Everything Is Slow Motion, which begins as a moody, mystical, gorgeously drifting tone poem awash in layers of cello and rippling piano before Pixley hits a trip-hop groove. It reminds of Nina Simone at her most avant-garde.

Pixley orchestrates a carefree, Malian-tinged tune in African Prayer – and is that a balafon, or just Pixley’s cello running through a pitch pedal? In Between Sound comes across as a sunny reverse image of Everything Is Slow Motion, with distant hints of Indian music and Bob Marley. She wraps up the album with Watering, an attractively rippling folk-pop tune with piano and guitar, the closest thing to the Debutante Hour here. There’s a lot of depth on this record: if we get to the point where there’s still enough of a reason to pull together a best-of-2021list, this should be on it.

A Raucous, Redemptive Return For Gospel Wildman Rev. Vince Anderson at Union Pool

On Monday night Union Pool was packed with an energetic, characteristically diverse New York crowd who’d come out to dance to Rev. Vince Anderson’s distinctive, unhinged blend of oldschool gospel, funk and what could be called psychedelic soul. “How many of you are seeing live music for the first time since last year?” the wildman pianist asked them.

Only about half a dozen people raised their hands. Either this was a shy crowd, or New York is in a warp-speed operation to get back to normal. Obviously, we have to brace ourselves for the toxic schemes the lockdowners are cooking up in the lab for when cold and flu season gets here. But this show seemed to be a very good omen for the rest of the summer, at the very least.

Anderson’s weekly Monday night residency with the Love Choir, his rotating cast of some of the funkiest players around, ran almost totally uninterrupted from the summer of 2008 until the lockdown. Before then, there was a long run at Black Betty, and a couple of residencies at Pete’s. And in between, at Swift’s in the Village, and the dreaded Pianos, with brief stops at the Williamsburg Publik House and the Metropolitan. All that takes us back to around the turn of the century and Anderson’s legendary, marathon performances at the old Stinger club on Grand Street.

These days the show starts a little earlier, at nine sharp, and the party doesn’t go all the way until closing time. Anderson has had formidable chops for years,, but it was obvious from this one that he’d spent plenty of time at the keys during the lockdown. He opened the show quietly and then slowly picked up the pace until he’d raised the old hymn Precious Lord, Take My Hand to the rafters. He had his core players with him: baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson, trombonist Dave “Smoota” Smith, guitarist Jaleel Bunton and drummer Chad Taylor along with a bassist who was chilling on the back in a chair when the show started but quickly rose up to fuel the slinky groove.

Like so many other performers, Anderson had turned to social media when live music was criminalized, and one song that had grabbed him during the lockdown was Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again, No More. He did that one after Fallen From the Pray, an anthem for apostates that sounded a lot like Dr. John – minus the New Orleans accent – this time out. Anderson was especially on fire for Get Out of My Way, the careening minor-key gospel anthem he’s used to open innumerable shows, finally bringing it down to a rapt series of solar-flare chords before the band stampeded out.

Meanwhile, the dancers moved further and further toward the stage as the crowd grew. In between songs, Anderson did a wry Q&A with the audience, revealed that it was edibles that got him through the lockdown, and put on a wildly applauded demo of yoga for people with a little junk in the trunk.

Then midway through Come to the River, an undulating midtempo number, he got serious: after everything we’ve been subjected to over the past sixteen months, this is our chance to lose everything that doesn’t work and start over, he reminded. And then baptized himself with a pint glass of water, shook it off into the crowd and the party started up again with a high-voltage singalong of This Little Light of Mine. Henderson channeled deep blues, Smith right alongside her while Bunton made it clear that Anderson wasn’t the only one onstage who’d been shedding these songs during the lockdown. Taylor is one of the most sought-after drummers in jazz, but luckily for Anderson he seems to have Mondays off.

Anderson’s weekly Monday night Union Pool residency continues on July 26 at 9

A Well-Traveled Americana Guitarslinger Returns to a Familiar Williamsburg Haunt

Back in the day, like most music blogs, New York Music Daily got involved in the club booking business. The choice of venue, with its utterly Lynchian, red velvet-themed back room and intimate sonics, seemed perfect.

Looking back, it was cursed. Hurricane Katrina knocked out power all over town, flooded the space, and delayed opening night by a week. We ended up doing it all acoustic, with no electricity.

Subway service was plagued by an endless series of problems for months afterward, making it next to impossible for musicians from Brooklyn and Queens to get into Manhattan. Trying to lure an audience out under those conditions proved even more of a challenge. There were other issues, and a lawsuit against the landlord which the venue owners lost. Zirzamin closed abruptly in July of 2013. David Lynch movies are great fun to watch, but not to live through.

