New York Music Daily

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Category: southwestern gothic

Julia Haltigan Channels a Simmering Noir Intensity at the Poisson Rouge

Unlikely as it is that the leader of one of the city’s most dynamic bands would be just as entertaining and luridly gripping as a solo act, that’s what noir songwriter Julia Haltigan was Saturday night at the Poisson Rouge. It was a good gig for her, not her usual crowd, which tends to be on the young and wild side, something you might expect for someone who channels a torchy, retro allure and a menace that’s sometimes distant and sometimes in your face. This show gave her a chance to connect with an older, bridge-and-tunnel date-night audience who’d come out for an easy-listening evening with singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard. Haltigan’s regular backing unit has jazz sophistication but also feral energy; playing mostly by herself, with just her trusty vintage Gibson guitar and her reverb pedal, she used the moment to work the corners with a razorwire nuance that matched her songs’ simmering intensity.

Haltigan also seized the opportunity to make points with the audience via a couple of good stories. The first concerned some unexpected consequences in the wake of allowing her electric mandolinist dad – who also made a cameo during the show on smoky blues harp – to serve as an admin at her Facebook fan page. The second looked back to a past decade when people had Blackberries. Haltigan explained that she once went about a year without texting “hi” to anyone for fear of the gizmo translating that as “I’m horny.” Her phone ended up embarrassing her that way a couple of times, once in an exchange with her cousins, before she realized what was going on. That took awhile.

One day during rehearsal, she related the story to her bassist. “Remember that time I borrowed your phone?” he asked her. “I reset the autocorrect.”

That was the comic relief from the songs’ relentless, smoky disquiet. An appropriately spare take of Skeleton Dance, she explained, contemplated a sort of “Mickey Mouse version of death.” But that was the exception. A co-write with the Waterboys’ Mike Scott shifted from an enigmatic stroll to the kind of anthemic chorus you’d expect from that band; a little later, Haltigan led the crowd in a singalong of a similarly pensive, oldtime gospel-flavored Freddie Stevenson song. But her own material was the most memorable. She opened with a slow, haunting oldschool soul-tinged ballad, a woman on the run in her Waitsian hotel room in the wee hours, looking back on what she’ll never have again. From there Haltigan went toward dark rockabilly with the irrepressible Gasoline & Matches and the defiant I Don’t Wanna Fall in Love, airing out her powerful low register. The best song of the night was a murderously scampering border rock anthem that wouldn’t have been out of place at a Karla Rose & the Thorns show.

Haltigan next plays with her band on December 15 at 10:15 PM at the Manderley Bar at the McKittrick Hotel, 532 W 27th St. (10th/11th Aves, south side of the street, look for the little red light at the top of the stoop).

Haunting Noir Psychedelia and a Rare Williamsburg Show by Fernando Viciconte

“Everything you’re saying turned out wrong,” Fernando Viciconte muses. “Busted and broken or dead and gone.” Then a Farfisa keens, way back in the mix. And then the song explodes. The song is Save Me, the opening track on his new album Leave the Radio On, streaming at Bandcamp. And it’s killer. Sort of the lost great Steve Wynn album.

Viciconte hails from Argentina originally. Got his start in LA twenty-odd years ago, fronting a band called Monkey Paw. Eventually landed in Portland, Oregon. Wynn heard him and gave him the thumbs-up, as does his Baseball Project bandmate Peter Buck, who plays a lot of guitar on the album. You could call this noir psychedelia, for the sake of hanging a name on it, and you wouldn’t be off the mark, although there are a lot of different flavors here from both north and south of the border. It’s one of the best records of the year (and it is a record – you can get it on vinyl). Viciconte is making a rare New York swing, with a gig on November 27 at 9 PM at Pete’s. He’s also at the small room at the Rockwood tomorrow night, the 25th at 8.

The album’s second cut, The Dogs, is a lot quieter and vastly more surreal, with a similar sense of desperation and doom: Viciconte airs out his balmy, Lennonesque voice as the fuzztones come in with a swoosh of cymbals and a big exhaust fan blast of reverb. El Interior blends uneasy organ and mariachi horns into its Patagonian gothic resonance, an allusive tale of return and despair.

