New York Music Daily

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Category: southwestern gothic

A Look Over the Shoulder at Americana Crooner Jack Grace’s Darkest Record

Since the early zeros, Jack Grace has been one of the bright lights of the New York Americana sceene. He tours constantly, puts out geat records, gets his songs in a lot of movies, is a hell of a guitarist and with that big baritone of his, can croon with anybody. He booked Rodeo Bar for years, until that late, lamented venue was forced out by a rent increase – and whose space is still unoccupied, two years later. Grace has a new album in the works, ostensibly titled Everything I Say Is a Lie. His next New York gig is at Bar Chord in Ditmas Park at 10 PM on Dec 10, and that is the truth.

Grace’s most recent album, The Money’s Gone Away – some of which is at Grace’s Soundcloud page– is where he really concretized the latin sound he was drifting toward on the one before that, 2010’s Drinking Songs for Lovers. But that’s a funny album and for the most part, this one’s dark and serious. The album’s title track is an uneasy cha-cha with creepy vibraphone lingering in the background, a grimly allusive early teens nocturne from when it was clear that the divide between rich and poor was only getting worse.

Hard Times All Around is the kind of midtempo oldschool C&W numbers Grace writes so well, backlit with keening pedal steel and his own stark guitar lines over the swinging rhythm section of his bassist wife Daria Grace and drummer Russ Meissner. Stark violin opens the tango-inflected Jack/Daria duet Warm Rock in the Sun, a horn-spiced cautionary tale.

Maybe Ya Wanna waltzes morosely out of a moody flamenco intro, a lament for missed chances that hits a bitter peak capped off by a bitingly psychedelic Grace guitar solo. The album’s haunting centerpiece, Don’t Run Out of Gas rises from spare, fingerpicked southwestern gothic to a towering backbeat drive:

Smoke has yet to clear
Battle was fought, I don’t think it was won…
Don’t run out of gas
My advice to you
Try to get there fast
For your troubles

With its creepy, icy chorus-box guitar and tuba pulse, Bothered to Think works the kind of blackly sardonic. bluesy Tom Waits territory that Grace dove headfirst into on his 2007 album The Martini Cowboy. Ghostly steel guitar mingles with spiky ukulele and terse violin in Polenca’s Blues, a windswept cinematic theme, followed by Poor Boy. a swinging 99-percenter lament.

Just when you might think that I Think I Broke My Heart is a mellow slice of dadrock, Grace hits a minor chord and runs his vocals through a vintage chorus pedal: “It hurts just to breathe,” he shivers.

Another real gem, the wistful Remember When We Were in Love, blends vintage Memphis soul and artsy late Beatles unease. By contrast, We Made It harks back to the surrealistically swinging oldschool C&W Grace was writing after his cult favorite 90s jamband, Steak, went on hiatus (they’re back on Dec 23 at the Bitter End, of all places)..

The only cover here is the Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood hit Summer Wine – it’s not awful, but there’s no getting away from the Vegas cheesiness. The album winds up with Lobster, Steak and Seafood, one of those silly, boisterous vamps that Grace likes to jam out live, a shout-out to roadside diners, which as dubious as they be, still beat the hell out of Olive Garden.

Tredici Bacci Air-Kiss a Classic Italian Cinematic Sound

Among the innumerable great bands to emerge from the Barbes scene in Brooklyn, nobody’s riding more of a wave of popularity right now than Tredici Bacci. As Chicha Libre did with Peruvian psychedelic cumbias from the 60s and 70s, and Les Sans Culottes have done with 60s French ye-ye pop, Tredici Bacci play their own inimitable, original songs inspired by Italian film music from forty and fifty years ago. Their debut full-length album, Amore Per Tutti, isn’t officially out yet and consequently not yet streaming at their Bandcamp page. They’re playing the album release show on Nov 12 at the Park Church Co-op, 129 Russell St. just off Nassau Ave. in Greenpoint at 8 PM. Cover is $15; it’s an all-ages show. The closest train is the G to Nassau Ave.

The album’s opening track, Columbo sets the stage, a skittishly strutting Bacharach-ish theme with horns, frontman Simon Hanes’ reverb guitar over keening roller-rink organ..The women in the group supply jaunty vocalese as it winds out. Likwewise, Ca C’est Cantare (some of the titles here are all over the map linguistically) is a dead ringer for 60s Bacharach bossa, spiced with blippy trumpet, balmy sax and strings, and more ba-ba vocals.