Still, the music was phenomenal. It was like being a kid in a candy store. Go back through the archives for a time capsule of some of New York’s best talent at the time, most of whom were far too popular to be expected to play a space this small.

One of those artists was Jon LaDeau.

What was most obvious about him was his guitar chops. He knew his blues, and oldtime Americana, and jamband rock, and he didn’t waste notes. A lot of the time he played with a slide. He had a comfortable, confident way with a tune and a low-key presence as a singer.

Over the years, he kept at it. It was validating to see him refining those chops at gigs all over town, most recently at the now badly missed Friday night series at the American Folk Art Museum, in 2018 and 2019. His latest release, Time Capsules – streaming at Bandcamp – is a short album from earlier this year. As you would expect from a record put out during the lockdown, it’s haunted by uncertainty and a theme of time lost forever.

The first track, Younger Days is an undulating number driven by guest Chris Parker’s slide guitar and layers of multitracks from LaDeau. The obvious comparison is the Grateful Dead (or Widespread Panic, for that matter). It’s over in less than three minutes.

Mayteana Morales takes a turn on soulful lead vocals on the title track, a slowly swaying ballad in 6/8 time, Justin LaDeau adding quaint, retro Nashville saloon piano. The group stay in a 6/8 vintage soul groove, picking up the pace a little in the next track, Alone, the bandleader’s spare, incisive guitar rising amid Steve Okonski’s organ.

The surreal final cut, Cemetery Road has the most guitar snarl and bite here. It could be a lockdown parable: “We wanna be free, we wanna go home to the things that we love,” as LaDeau puts it. He’s making a return to the stage at one of his old haunts, Pete’s Candy Store, with an unrestricted show on July 6 at 8:30 PM.

One of New York’s Most Riveting, Entertaining Guitarists Makes a Triumphant Return to the Stage in Bed-Stuy

What James Jamerson was to Motown, Binky Griptite was to the Dap-Tone stable of artists. Jamerson was a bass player, arguably the main architect of the groove that transformed pop music in the 60s. Griptite was lead guitarist to Sharon Jones and most of the rest of New York’s best retro soul acts of the zeros and teens. After that, he maintained a cult following through an endless series of small-venue gigs around town, which ended with the lockdown. This brilliant sideman is also a bandleader, and he’s bringing his Binky Griptite Orchestra – a rotating cast of similarly sharp oldschool soul, blues and funk talent – to Bar Lunatico on July 5 at 9 PM.

This blog has been in the house at many of his gigs, most recently a searing set with gonzo gospel-funk personality Rev. Vince Anderson’s band a few months before the lockdown. The last time anyone here caught him leading a band was over the course of a week in the winter of 2017, when he played a sizzling, frequently psychedelic show at Union Pool and then a much more low-key, slinky set at Threes Brewing in Greenpoint. Both shows featured the amazing, similarly soul-inspired Moist Paula Henderson on smoky, serpentine baritone sax.

Onstage, Griptite is a cool, suave force of nature. The most adrenalizing moments of the Union Pool show were when he slowed down for some eerily crescendoing Chicago blues, an expansive platform for him to show off both subtlety and speed. You could hear the influence of B.B. King, but ultimately Griptite is his own animal. From carbonated James Brown-style bounces to lengthier jams, he chose his spots to get wild.

The Greenpoint gig was 180 degrees the opposite. This one was all about sultry ambience to warm up a cold evening, heavier on the ballads and slower on the tempos, with a lot of input from Henderson. Whichever mood you catch this guy in, it’s always worth seeing. And this intimate venue is a good one for him. Open the door at Lunatico and the first thing you notice is how good it smells (they serve crostinis and such).

Samantha Fish’s Hard-Rocking Retro Soul Stands the Test of Time

The last time singer/guitarslinger Samantha Fish played New York, it was at Highline Ballroom – that’s how long her album Chills & Fever (streaming at Bandcamp) has been sitting on the hard drive here. It’s a standout in the ever-increasingly crowded field of musicians (and what’s left of the music industry bottomfeeders) who’ve figured out that a lot of people whose lives aren’t dictated by what’s popular on Instagram really love going out to dance to oldschool soul music. 

Or did –  until the lockdown destroyed everything.

