New York Music Daily

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Tag: acoustic music

Free Music Fridays at the American Folk Art Museum: Manhattan’s Most Vital Americana Roots Music Scene

“When you think about it, how many real listening rooms are left in New York?” Lara Ewen, folk noir singer and impresario of the pretty-much-weekly Free Music Fridays series at the American Folk Art Museum, mused the other night. She’s on to something. Outside of the jazz and classical worlds, it’s hard to find a space in Manhattan that caters to an audience for less loudly amplified or acoustic sounds like the Americana roots music, and its descendents, that her series promotes.

Sure, people come to listen at Barbes, and the Jalopy, and the Owl, and sometimes Pete’s Candy Store when there isn’t a din at the bar. But all those places are in Brooklyn. In Manhattan, there’s hardly anything left. Rockwood Music Hall is a Jersey tourist trap, the Bleecker Street dives have been a joke since the 60s ended, and Sidewalk, while noticeably improved lately, still draws heavily on the autistic types who play the open mic there. And autistic people aren’t known for their social graces.

Which leaves Free Music Fridays. The series went on hiatus for a few weeks to accommodate an exhibition, then returned with a vengeance in early July with a simmeringly low-key performance by darkly lyrical former Madder Rose frontwoman Mary Lorson, who played an intimate, acoustic duo set with percussionist John Sharples. Since then, the series has been on a roll, requiring extra rows of seats since the audience continues to grow.

The highlight of last week’s installment was the opening set by aphoristic newschool country blues songwriter Nathan Xander, in a stark duo performance with a similarly purposeful fiddler. Since the series returned, other than Lorson, the most dynamic, exciting show was an impressively eclectic, smartly lyrical, historically-informed couple of sets by a roughly five-piece subset of mighty acoustic Americana powerhouse M Shanghai String Band. Ewen called them one of New York’s best bands, and once again she was on the money.

Frontman Austin Hughes distinguished himself with his clever wordplay, poignant and relevant historical references and plaintive harmonies, sung by everyone in this edition of the band (which can number more than ten people onstage). This version also featured Philippa Thompson on – take a deep breath – fiddle, bass, lead vocals, singing saw, washboard and spoons – plus Glendon Jones on mandolin, Patty Hughes on bass and a couple of family members taking an animated cameo or two on harmony vocals.

One of the band’s biggest audience hits, the broodingly lilting Sea Monster, turned out to be a contemplation of how instant internet access to information can stifle the imagination. At a distance at least, it’s more fun to ponder the existence of apocryphal creatures than to dismiss them. The similarly uneasy, harmony-driven Two Thousand Pennies resonated even more as an anthem for the New Depression. Aptly, toward the end of their second set, the band played Vivian Girls, an even moodier look at the inner life of disturbed outsider artist Henry Darger, whose work was first featured in a career retrospective at this museum.

M Shanghai String Band’s next show is back at their home base, the Jalopy on September 3 at 9 PM; cover is $10.. And the highlight of this Friday’s free music, this August 19 at around 6:30 PM at the museum, is Moji Abiola, whose eclectic sound blends oldschool soul into their paisley underground psychedelia.

Revisiting a Rare Gem by Jen Starsinic

Talk about working up a sweat: Jen Starsinic recorded her debut album, The Flood & the Fire (streaming at her music page) in hundred-degree Boston heat, with neither air conditioning nor fan, in the summer of 2013. The Nashville-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is hardly unknown – she toured extensively with David Mayfield, and is a staple on the folk festival circuit – but she deserves a wider audience. Vocally, she brings to mind the unselfconscious, plaintive depth and nuance of a young Erica Smith. Likewise, her songs run the gamut of Americana both old and new, from newgrass, to oldschool honkytonk, to more psychedelic pastoral sounds.

The album’s opening track, Time to Lose, an upbeat blend of newgrass and ethereal Americana pop, has a disarmingly down-to-earth bitttersweetness: ”Bones regrow but our heart doesn’t heal,” Starsinic explains, with just a millisecond of hesitation that packs a wallop. Ultimately, her message is  that there’s no shame in doing a second take if the first one doesn’t come out the way you want it. Likewise, the fiddle-fueled indian summer ballad Stay, a gentle nudge at a restless spirit who might just be happier in a relationship than in her “long years chasing boys around the block.”

The Only One Who Can Break a Heart is a morose vintage C&W ballad worthy of Laura Cantrell: “I’m damned if I stay, I’m damned if I try to leave you where you belong,” Starsinic laments. Oh My Darling‘s Allison de Groot lends her banjo to the low-key, John Prine-esque surrealism of Six Foot Three, while Molly Tuttle, of the Tuttles with AJ Lee, flatpicks on the intricately bristling, trickily syncopated Ragdolls.

With its stark blend of Starsinic’s fiddle and Eric Law’s cello, the understated escape anthem It’s a Foreign Thing puts a lushly textural spin on an antique Appalachian style. Mining its canary imagery for all it’s worth, Birdie in a Cage is just as allusive, and absolutely chilling despite the tune’s bluegrass warmth. The reverb on Starsinic’s voice in the lingering, woundedly pensive waltz Move in Time with Me matches the tremolo on her guitar.