Icy, trebly layers of acoustic guitar mingle with eerily stately piano as So Loud gets underway, then picks up with a shuffling border rock groove up to a murderous series of drumshots out. The slow, brooding 6/8 anthem Friends and Enemies traces the last days of a dying relationship over Daniel Eccles’ elegaic guitar and pedal steel lines. Viciiconte hints that he’s going to take The Freak in a growling garage rock direction, but instead rises toward circus rock drama and desperation, David Bowie as covered by southwestern gothic supergroup Saint Maybe, maybe.

Paul Brainard’s pedal steel and then Buck’s mandolin sail woundedly above Viciconte’s low-key, defeated vocals and steady acoustic guitar on another elegaic number, the vintage C&W-inflected Kingdom Come:

Stay in pale moonlight
Stand your ground and choose your side
We don’t believe you anymore
We’ve all crawled on your killing floor

Then the band picks up the pace with the backbeat-driven Burned Out Love, part blistering paisley underground anthem, part wickedly catchy late Beatles. The gloomiest number here, White Trees takes a turn back down into spare folk noir:

When you left the table, who followed you home?
The knives and daggers left flesh and bone
The moon moon was shining on that cursed white stone
And you were crying and crying, trying to let it go

The catchiest yet arguably most haunting of all the tracks is the surreal In Their Heads, with its echoey blend of backward masking and ghostly narrative of childhood memories of an execution. One can only imagine what Viciconte might have witnessed, or heard about, during his early years in Argentina in the days of los desaparecidos. The album winds up on its most Beatlesque note with the title track: “Illusion is only skin deep, like raindrops on your wall,” Viciconte broods, “It all comes to an end in the blink of an eye.” Enjoy this dark masterpiece while we’re all still here.

Imaginative, Lynchian Chanteuse Karina Deniké Slinks Into Brooklyn and Manhattan This Weekend

Darkly eclectic San Francisco singer/organist Karina Deniké plays with her band at Union Hall tonight, October 30 at 9:30 PM for $12. Then she’s at Cake Shop on Nov 2 at the same time. Her excellent latest album, Under Glass, is streaming at Bandcamp – it’s a ride packed with both thrills and subtlety, the rare collection of songs that’s so good that you don’t notice that there’s no bass on any of them.

“First you rev it, then you move it, but you never park it here for good,” Deniké sings on the bouncy, oldschool 60s style number, Park It, that opens the album. Anchors Away opens with ethereal, creepy vocal harmonies that bring to mind late, great New York rockers DollHouse, then shifts back and forth: “What shall we do with a drunken sailor?” ponders Denike with a tender menace that brings to mind Karla Rose in a rare semi-vulnerable moment.

Aviatrix, a starkly strutting Weimar cabaret waltz, is over way too soon. Musee Mecanique, the album’s title track more or less, blends layers of funereal vintage organ over a simple lo-fi 70s drum machine beat: imagine a more soul-oriented Siouxsie. Then the lurid ambience really sets in with Sideshow, Aaron Novik’s bass clarinet lingering under blippy organ and Meric Long’s staccato reverb guitar: “Do we get whatever we want at the Sideshow?” Deniké asks, completely deadpan. The song wouldn’t be out of place in the Carol Lipnik catalog.

Boxing Glove brings back the cabaret strut, fueled by pianist Michael McIntosh’s blend of ragtime and grand guignol. The best track is the menacing, plaintive bolero-soul ballad Stop the Horses, reverb-drenched guitar and Eric Garland’s vibraphone echoing in from the shadows: it draws a comparison to Marianne Dissard’s brooding desert rock. Then the band picks up the pace with Havin’ a Go, a deliciously upbeat mashup of early 60s soul, doo-wop and macabre garage rock with a decidedly ambiguous Novik solo.

Golden Kimonos opens with what’s either the vibes or an ominously twinkling glockenspiel setting on the organ, then picks up with a moody 80s sway. Balmy backing vocals bolster the album’s sparest track, the distantly gospel-tinged soul ballad You’re So Quiet. Deniké offers sympathy for the doomed on the metaphorically-loaded Persephone, Bay Area tenor sax great Ralph Carney (who just played an AWESOME show at Barbes a few weeks back) adding his signature, darkly soulful touch. The album winds up with the stately, elegantly poignant piano ballad Až Budeš Velký, Deniké drawing on her heritage as the child of expat Czech dissidents. Albums like this make every night Halloween – or Blue Velvet – if you’re in the mood.