Fish and her purist band revisit those sounds with a lot more rock energy than most: everything on this record is louder than on your typical classic soul album, and the band benefit from using gear with more dynamic range than tinny, sixty-year-old Vox amps. There’s a lot of music here: fourteen tracks! The first one, Jackie DeShannon’s He Did It gets turbocharged with a horn section – Mark Levron on trumpet and Travis Blotsky on saxes – and Fish’s haphazardly edgy, blues-tinged guitar breaks. But it also has a 21st-century edge: Fish amps up the lyric about being shamed by a backstabbing dude.

Shivery baritone sax kicks off the title track, a backbeat-driven noir take on Ronnie Love’s 1961 soul anthem with eerily echoey Rhodes piano from Bob Mervak. The album’s longest track, Ted Taylor’s Somebody’s Always Trying comes across as an even higher-energy remake of that song, with a careening jam at the end. Fish obviously has a thing for darkly torchy soul: she revisits that simmering vibe later with It’s Your Voodoo Working, set to a soul-clap beat, and then the slow, brooding Either Way I Lose, with Fish’s ominous wide-angle tremolo guitar.

She reinvents the old Barbara Lewis 70s soul hit Hello Stranger by taking it doublespeed, with Steve Nawara’s dancing bassline and the horns balanced by trebly organ and rippling Rhodes fills. Just when you think that the Irma Thomas hit Hurts All Gone is a going to be a balmy southern soul ballad, the guitars kick in hard on the chorus. Then Fish picks up the pace again with You Can’t Go, its sharp staccato riffage in the background behind her long blues guitar solo played through a 80s chorus pedal.

Lushly swaying along in 12/8 time, Never Gonna Cry is a defiantly soaring breakup ballad, The band make an improbably connection between 60s go-go shuffles and bluegrass with the Detroit Cobras’ Little Baby, then hit a relative calm with an appropriately organ-driven, gospel-tinged version of Allen Toussaint’s Nearer to You.

They follow You’ll Never Change, a snippy minor-key soul-blues tune, with a southern rock version of the old murder ballad Crow Jane. The album winds up with I’ll Come Running Over, the poppiest number here, an Australian hit for blue-eyed soul singer Lynne Randell. Fans of artists like Lizzie & the Makers, who use oldschool soul as a stepping-off point for sounds that aren’t limited by the format, should give this a spin.

J Hacha De Zola’s New Noir Soul Album Nails the Pervasive Darkness of the Lockdown Era

The loosely interconnecting theme of crooner J Hacha De Zola‘s new album East of Eden – streaming at Bandcamp – is estrangement and loss. Or, being cast from a good place into hell. He’s flirted with soul music before, through the prism of Nick Cave, but here he takes his deepest plunge into the most noir side of the style. The Doors are also an obvious influence, often to the point of homage. But this album is more of a mashup than a straight-up ripoff, testament to the quality of Hacha De Zola’s influences.

The album’s first track is Faded: imagine Cave backed by the Dap-Kings at their darkest, or Gato Loco. That band especially comes to mind since it’s their leader, Stefan Zeniuk who takes the smoky bass sax solo right before the ending. Jerry Ramos handles guitars (and also bass, drums and keys) along with Maxwell Feinstein, plus Joe Exley on tuba and Indofunk Satish on trumpet.

Lost Space is a brooding nocturnal mashup of Morrison Hotel-era Doors, Ventures spacerock and luridly simmering 60s soul. Which Way – as in “which way is the river” – is set to a slow, menacing psychedelic soul vamp, Isaac Hayes gone down the goth hole.

The album’s title track keeps the dark night of the vintage soul going – staccato reverb guitar, smoke from the sax – and mashes it up with Bulgarian folk, Lubomir Smilenov adding layers of stark kaval, gadulka and gaida, Zeniuk prowling around in the lows.

A Viral Spring is closer to the immersive low-register minor-key roar of Gato Loco: “Gotta get out, get away,” the bandleader finally hollers. Ramos’ tremolo organ enhances the Doors feel in Shadows on Glass: with the horns, it could be the lost good track from The Soft Parade.

Zeniuk’s growl contrasts with swirling organ and that persistent, pointillistic soul guitar in That Pleading Tone. Sad Song has an unexpected reggae undercurrent along with the retro soul atmosphere.

Southwestern gothic, trip-hop and symphonic Gato Loco menacingly blend together in Green and Golden. The album’s final cut is the quasi-bolero Meet Me: the addition of the Bulgarian instruments is a neat touch. In its own twistedly stylized way, this album really captures the grim uncertainty of the world since March of 2020.