Modern Man rises from spare accordion and wordless vocals to a stern, hefty theme straight out of the Gato Loco songbook…then guest crooner Ryan Power follows a blithely waltzing tangent that sounds suspiciously like the kind of satire that Avi Fox-Rosen has so much fun with. The inevitable Morricone spaghetti western theme, Avante, is a great approximation: trebly bass, twangy guitar and the requisite mariachi trumpet over a galloping beat. The only giveaway that it actually isn’t Morricone is the vocals: instead, it could pass for Bombay Rickey minus that band’s swinging groove.

Swedish Tease turns out to be about as Nordic as a meatball hero, an almost frantic, scampering romp lit up with bluesy organ, surf drums, mosquito guitar and a wryly noisy interlude midway through. Ruth Garbus‘ airily dancing, unpretentiously jazz-inflected vocals match the joyously tricky metrics of Slusher. Elysian Fields frontwoman Jennifer Charles lends her blue velvet allure to Drowned, which alternates between bloodcurdling Lynchian tremolo-guitar sonics and a contrastingly lighthearted bossa tune.

Give Him the Gun features JG Thirlwell (who has a characteristically ambitious, lavish new album of his own just out) on vocals, an update on 70s Nino Rota disco. Souvenir de Beaucoup d’Amor is an unlikely successful mashup of Dark Side-era Pink Floyd, tarantella pop and oldschool organ soul – un peu bizarro, nyet? Vincenzo Vasi supplies lounge-lizard vocals to Nessun Dorma, a swaying chamber pop remake of an old operatic theme. Otherwise, the only real miss among the otherwise infinitely clever eleven tracks here is Vendetta Del Toro, a decent Morricone impression ruined by stupefyingly lame, off-key vocals. They’re so bad that it raises the question of who might have been serviced to get such an embarrassing effort – or, more accurately, lack of effort – in the can.

Morricone Youth Slay Zombies in Williamsburg

It’s hard to imagine a better way to cap off Halloween month than watching Morricone Youth play a live score to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Backs to the crowd, gamelan style, so they could follow every split-second cue onscreen, the band’s performance this past evening at Nighthawk Cinema in Williamsburg was a lot more entertaining than the movie. From the applause afterward, one suspects that the sold-out audience agreed.

The score is just out and available on limited edition neon green vinyl, the inaugural release in an ambitious series of fifteen soundtracks to the midnight movies the band’s played live to in the past five years. This one is a very cleverly intertwined series of three themes and variations, comprising both original soundtrack pieces and newly composed material. Although keyboardist Dan Kessler used his synclavier to trigger the occasional motorik loop, and guitarist/bandleader Devon E. Levins seemed to have an atmospheric wash or two stashed away in a pedal, everything else was completely live. Bassist John Castro matched a looming, booming presence to poinpoint precision in tandem with drummer Shaun Lowecki, who impressed with his tightness and subtlety despite having been pressed into service with just two rehearsals.

Kessler took centerstage most of the time with an endlessly shifting series of texures: eerily twinkling electric piano, sardonic wah-wah chromatics, ghostly music-box glockenspiel and warpy, rasping 60s synth tones. Levins lurked in the corner, stage left and alternated expertly between stilletto tremolo-picking, a little spaghetti western twang, elegantly menacing ripples and lingering, murderous ambience.

And like the movie, the score was absolutely hilarious in places. With an almost simultaneous flash of grins throughout the band, the group gently worked their way through a twinkling, sotto-voce love theme while a bizarre hint of romance between humans beseiged by zombies flickered onscreen. And the sudden, emphatic jolts in a couple of segments of the increasingly macabre main theme turned out not to mirror gunshots, or zombie deathblows. Timed to the split second, those sudden hits drove home the nails that the film’s protagonist was lackadaisically hammering in order to bar the doors and windows of the house that serves as the set for almost the entire film.

About the movie: for those who haven’t seen it, it’s like an Ed Wood production. Eighty percent of the budget gets saved for the vehicles and extras at the end. Watching how Romero pads the film to stretch it out to full-feature length – here’s the Pontiac going up the hill! Now here it is going down that same hill! – is funny at first and then leaves you wondering whether it’s time to take a break for a snack, or for the bathroom. Both of which would have been an option, had the band not been playing: the venue is primarily a bar/restaurant that just happens to show movies. The only real mystery here was where the box office was. “Upstairs!” hollered the guy behind the downtstairs bar. But the only office up there didn’t open until right before the performance.