Karla Rose & the Thorns: Centerpiece of a Fearsome Halloween Triplebill in Williamsburg

Amidst the usual parade of wannabes, there are always a handful of good original bands playing the CMJ festival. This year’s included Palehound a.k.a. guitarist Ellen Kempner doing her catchy postpunk at Cake Shop; the Union Pool triplebill of angst-fueled, lyrically-driven songsmiths Amy Bezunartea, Jennifer O’Connor and the creepy, psychedelic Tim Foljahn; and electric folk noir band Leland Sundries at Leftfield. But the highlight of the festival was the set by dark cinematic rockers Karla Rose & the Thorns in the big room at the Rockwood on Friday. The allusively torchy, Telecaster-wielding singer and her band are on the best Halloween bill of 2015 on the 31st at Warsaw at around 10 PM, following the Bogmen’s Vic Thrill, then followed by the original dark carnival band, World Inferno; general admission is $25. And she’s also at Berlin on October 26 at 8 PM, opening for the “king of powerpop,” Paul Collins for a ridiculously cheap $5. The entrance to the venue is inside the bar at 2A, 2nd St. and Ave. A; take the door on your right about ten feet past the entrance and go downstairs.

Karla Rose’s songs have Dorothy Parker wit, allusively lurid Twin Peaks ambience and the brooding noir intensity of Bernard Herrmann’s film scores – all packed into briskly-paced four-minute narratives. This was a very dynamic show, the music rising and falling as you would expect from a good thriller. While there’s a lot of retro influence, from femme fatale saloon blues, to crime jazz, to jaunty new wave, Karla Rose’s songwriting is unmistakably in the here and now. The band was fun to watch:, the frontwoman pondered the psychedelic qualities of lead guitarist Dylan Charles’ embroidered Grand Old Opry-style shirt. Long black hair swaying behind her, a lithe and spring-loaded presence in front of the band, she rocked a shimmery, vintage checkerboard opal-and-onyx pencil dress and black pumps. Bassist David Limzi had a similarly shiny, gold glam suit thing going on; drummer Kevin Garcia, obscured behind the kit, pushed the music with an expertly easy swing and hints of both rockabilly and vaudeville.

Karla Rose explained that she’d planned on making silver dollar pancakes and bringing them to the show…but then she overslept. Asked what those were, she described them as early 60s daydrunk food. Throughout the set, she stung the crowd with one-liners, admitting to a passion for reading about serial killlers and high-functionoing sociopaths, then bringing all that into deadly focus with a brand-new, ominously crescendoing new song, as yet untitled.

Her lingering chords and judicious fingerpicking anchored some spectacularly expert playing from the rest of the group, Limzi’s dancing octaves being a highlight of one of the new wave numbers. Charles, with his axe-murderer chord-chopping, blood-drenched chromatics and reverb turned up all the way, is a Marc Ribot/Steve Ulrich class player. And Karla Rose’s vocals, informed by jazz but uncluttered by it, were as woundedly and distantly haunting as usual, slinking up to a phrase or giving a line a kinfes-edge caresss.

When the best songs in a set are the slow ones, that speaks volumes. “Carry me up the stairs/I’ll make believe someone cares,” she intoned with just the faintest glimmer of sarcasm early in Mexico, a chillingly surreal tableau set in a seedy seaside tourist town, its doomed narrator (and possible murderess) waiting blithely for her Mr. Elvis to reappear. And in Time Well Spent, the singer traced a couple of accomplices whose plans have gone horribly wrong:

There are clouds ahead
And there are clouds behind
What’s the use
Of trying to rewind
A blue, blue heart’s superstition
A fiction I have read
I’ll find you out on the highway
Til then
My end
I like my time well spent

Miss out on the Halloween show at Warsaw and miss out on one of New York’s most magnetic bands.

Jenifer Jackson Treats an Intimate New York Crowd to a Rare House Concert

Artists who for better or worse get pigeonholed as singer-songwriters usually don’t have much in the way of instrumental chops. And bands with sizzling instrumentation often don’t have much in the way of lyrics or vocal alchemy. But that’s what Jenifer Jackson brought to a hushed, rapt house concert in comfortable, congenial Upper West Side digs last night. Not that Jackson should be, or for that matter, is somebody who necessarily gets tagged as a singer-songwriter. It makes more sense to call her a magically protean bandleader, whether the band behind her is playing psychedelic rock, bossa jazz-tinged songcraft or newschool honkytonk – or oldschool honkytonk. She also happens to be one of the pioneers of the house concert circuit. This one was a typically eclectic duo performance with Kullen Fuchs, who didn’t bring what might be his best instrument, the vibraphone. But he did bring his guitar, accordion, trumpet, percussion and ukulele and showed off elegantly virtuoso chops on all of them. Is there any instrument this guy can’t play?