Disturbios Recall a Darker, More Dangerous, More Diverse New York Rock Scene

Disturbios play darkly cinematic surf rock, like a more stripped-down Morricone Youth with cynical hip-hop tinges. You might expect that from a couple of veterans of the seedier side of New York rock. Guitarist Matt Verta-Ray has been kicking around the reverb tank since his days with Speedball Baby back in the 90s, joined by Rocio Verta-Ray on what sounds like a vintage Vox Continental organ. Their debut album is streaming at Bandcamp.

The album’s brief opening track, Rough Rider starts out as hip-hop and then goes twinkling around the roller rink with Rocio’s swirly organ and Matt’s spare reverb guitar. The monster hit here is Surf Gnossienne, a slow surf remake of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1, an iconic piece from the creepy-classical canon. They seem to be using a certain Brooklyn band’s cumbia version as a prototype, right down to the flickers of the castanets.

“I never shook babies, I never beat no ladies,” Rocio insists, but everything else was pretty much up for grabs as she tells it in Jesus I Was Evil – right down to that funny Rick James quote. Matt builds a wasp-in-a-jar scenario in the next track, Starr, a broodingly rippling noir soul theme.

They launch into a snarling mashup of Sticky Fingers-era Stones shuffle and, say, the Flamin’ Groovies in Little Bird Got Swallowed. After the hypnotic, macabre cumbia vamp See-Thru Rhonda, the duo go back to vintage soul-surf for Summer Loves.

Rocio’s deadpan vocals in the stomping electric take of Jimmy Reed’s Big Boss Man are pretty priceless. The two hit a slinky latin soul groove in I Love You and close the album with Dear Boy, a skewed take on early 60s girl-group pop. New York used to be full of bands who played all these sounds. Good thing somebody’s keeping this stuff alive.

Gorgeous String Jazz Sounds at Manhattan’s Best Facsimile of a Real Jazz Joint These Days

What a beautiful early Friday evening in Central Park, under the trees north of the 81st Street entrance on the west side, a few blocks from where cellist Marika Hughes grew up. Playing to a sparse but attentive crowd with her brilliantly unorthodox New String Quartet, she joked about not spending much time here as a kid since she’d had her sights on greener pastures. Since then she’s explored and conquered innumerable styles of music, from classical to jazz to soul and funk and traditional Jewish sounds.

Seriously: what’s more gorgeous than a stark minor-key blues riff played on the cello? In a show that probably went for well over an hour (it’s been a work in progress figuring out the start times for the ongoing series here) Hughes fired off scores of them. Some were poignant, some had extra bite, and there were funny ones too. The highlights of this completely unamplified evening were a couple of bittersweetly swaying, pensive minor-key instrumentals, Hughes sending stardust spirals of harmonics into the ether, bowing down at the tailpece during one of them.

The set was a comfortable, conversational blend of sharp individual voices committed to creating a warmly welcoming, hopeful, deeply blues-infused ambience. It was weird watching Marvin Sewell – one of this era’s great guitarists – reduced to strumming rhythm on an acoustic. It was also kind of strange, but rewardingly so, watching violinist Charlie Burham not only slithering through one rustic, otherworldly yet direct solo after another, but also singing into the breeze.

OK, there wasn’t much of a breeze: we got fragments of a haunting piney woods folk tune made popular by a regrettable grunge rock band, and also a triumphant, rhythmically shifting, gospel-infused minor-key soul tune, as well as more aphoristic ideas that would have been a perfect singalong had this show been in closer quarters. That may still be an eventuality in this city, legally at least, but it’s already a reality again in almost fifty percent of the country – and the opportunities for musicians on the road seem to be growing every day.

Beyond her understatedly poignant instrumentals, Hughes delivered a warmly lilting tribute to the late Bill Withers (who would likely be with us today if not for last year’s pandemic of malpractice). She and the band ended the show on a similar note with a gently soaring tribute to wake-and-bake stoner fun. Bassist Rashaan Carter set the flame that percolated the instrumental encore, which rose from suspenseful atmospherics to an undulating anthemic vamp.

The weekend series in this part of the park, produced by photographer Jimmy Katz’s Giant Step Arts remains subject to the vagaries of weather and the availability of musicians. Still, Katz has put on more brilliant programming this year than anybody outside of the speakeasy circuit. The concert today, May 23 at around 3 PM in Central Park on the lawn under the trees, about a block north and east of the 81st St. entrance on the west side, features drummer Nasheet Waits leading a high-voltage quartet with Mark Turner and Steve Nelson on tenor sax, and Carter on bass again.

Slinky Lynchian Hustles in Central Park

The Dark Sky Hustlers got the short end of the stick here, competing for sonic space with an amazing jazz quartet who earned a rave review for their show in Central Park a few weeks back. But the Hustlers hustle for their space: they’re an excellent band, and you should see them if you’re in the park anytime soon.