Halloween Gets to Greenpoint a Little Early This Year

If your ideal Halloween would be coming face to face with something genuinely disturbing rather than filling up on a bucketful of free candy, going out into icy, torrential rain would be a good way to start the evening. The spy satellites can’t see through the clouds, and the spycams get all streaked up. Watch your back, and you could literally get away with murder.

The walk from the L train past McCarren Park to Manhattan Inn on Greenpoint Avenue, and then back, was enough to soak through a heavy winter coat the night that Big Lazy and Beninghove’s Hangmen played what could have been a notorious show there. The prospect of seeing two, maybe even three hours of macabre, marauding, stampeding noir cinematic instrumentals – and the cred of having been witness to it – justified the trip, theoretically at least.

The show that this blog trumpeted last spring as being the year’s most auspicious twinbill didn’t exactly turn out that way. Not a fault of the bands, or the musicians, but the space.

If you’ve seen a band rip the roof off your local every month for almost two years, you hold them to a high standard (another way of looking at it is that you take them for granted). If you’ve followed this blog at all, you’re undoubtedly familiar with Big Lazy. For those who’ve stumbled onto this page for the first time, the guitar/bass/drums trio play reverbtoned, cinematic instrumentals that blend David Lynch film score sounds with those of an earlier era, from Nino Rota’s Fellini themes, through surf rock and Ennio Morricone spaghetti western. Live, about half of what they play is improvisational: they are the consummate dark jamband. They also rely very heavily on audience interaction: people typically dance at their shows.

But there was nowhere to dance here. What was weirdest was how the band was set up: guitarist Steve Ulrich and bassist Andrew Hall found themselves facing drummer Yuval Lion, in the center of the room, surrounded by tables of diners and neighborhood newcomers who’d probably ducked in to get out of the rain. This completely discombubulated the trio: not being able to see half the crowd was obviously a drag, and the group never got unglued. Songs were shorter, solos far more brief, and from the perspective of sitting behind the drums –  the only place left in the room by the time the show started – it was hard to hear what was going on. For any musician who’s ever struggled through a tough set, don’t get down on yourself: even the world’s best bands sometimes have an off night. Usually it’s not their fault.

By the time Beninghove’s Hangmen hit, they were half in the bag and didn’t let the weirdness of the configuration – amps facing the drums – stop them from turning in a ferocious, careeningly intense set. They opened with an epic take of Surf N’ Turk. The version on their amazing Rattlesnake Chopper album is a blistering, Middle Eastern-flavored horror surf number; this time around, they started with a volcanic metal intro and then slowed down to a midtempo swing, through a long, forlorn Rick Parker trombone solo, saturnine microtonal jangle from guitarist Dane Johnson and some savage, insistent, hammering passing tones from bandleader/tenor saxophonist Bryan Beninghove that he’d reprise several times over as the night went on.

By contrast, Surfin’ Satie – a gleefully evil go-go surf take on a classic Erik Satie tune – was just as amped-up as the album version, the group clearly gasssed to have drummer Sean Baltazor back behind the kit. Then they slowed things down with a haphazardly psychedelic take of Pineapples and Ashtrays, the centerpiece of their new album. The studio version pairs a subtly sunny, wryly sarcastic cornpone theme with an increasingly horror-stricken chase narrative. This time out, they ramped up the psychedelics, guest guitarist Jon Lipscomb playing axe murderer against Johnson’s heavy-lidded bemusement. From there the band skanked slowly through the Lynchian dub reggae of Lola’s Got a Gun, brought the red-light roadhouse theme Roebuck down to a slow swamp-rock groove, and eventually ended with droll, explosively elephantine takes of familiar Neil Diamond and Led Zep tunes.

Big Lazy return to their someday-legendary monthly Barbes residency this Friday, Oct 7 at 10 PM; Beninghove’s Hangmen don’t seem to have anything coming up at the moment. But this is Halloween month – watch this space!