Since her cult classic 2000 debut, Slowly Bright, Jackson has been through a million incarnations and these days, rather than settling on Americana, Beatlesque bossa-pop, pastoral psychedelia or C&W, is likely to bust out all of those styles in concert and this was no exception. Her voice was plush and airy, and stronger than ever in the low registers, like Rosanne Cash with a wider sonic palette. These house concerts, she explained, have forced her to come out of her shell onstage, to be the raconteuse and generally hilarious presence that she is once she’s out of the spotlight. So there were a lot of explanations on where and how songs came together, Jackson reminding that nothing in her catalog is what it seems; there are always umpteen levels of meaning. So it was interesting to discover that the windswept, poignantly desolate anthem All Around was not a Gulf Coast tableau but a wintry New England beach scene inspired by a momentary break on Cape Cod during a recent tour, observing a giant predatory bird from just inches away.

The duo did that one on guitar and uke, Jackson artfully shifting the harmonies around: she never plays a song the same way twice. The ballad Heart with a Mind of Its Own, with Fuchs on accordion, became a blend of Kitty Wells C&W seasoned with Tex-Mex flavor – and an unexpected trumpet solo from Fuchs midway through. Likewise, Fuchs matched Jackson’s brooding vocals with his washes of accordion on the bolero-tinged southwestern gothic waltz A Picture of May. They reinvented an old favorite, the Beatlesque, ornate When You Looked At Me, arguably the best cut on Jackson’s full-length debut, as a big twin-guitar anthem. Later the two entertained the crowd with a droll country duet from Jackson’s forthcoming thirteenth (!) album. Guest violinist Claudia Chopek came up to add lush, dynamic textures and vivid solos on a handful of numbers, all the more impressive considering she’d never played with the group. Likewise, a guest flutist added aptly ethereal textures in tandem with Fuchs’ soaring horn on Whole Wide World, a tropical soul number.

As entertaining as the rest of the set was, arguably the best song of the night was a hypnotically dreamy, understatedly plaintive Americana waltz, After the Fall, from Jackson’s 2002 Birds album:

Love is an ocean
Love is a stone
Love is a wish that you make on your own
If all of these ghosts would just leave me alone
I know that I would be free

Can a song get any more universal than that?

Jackson’s current US tour continues; dates are here, with a return hometown show on Oct 21 at 8 PM at Hole in Wall, 2538 Guadalupe in Austin.

Dark Psychedelic Bandleader Ember Schrag Joins a Killer Triplebill at Trans-Pecos on the 23rd

Ember Schrag‘s most recent gig at Hifi Bar was one of the year’s best. For that matter, the enigmatic, charismatic psychedelic bandleader’s previous show at a house concert in south Brooklyn with phantasmagorical art-rock band Goddess was pretty amazing too. Schrag and her band open the night at Trans-Pecos at 8:30 PM this Sunday, August 23, followed by intense Balkan noir psychedelic band Alec K. Redfearn & the Eyesores, with whom Schrag will air out her chops on creepy Farfisa organ. Groove-driven no wave cult faves Escape by Ostrich give the evening an acidic coda; cover is a measly $8.

Counterintuitively, Goddess opened the Brooklyn show with their album release performance, a deliciously macabre, theatrical suite about a genuine monster who takes over a hapless New Jersey household. As electrifying as that show was, Schrag and her band were every bit as intense. On album, Schrag’s signature style until this year has been great plains gothic: low-key, reserved, with a subtle, white-knuckle intensity and allusively murderous narratives. This year, on the heels of her release of her live Folkadelphia session album, she and her band have taken those songs as well as a whole bunch of new material into vastly more trippy, artsy terrain.

Guitar polymath Bob Bannister alluded to Muscle Shoals and Fairport Convention and Blonde on Blonde Dylan, among numerous other reference points, but always twisted those styles into something terse and erudite of his own to match Schrag’s venomously symbolist lyrics. Bassist Debbie Schwartz (formerly of the Aquanettas and a fantastic, similarly psychedelic songwriter in her own right) played a surf groove on one number, slides and hammer-ons on a handful of others, and bolstered Schrag’s soaring, distantly angst-fueled voice with her high vocal harmonies. Meanwhile, drummer Gary Foster colored the songs with witchy rimshots and cymbal splashes, misty crescendos and, when necessary, a swinging four-on-the-floor garage rock drive.