They’re a duo: a ponytailed guitarist with a bottomless bag of classic funk riffs, and a drummer. Their webpage doesn’t identify either by name. They like to play the mall, south of the 72nd St. entrance on the west side. Thursday evening they were at the statue at the southernmost end where the mall deadends into an east-west roadway.

You should have heard the applause springing up from pretty much everywhere within earshot after they’d finished a haunting, practically 25-minute long, often outright Lynchian jam, the high point of who knows how many sets they’d played that day. Their shtick is loopmusic. The guitarist will lay down a rhythm track over the drummer’s steady beat, then he’ll play a long, crescendoing series of leads over it. Sometimes there will be more than one rhythm track, or lead track. This particular one was built around a a bunch of minor seventh chords, more complex than the hypnotic two-chord jams the two often fall back on. And it was a lot slinkier, and more unexpectedly low-key and sometimes sinister, than anything else they played during about an hour worth of music. Who knew they had it in them? Maybe everybody who’d seen them before here.

The other instrumentals were good too. They ventured from pretty straight-up, strutting hard funk to more undulating, soul-infused, Booker T-inspired vamps and then back. They will probably be back there the next time you’re in the area, Saturday afternoon is pretty much a guarantee unless it’s raining. .

Who knew that in the spring of 2021, Central Park would turn into the Village Vanguard, Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall combined? Such is the state of live music in this city at the moment. The arts, and the economy in general are booming in states from Florida to Idaho and many points in between, but here in what used to be the intellectual capitol of North America, they’re on life support. We will need an impeachment of Andrew Cuomo, or some other end to his regime of terror and dictatorial whim, in order to find a way back to this city’s former glory as a magical musical melting pot. Thanks to the bravery of bands like this, and the passersby who support them, live music is still theoretically alive here.

The Latest Dose of Brown Acid: Trippier and More Amusing Than Ever

Over the course of eleven volumes, the Brown Acid compilations have rescued well over a hundred incredibly obscure proto-metal, psychedelic and soul songs from oblivion. Some of the original copies of those records go for thousands of dollars on the collector market, but the better part of this wild archive, from some of the most unlikely places on this continent, never reached beyond a small fan base. The loosely connecting thread here is the stoner factor. To celebrate 4/20 – and the de facto legalization of weed in New York this year – Riding Easy Records are releasing the twelfth “trip” in the series, streaming at Bandcamp. In keeping with a hallowed tradition, every volume is available on vinyl.

Is this the point where the bowl is finally cashed? Are we scraping the bong yet? No, although there are more WTF moments here than usual. Intentionally or not, this is one of the funniest mixes in the series.

Louisville power trio the Waters open the playlist with their 1969 single Mother Samwell: it sounds like the Yardbirds spun through a flange, panning the speakers. The bass player – who would go on to play with Hank Williams Jr. – is excellent, although he totally misses his cue right before the fade. Classic Brown Acid moment.

The Village S.T.O.P., from Hamilton, Ontario nick a famous Beatles playground riff – plus maybe a little Iron Butterfly – for their 1969 wah-wah tune Vibration. Minneapolis band White Lightning hit a chilling lyrical peak in 1930, a Move-inspired protest song whose anti-Vietnam War message resonates more than ever half a century later: “I’m not going to die for your greed!”

Bay Area heavy soul band Shane’s lone 1968 single, a one-chord jam, is a badly recorded mess. Another 1968 rediscovery, Dallas group Ace Song Service’s organ-fueled Persuasion is a more successfully trippy take on the same style. The compilation reaches outside the US in a rare moment for yet another one-chord jam, Belgian band Opus Est’s ridiculously PG-rated faux-risque 1974 single, Bed, which sadly never reached its intended audience of American thirteen-year-olds.

Hawaiian band the Mopptops contribute Our Lives, a funky, catchy, organ-fueled populist anthem. In 1977, at the peak of the CBGB era, Youngstown, Ohio’s Artist were still ripping off Hendrix, as evidenced by the innuendo-fueled Every Lady Does It.

Carthage, Missouri power trio Stagefright distinguish themselves with their tumbling drums (that’s frontman Jim Mills) in Comin’ Home, the compilation’s first foray into the 80s. And this is where the album ought to end: NRBQ’s lame, pseudonymous attempt to parody early 70s heavy psych sounds is as weak as everything else they ever did. Whatever the case, you don’t have to be high to get into this playlist: it sounds perfectly good after a couple of whiskies.