Big Lazy: 2016’s Ultimate Halloween Band

What better way to kick off Halloween month, 2016 than with the world’s slinkiest, most shadowy instrumental trio, Big Lazy? They play both kinds of Halloween music, the trick-or-treat stuff as well as the sinister. In all seriousness, they’re a lot closer to the latter than the former. Guitarist/founder Steve Ulrich, bassist Andrew Hall and drummer Yuval Lion return to their monthly first-Friday-of-the-month, 10 PM residency this coming Friday, Oct 7 at Barbes.

It’s a fair guess that the people who were running Punk Magazine back in 1976 caught the Ramones at CB’s more than a few times that summer. And at least some of the hippies at the Village Voice back in the 60s might well have seen Phil Ochs at Folk City more than once. If you buy the premise that this blog is to New York what, say, Punk Magazine was to this city forty years ago – or what the Voice was a decade before then – it makes sense that New York Music Daily would be in the house for several Big Lazy Barbes shows in 2016. The funnest one might have been the most recent and cleverly improvisational, where Lion was just plain having a ball with all sorts of counterintuitive rhythms and syncopation, and Michael Bates – who shares a jazz pedigree with Hall – took over on the four-string. Another fun set was a couple of months back when Kill Henry Sugar‘s Dean Sharenow, a frequent Ulrich film score collaborator, sat in on drums, bringing his signature snare sound along with a dry wit to match the bandleader’s unparalleled, bleak sense of humor.

But the year’s best Big Lazy show – this blog has caught pretty much all of them – wasn’t at Barbes. It was at the Lively, a refreshingly laid-back basement bar located in the Meatpacking District, of all places. That joint had nice people working there, cheap drinks (at least by the standards of that neighborhood), a real stage in the back and a fantastic PA system. Sadly, this year’s strongest contender for “best Manhattan venue” barely lasted a couple of months.

But what a show Big Lazy played there. They ripped through Princess Nicotine, a machinegunning, barely three-minute minor-key ghoulabilly sprint that Ulrich wrote as a soundtrack piece to an obscure early 20s short film of the same name. The creepiest number of the night was Skinless Boneless, a slowly swaying, macabre tableau adrift in oceans of guitar reverb and tremoloing tritones. They didn’t do their serial killer strut version of Piazzolla’s Pulsacion No. 5, or their uber-noir cover of Thelonious Monk’s Epistrophy, both of which they aired out at Barbes this past summer, but they did do the early Beatles hit Girl, reinventing it as a dirge in the same vein as their deadpan take of Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me. And they did some new stuff, including one serpentine mini-epic that swung from neo-Nino Rota Fellini score, to more rocking and psychedelic, to sheer terror in places. As at Barbes, there were couples up front, dancing. Which is what noir is all about, anyway: grabbing what you can while the shadows close in.

Another Creepy Classic Album and a Couple of New York Shows from the Handsome Family

Andrew Bird says that Brett and Rennie Sparks of the Handsome Family are this era’s greatest songwriters. He ought to know: he did a whole album of Handsome Family covers. Whether or not you agree with Bird – another one of this era’s best tunesmiths and wordsmiths –  you can’t argue with the Handsome Family’s iconic status in folk noir circles. They’ve got a new album, Unseen – streaming at Spotify – and a couple of shows this weekend. On Friday, Sept 30 they’re at the Mercury at 8:30 PM for $17 in advance; the following night, Oct 1 they’re at the Knitting Factory for the same price, a half-hour later.

It’s interesting how the new album is a throwback to their earliest days, when they were more of a straight-up Americana band. However, this is a harder-rocking effort. The opening track, Gold takes the hallowed tradition of the outlaw ballad into the Oxycontin era: “Got a tattoo of a snake and a ski mask on my face, but I woke up in the ditch behind the Stop-and-Go,” Brett intones. “Lying the weeds with a bullet in my gut, watching dollar bills fly away in the dust.” The interweave of his own tremolo guitars, Alex McMahon’s baritone guitar and pedal steel is as luscious as the cruel irony of the narrative. It’s classic Handsome Family.

The Silver Light shambles along with an acoustic honkytonk feel, a crushingly cynical Vegas casino scenario. “Neon glowstick in your drink.” For fans of classic 60s and early 70s country, the backing vocals are priceless. The broodingly cello-infused Back in My Day offers a typical Rennie Sparks narrative:

We had maps that unfolded
You could drink from the river
We had gods made of clay
There were mile-high glaciers
No locks on the doors
The stars burned brighter
We never counted past four

And at that point it becomes more and more clear that the good old days, while a lot more temperate than these cruel final global warming years, weren’t all they might be cracked up to be.