Bannister’s nimble accents mingled with Schrag’s hypnotic, circular fingerpicked hooks and Foster’s brushwork on the pensive Sutherland, an understated murder ballad and the night’s opening number. Virgin in the Shadow of My Shoe, a swaying, psychedelic folk noir number, might be Schrag’s most definitive new song. She doesn’t even bother to stomp on a religious icon: she lets her shadow do it. Bannister and Schrag’s rainswept jangle blended as one on the late Beatlesque psych anthem The Real Penelope, followed by a catchy southwestern gothic clang-rock number, part Steve Wynn, part astringent 80s Boston.

Schrag likes to turn Biblical imagery inside out, and she also has a Shakespearean side, most evident in the Arthur Lee-esque number that followed that, and later the ominous Lady M, Bannister’s icepick accents taking the place of the resonant, keening Susan Alcorn steel guitar on the recorded version. From there the band made their way through another ominous waltz that also brought to mind Arthur Lee, as well as a sad, misty Laurel Canyon psych-folk anthem that exploded the Abraham myth. Schrag wound up the set with another wounded waltz where she raised her voice to a shivery Ann Wilson wail, then the slow, cruellly sardonic I Ain’t a Prophet, and a wickedly catchy janglerock song spiced with nimble triplet figures and a biting, bluesy solo from Bannister: the guy can play anything and make it his own. The Trans-Pecos show should be every bit as good.

Dark Country Band the Whiskey Charmers Debut with a Killer Album

Detroit band the Whiskey Charmers play Twin Peaks C&W. It’s dark and intriguing and draws on classic 1960s country music, but also jangly rock and several noir styles from across the decades. Frontwoman/guitarist Carrie Shepard has a strong yet soft and utterly enigmatic voice. While she doesn’t sound anything like Tammy Wynette, she’s coming from the same place emotionally, world-weary beyond her years, keeping her cards close to her vest. Guitarist Lawrence Daversa plays with edge and bite and a very distinctive sense of melody which manages to be counterintuitive to the extreme yet wickedly tuneful – he always leaves you guessing what’s coming around the bend, and it always ends up working out. Their fantastic new album is streaming at their webpage.

Shepard’s strums a lush, nocturnal blanket of acoustic guitar, Daversa interspersing his bluesy accentts as Elevator gets underway. It seems to be a ghost story – in a footrace, the dead always win. Vampire, a creepy southwestern gothic bolero, also puts a cleverly sardonic spin on an old legend: yeah, this guy is out for blood, but the girl doesn’t give a damn. It’s the catchiest (no pun intended) track on the album, Daversa’s Lynchian twang leads reverberating over the dancing rhythm section.

Straight & Narrow weaves an undercurrent of heartbreak into a darkly familiar oldtime gospel theme: it’s akin to Iris DeMent taking a detour into Appalachian gothic. The band follows that with Neon Motel Room, an eerily shuffilng outlaw ballad that’s all the more relevant in an era when renegade cops are blowing innocent people away every time you turn around. They revisit that vibe, musically speaking anyway, a little later with Can’t Leave

C Blues is an elegant, low-key country blues lament. Parlor Lights mashes up a haunting Bessie Smith-style blues ballad with ominous trainwhistle slide guitar: “Turn off the open road, there’s an end in sight,” Shepard intones, letting the subtext speak for itself. Sidewinder follows a stark, loping Hank Williams sway until Daversa’s snarling electric lead kicks in with the rest of the band; the guy Shepard’s referring to in the title is a real snake.

The album winds up with the simply titled Waltz, a nocturne that could be an early Bob Wills number. If this is the only album they ever make, it’ll have a cult audience for decades. Obviously, they’ve got more songs than this; let’s hope they record them someday. The Whiskey Charmers spend a lot of time on the road: their next club gig is on August 19 at 8 PM at Small’s, 10339 Conant in Hamtramck, Michigan; cover is $7 ($10 for ages 18-20).

Big Lazy Bring Their Lurid, Creepy, State-of-the-Art Noir Back to Barbes

How many bands have there ever been who were at their peak twenty years after they started? On one hand, just getting to the twenty-year mark as a band is quite the achievement. But composer/guitarist Stephen Ulrich just keeps getting creepier and more eclectic. And it’s safe to say that this edition of Big Lazy, the world’s most consistently haunting, reverb guitar-fueled instrumental band is the best ever. Which is not to be dismissive of original drummer Willie Martinez, who only left the group due to the demands on his schedule as a star of latin jazz and salsa. Nor is this a dis at original bassist Paul Dugan, whose darkly frenetic pulse was such an important part of the band’s first incarnation from about 1996 through 2007.

But the new rhythm section of Andrew Hall and Yuval Lion is the best ever, and the most consistent with Ulrich’s bleak, rain-drenched vision. Back in the day, the band made their home at Tonic, the late, lamented Norfolk Street hotspot for adventurous, jazz-influenced music. Since last year, maybe predictably, the band has made Barbes their home base. They’re playing there again on August 7 at 10 PM.

Between them, Hall and Lion give Ulrich a more minimalist groove than this band has ever had. And yet, they also get featured more prominently on solos, Hall using his bow for extra stygian resonance, Lion rattling the traps like a poltergeist left over from when Manhattan’s Record District (where you bought turntables and vinyl) was bulldozed to make way for the World Trade Center. It may not be safe to say that any one band in town is the very best, but it is safe to say that Big Lazy never play anything remotely the same way twice.

Ulrich saves his bloodthirsty volleys of tremolo-picking and savage chord-chopping when he really needs to take the energy to redline or bring a sonic narrative to a murderous peak (film soundtracks are his regular gig – Big Lazy is his fun project). He’ll often intersperse a loping highway theme or great plains noir atmospherics amidst all the crime-jazz chromatics and wall-bending noir surf riffs. Although on record, menace is the band’s stock in trade, onstage Ulrich can be very funny, quoting from all sorts of jazz songs and movie themes. Once or twice a set, he’ll put down the guitar and break out his lapsteel for high lonesome wails or lingering, floating body-in-the-pool sonics. And much as most of the songs are instrumentals, occasionally they’ll have a guest take a turn out front: one of the coolest moments in the trio’s recent shows has been where oldtime music maven Mamie Minch joined them for a nonchalantly Lynchian, plaintive version of Crazy.

When Ulrich regrouped Big Lazy in 2013 after a six-year hiatus, that was big news, and this blog covered them not once but five times that year and in 2014. Which explains why the band has been absent from the front page here since this past January. But this blog hasn’t been absent from Big Lazy’s Barbes shows this year, beginning in January and then in each of the last three months. In case you haven’t already figured it out, one more thing that’s safe to say about this decidedly unsafe band is that they’re worth seeing more than once. At the end of the year, along with the best albums and best songs lists, there’s also a list of the best concerts in New York and at least one of these gigs will be on it – the May show in particular was pretty amazing.

Orkesta Mendoza Bring Their Desert Noir to Lincoln Center

Orkesta Mendoza are connoiseurs of noir. A lot of what’s lurking in the shade of that big black umbrella takes its origins from the Balkans, Romany and Jewish music, notably hi-de-ho jazz and its descendants in ghoulabilly and elsewhere. But a lot of noir comes from south of the border. For bandleader/guitarist/keyboardist Sergio Mendoza, none of those styles are off limits: slithery mambos, funereal boleros and towering, angst-fueled, cinematic rancheras, to name a few. He and his sizzling band – which can vary in size from a six-piece to a full orchestra – take those styles and mash them up into stampeding, lushly and exhilaratingly arranged psychedelic rock. They’re playing Lincoln Center Out of Doors, out back in Damrosch Park on July 29 at 7 PM. You should get there early if you want a seat.

The group’s most recent New York appearance was last year at South Sttreet Seaport, with a roughly ten-piece lineup including a horn section. Mendoza’s songs, whether originals or covers, tend to be expansive and go on for sometimes ten minutes or more – they redeem the concept of a jamband. This time out, in roughly forty-five minutes onstage, there wasn’t time for a lot wild improvisation, altough the group made those moments count. Mendoza played mostly acoustic guitar, shifting to the organ for just a single number. The star of this particular show was lapsteel player Joe Novelli, who played with a searing, chromatically-fueled fury. This wasn’t western swing – it was el diablo del desierto teleported from the netherland where Ambrose Bierce disappeared.