The bittersweet passing tones of the pump organ solo in the carnivalesque waltz Tiny Tina might be the album’s most understatedly heartbreaking touch. Underneath the Falls brings a distantly ominous, majestic, jangly Byrds-style grandeur to that waltz tempo, another global warming-era requiem.

Rennie makes her first appearance on vocals on The Sea Rose, a catchy, jangly, twist on a classic siren song with a gorgeously spare acoustic guitar solo midway through. The album’s most epically allusive cut, The Red Door is a Lynchian doo-wop update on a Brothers Grimm theme. The stately swaying Gentlemen, with its quaint electric harpsichord and cello, offers a shout-out to William Crookes, who invented the vacuum tube in 1875 as an ostensible means to access the great beyond.

King of Dust, a desolate wreck-on-the-highway scenario, revisits the cruel irony of the album’s opening cut. On the surface, the final cut, Green Willow Valley is a comfortable pastoral nocturne, but if you listen closely, the subtext is crushing. If this is the last album the Handsome Family makes before global warming, or the plutonium leaking into the Pacific from Fukushima reactor number three, kills us all, it further cements their status as arguably this century’s best band. Look for this on the best albums list of 2016 here if we make it that far.

The Irrepressibly Fun Bombay Rickey Return to Barbes This Saturday Night

Bombay Rickey are one of the funnest and most individualistic bands in New York. They mash up surf rock, psychedelic cumbias and Bollywood into a constantly shapeshifting, danceable sound. They’re playing this Saturday night, Sept 24 at 8 PM at Barbes. Then they’re at Brooklyn Conservatory of Music the following night, Sept 25 at 7.

They played a couple of Barbes shows over the past couple of months At the first one, frontwoman/accordionist Kamala Sankaram was battling a cold, although she still hit every note in her four-and-a-half octave range, useful since she and the band did a whole bunch of Yma Sumac covers. It was a dress rehearsal, more or less, for an upcoming London show, and since Barbes doesn’t have a dressing room, she word several outfits on top of another. One by one, they came off, but by the time she was down to the final shiny dress – you know how hot it gets onstage at Barbes in the summer – she was drenched.

At the second show, last month, she’d won the battle and was back to her usual exuberant, charismatic self. The group opened with a brisk, ominously bouncing surf tune, Sankaram hitting an arioso high note and squeezing every ounce of drama out of it, saxophonist Jeff Hudgins adding a moody, modally-charged solo that disintegrated into hardbop. Sankaram scatted takadimi drum language as the song shifted shape behind her, hit another operatic surf interlude with a Drew Fleming guitar solo that could have charmed a snake, Hudgins taking it further up and outside over Gil Smuskowitz’s blippy bassline.

A coy mambo gave Sankaram a rare chance to show off her low register – as it turns out, she’s just as strong there as she is way up in the stratosphere. She might just well be the best singer in all of New York in any style of music (unsurprisingly, she also sings opera and jazz). Then the band took a turn into spaghetti western territory,Fleming spiraling while drummer Sam Merrick supplied a boomy drive on his toms in unexpected 6/8 time

Sankaram chose her spots for goosebump-inducing vocalese on the next number, a wickedly catchy blend of Bollywood dramatics and surfy bounce. They followed with a slinky, ominously Ethiopian-flavored tune over a clave groove, sax prowling uneasily over the guitar’s reverb-drenched resonance. Then they took a long, even more unexpected detour into vintage JB’s style funk.

Sankaram then broke out her sitar for what sounded like a 60s Vegas psychedelic pop number on Vicodin, until a purposeful, stately sax solo that echoed Coltrane’s Giant Steps. After a similar one from Fleming, the band took a long climb upward. They brought some funk to a version of Dum Maro Dum, the famous Bollywood weedhead anthem, and finally broke out the chicha for an undulating Yma Sumac hit, Fleming’s spiky solo skirting skronk and postbop. Then they went back to surfy Bollywood. Couples were dancing; so can you, this Saturday night at Barbes.