Baritone saxophonist Marco Rosano also distinguished himself and played keys on a couple of songs as well – lots of guys in this band double on several instruments. The most haunting song of the afternoon was Dulce Amor, a menacing bolero sung with drama and passion by Mexican cult favorite crooner Salvador Duran. Another similarly ominous, more upbeat minor key number was Mambo Mexicano, a springboard for several sizzling solos from throughout the band.

There was also a pricelessly hilarious moment. After the bass player led the group into a slinky psychedelic cumbia groove, Mendoza began it in English. It didn’t have much in the way of lyrics, and it turned out to be just a one-chord jam – but the band made it interesting. And when they got to the chorus, when Mendoza deadpanned “Don’t tell me that you love me,” it turned out that this was a Fleetwood Mac cover, Tusk, the 1979 hit that might be the most soporific song ever to reach the top 40. Fewer people in the crowd than you might expect got the joke – then again, 1979 was a long time ago, and it’s not likely that number gets a lot of corporate radio airplay anymore. For their last song, the group brought up whirlwind accordionist Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica – who’d opened the afternoon with his band – raising the energy several notches. The only drawback about this show was that it was relatively short, but at Lincoln Center, artists typically get about a full hour onstage.

An Artfully Orchestrated, Intensely Noir New Album and a Joe’s Pub Show from Esteemed Chamber Pop Band the Old Ceremony

Back in the early zeros, when songwriter Django Haskins was a familiar presence playing around the Lower East Side of New York, it’s not likely that he drew a lot of Leonard Cohen comparisons. But artists grow, and as the years went on Haskins’ work took on a welcome gravitas, culminating when he formed chamber pop band the Old Ceremony in 2004. For those who might not get the reference, the band name is a shout-out to Cohen’s cult classic album New Skin for the Old Ceremony. The group are currently on tour for their excellent new album, Sprinter – streaming at youtube – with a show at Joe’s Pub tonight, July 25 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $15, and remember, the venue doesn’t charge a drink minimum anymore.

The album opens with the title track, a scampering folk noir number, like a more lushly orchestrated Curtis Eller song, Mark Simonsen’s eerily looping vibraphone contrasting with Gabriele Pelli’s gusty violin. Haskins’ elegantly emphatic twelve-string acoustic guitar joins with Simonsen’s organ and a nebulously dense arrangement on the stomping Live It Down, bringing to mind Pinataland.

An enigmatically catchy waltz, Ghosts of Ferriday opens with swirly Pink Floyd organ and builds to an ominously clanging noir-psych interlude fueled by Haskins’ creepy tremolo guitar: it’s sort of the missing link between Jimmy Webb and Nick Waterhouse. ”Something for the headphones, something for the chatterbox, drown out the howling of the human rain,” Haskins relates with crushing, deadpan sarcasm in the pulsing 60s bossa-noir anthem Magic Hour, evoking another cult favorite New York band, the Snow.

The sinister Mission Bells goes back to a latin noir slink, Haskin’s sardonic wah guitar paired against Simonsen’s smoky organ, with subtle, Lynchian dub tinges and an unexpectedly feral guitar solo out.  Over Greenland opens with an airy minimalism, channeling the narrator’s dread during a red-eye flight from who knows what – and then the scene shifts to a sarcastic, faux-Springsteen tableau. Fall Guy starts out with a brooding boleroesque groove and picks up with an anthemic stomp – the chute jumper at the center of the story sounds like notorious hijacker D.B. Cooper.

The moody, fingerpicked folk-rock blue-collar anomie anthem Hard Times wouldn’t be out of place on a recent Matt Keating album. Dan Hall’s rumbling drums and Shane Hartman’s dancing bass propel Efige, a snarling southwestern gothic narrative with murderously Balkan-tinged guitar. The final cut is Go Dark, packed with tricky metrics, snarky faux cinematics and metaphorically-charged suspense in the same vein as Ward White‘s most recent material. There’s just as much going on in the other songs as well, subtext and symbolism and allusions: if there’s any album this year that requires repeated listening, this is it. Notwithstanding contributions from southern indie royalty – Mike Mills of REM and the Baseball Project, and Chris Stamey from the DB’s – it’s Haskins’ tour de force. He’s never written more strongly or for matter played guitar with as much spacious, suspenseful intensity as he dives into here. It’s always good to see an artist at the top of their game fifteen years or so after they started, isn’t it?


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