More Delicious Retro 60s Psychedelia From the Allah-Las

The Allah-Las  – frontman/guitarist Miles Michaud, lead guitarist Pedrum Siadatian, bassist Spencer Dunham and drummer Matthew Correia – are one of the most tuneful and best-appreciated bands in a crowded field of psychedelic retroists including the Mystic Braves, Mystery Lights, Night Beats and a whole lot of other reverbtoned janglers and clangers. The California quartet’s latest album Calico Review is due out momentarily, meaning that it ought to be streaming at Bandcamp in a week or so. Testament to their popularity, their two-night stand this weekend at Baby’s All Right is sold out; fans in other cities on their current tour should take that into consideration in the case where advance tickets are available.

As usual, most of the songs on the new record clock in at around the three-minute mark. The lyrics channel a persistent unease, but ultimately this band is more about wicked hooks than words. This is their most overtly retro, Beatlesque release to date. It opens with the enigmatically sunny Strange Heat, driven by Siadatian’s spare, flickering mosquito leads over a muted backdrop: it’s the most Odessey and Oracle the band’s done so far in their career. They follow that with Satisfied, a very clever, rhythmically dizzying update on Taxman-era Beatles with a deliciously icy vintage chorus-box solo midway through. Then the band takes the energy up a notch with the late Velvets ringer Could Be You.

The band keeps the Velvets vibe going, but in a more delicate folk-rock vein, with High and Dry: the blend of acoustic and electric six- and twelve-string textures beats anything Lou Reed came up with in 1969. Tricky tempos and lingering twelve-string lines return in Mausoleum, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Church album from the mid-80s. Then Roadside Memorial mashes up early Yardbirds/Blues Magoos riff-rock with hints of vintage funk

The shapeshifting Autumn Dawn kicks off with a wry allusions to the most famous acid-pop riff ever, then struts along with echoes of mid-60s Pretty Things. Plaintive strings and misty mellotron add gravitas to the wryly acerbic, Magical Mystery Tour-tinged Famous Phone Figure: “What’s she got but a pretty face in real estate?” Michaud wants to know.

200 South La Brea – site of a casting agency – has a similarly sardonic feel, a return to What Goes On Velvets. The intro to Warmed Kippers hints that the song will go in a warped, noisy indie direction, then straightens out, straight back to the Fab Four. The group springboards off an iconic Dave Brubeck riff for the southwestern gothic of Terra Ignota; the album winds up with the sunny, summery, swinging Place in the Sun. The only thing about this album that’s not retro is the mention of a cellphone, a touch of funny surrealism amidst the period-perfect Vox-amped 1967 sonics.

Forro In the Dark Return to a Cozy, Familiar Haunt

As thorny and almost perversely challenging as John Zorn’s compositions can be, sometimes people forget what a hookmeister the guy is. He can write a catchy tune with anybody, referencing the better part of a century worth of jazz, classical, rock and film noir soundtracks. And somewhere inside, there still beats the irrepressibly tuneful heart of the surf rock bassist that he once was. Forro in the Dark, who add surfy touches to their often sepulchral Brazilian rainforest nocturnes, had the good sense a couple of years ago to put out an album of John Zorn covers, which makes more sense than it might seem considering the composer’s fondness for Brazilian sounds. And for those who might have missed Forro in the Darks long series of Barbes gigs around that time – or their fantastically tight, fun, sadly abbreviated set a couple of years ago at Lincoln Center Out of Doors – they’re playing tomorrow night, September 4 at 8 at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint. It’s a pass-the-tip-jar situation, a good thing because this bar is expensive.

Uluwati, a coyly modulating rainforest take on Lee Hazlewood spaghetti western surf, opens the album. The band’s swirling arrangement, with Jorge Continentino’s flutes multitracked over Guilherme Monteiro’s guitar and Mauro Refosco’s percussion, gives the song an epic feel far greater than the sum of its its relatively limited parts.

Novato artfully blends Vitor Gonçalvez’s dancing accordion with similarly gentle, kinetic guitar and flute. The group does most of Forro Zinho as a droll, slinky LA lowrider theme of sorts, bassist Rea Mochiach bubbling just beneath the surface – and then they take it abruptly toward Jethro Tull territory before Monteiro reins it in.

The band scampers and struts through Life Is Only Real Then When I Am with Monteiro and Continentino each channeling classic Spy vs. Spy furtiveness. Guest pianist Marcos Valle’s reverberating Wurlitzer and Sofia Rei’s deadpan, blithe vocalese help take the the trippy surrealism of Shaolin Bossa to redline. Sunset Surfer, with its playfully nicked riffage and mashup of grittily hypnotic postpunk rhythm and twinkling tropical lounge sonics, is even trippier.

The percussive, high-voltage Zavebe makes psychedelic rock out of what sounds like a centuries-old cantorial theme, in the same vein as the Sway Machinery, Continentino growling away on baritone sax while Monteiro blasts and burns and pans the speakers. While Ode to Delphi also has a percussive, hypnotic groove, it’s basically a glimmering one-chord jam with more than a little Grateful Dead in it, Rei’s dynamic vocalese rising and falling overhead.

With its hobbity rhythms, distorted guitar and dancing flute, Number 2 raises the question as to whether Zorn was a big Tull fan as a kid (likely answer: not really, and that any resemblance before the big free jazz freakout in the middle is probably a coincidence). The group makes an unexpected mashup out of forro and the Ramones with Annabel and then segues into The Quiet Surf. a return to balmy, surrealistic tropicalia. You can’t find this anywhere on the internet, but you can presumably pick up a copy from the band at shows.

A Rare Midtown Show by Americana Songwriting Icon Joe Ely

Joe Ely may be iconic in Americana music circles, but he’s hardly resting on his laurels these days. Joe Strummer’s favorite country singer has seen the cult favorite debut album by his early 70s supergroup the Flatlanders reissued, along with his hard-to-find 1983 solo record B484, one of the first releases to utilize what was then state-of-the-art computer technology. Earlier this year, a previously unreleased duet by Ely and Linda Ronstadt was rescued from the vaults. His thinly veiled autobiographical novel Reverb: An Odyssey is out, and is as brilliant and understatedly surreal as you would expect from an eloquent pioneer of what would become known as alt-country back in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. If that isn’t enough, Ely is the Texas State Musician of 2016. And his latest darkly relevant, immigrant-themed album, Panhandle Rambler – streaming at Spotify – employs a wide and distinguished group of talent from his Austin circle. It might be the best solo album he’s ever done. His most recent gig here was with the Flatlanders at Carnegie Hall several months back, but he’s making a rare return to NYC with a gig on July 27 at 8 PM at B.B. King’s. Advance tix are $27.50.

The album’s first cut, Wounded Creek builds from an ominous thicket of acoustic guitars and bass into a darkly bluesy southwestern gothic ballad, Ely at the top of his game as purposefully imagistic storyteller. The similarly uneasy, tiptoeing Magdalene also works an allusive, haunted storyline, an outlaw couple on the run. “I don’t know what comes next,” Ely confides, “Your guess is as good as mine,” Joel Guzman’s accordion wafting in the distance. Coyotes Are Howling keeps the border-rock suspense going, a gloomy American narcocorrida of sorts:

Bright lights are flashing
Both red and blue
It’s nowhere near Christmas
But it’s long overdue

When the Nights Are Cold sardonically nicks a famous Pink Floyd riff for a somber portrait of illegal immigrant angst. Early in the Mornin’ follows a similar, more enigmatic tangent, blending elegant Mexican folk touches into late 70s outlaw honkytonk. Southern Eyes works a sarcastically shuffling western swing groove, followed by the folk noir hobo tale Four Ol’ Brokes.

Wonderin’ Where is a bittersweetly nostalgic William Carlos Williams-ish tale with Memphis soul tinges. Ely goes back to outlaw balladry with the brooding, ghostly Burden of Your Load, arguably the album’s best song:

State prison? Don’t get distracted
Keep your eyes on the road
The weight will be subtracted
From the burden of your load

Then the band picks up the pace with Here’s to the Weary, a populist anthem referencing Woody Guthrie, Bob Wills and George Jones. Jim Hoke’s ghostly steel keens icily in Cold Black Hammer, a darkly wry, Tom Waits-style story of a real femme fatale. The final cut is the unexpectedly hard-rocking You Saved Me, drawing a straight line back to Buddy Holly. Throughout the album, there’s all kinds of tasteful, often Spanish-tinged picking, contrasting with Guzman’s echoey, 80s-style synth lines, in the same vein as the Highwaymen records. Ely’s voice is a little more flinty now, which suits him fine since subtlety and stories have always been his thing. It’s another release that really should have been on last year’s list of best albums here.