Dive a Little Deeper sets Starsinic’s charmingly aphoristic yet characteristically brooding oceanic metaphors to an oldschool bluegrass stroll: “You can wait like a fool all sticky with sand for the water to wash your limbs, or you can wait like a fool all night and all day instead of wading deeper in.’

Charlie Rose’s atmospheric pedal steel hangs in the back throughout the even more disquieting Wildfire and its calm tale of a forest fire gone out of control. The gently but purposefully swaying Since You’ve Come Around winds up the album on a quietly shattering note, Starsinic pondering where the good times went “When it was dangerous you and cynical me.” Such a strong debut effort portends even better things for Starsinic: she’s somebody to keep an eye on.

Kelley McRae Brings Her Catchy, Lyrical Acoustic Americana to the Lower East

Kelley McRae is a darling of the Paste Magazine set. Aw, good grief, you say. Do we really need another fresh-faced rich white girl faking her way through a formerly blue-collar sound that’s been done to death? Actually, with her airy, unadorned soprano and catchy tunesmithing, McRae is the real deal, bringing some rare depth to the newschool Americana genre. She’s got a new record, The Wayside – her fifth – streaming at Spotify and a show at the big room at the Rockwood on May 10 at 9. Cover is $10.

The core of the band on the album comprises McRae’s guitarist husband Matt Castelein, with Jon Andersen on pedal steel and lapsteel and Spencer Caper on violin, mandolin and bouzouki. The opening track, Land of the Noonday Sun sets the stage over an elegant weave of fingerpicking:

Time goes by like a dream
No matter how hard you run
Some things are better left unsaid
Some things are better left undone

Driven by Castelein’s punchy dobro, the surprisingly hard-charging newgrass shuffle Hard Night has a full band with bass, drums and organ; it reminds of Jenifer Jackson‘s latest adventures in Americana. “It’s just one of those days,” McRae sighs with a wounded resignation as the bittersweetly swaying, subtly Tex-Mex tinged If You Need Me gets underway. The plainspoken Reach You offers a stark, telling look at how you can never count on someone staying on the same track with you: ” Too many nights feeling brokedown and bruised,” as McRae puts it..

The album’s title cut rises toward an unexpectedly ornate, majestic peak, awash in lingering steel guitar over a big thumping beat. The album’s best track is the broodingly scrambling Oklahoma shuffle Red Dirt Road, propelled by more crescendoing Castelein dobro work. By contrast, Andersen’s keening steel fuels A Long Time, a bitter lament for years wasted waiting for dashed hopes to come true.

With McRae’s high lonesome avian metaphors, Rare Bird offers a bittersweet shout-out to a restlessly insatiable type. Driven by Castelein’s psychedelic acoustic fretwork, Tell It Again looks back to 70s Britfolk. The album closes with Rose, a Willie Nelson-esque, jazz-tinged lullaby and then the nocturnal ballad All the Days That Have Come Before, McRae’s narrator taking a decisive step away from the past. It’s an unselfconsciously intense way to wind up this mix of vividly melancholy tunesmithing.

Free Music Fridays at the American Folk Art Museum: Good Times and Good Tunesmithing

One of this city’s most consistently fun weekly events is Free Music Fridays at the American Folk Art Museum at Lincoln Square, just across the street from the uptown 1 train exit at 66th Street. Even if you can’t get out of work in time to catch the 5:30 PM opening act, the show typically goes til a little after 7. The crowd is a mix of local kids, retirees, tourists and friends of the bands, and wine is available for a donation to the museum.

Lara Ewen – a modest and unselfconsciously brilliant folk noir singer and a strong tunesmith as well – books a diverse mix of mostly acoustic songwriters as well as oldtime folk, blues and Americana performers. She draws on a deep pool of New York talent, including many acts from the Jalopy scene, plus the occasional national touring artist. The natural reverb in the museum’s high-ceilinged atrium adds a cathedral-like ambience: many acts like to play here unamplified. Lately there have been shows pretty much every week, a positive development considering that the series went on a lengthy hiatus last summer to accommodate one of the museum’s many, constantly changing exhibitions. This Friday’s show is a particularly good one, with Beatlesque popsinger Jeff Litman, Clifford Westfall and Girls on Grass‘ paisley underground guitarist/frontwoman Barbara Endes, and Americana guitar genius Tom Clark.

This year has been an especially good one at the museum so far. The highight of February’s shows was Jessi Robertson, who didn’t waste any time warning the crowd that most of her songs mine pretty disturbing territory. In one number which had to with stab wounds, she revealed that her hands have an inherited tendency to get a little shaky in pubilc: not part of the skillset that makes a good slasher. In a mix of artsy but terse post-PJ Harvey acoustic rock as well as older, more opaque material, Robertson aired out her signature, throaty, otherworldly wail, channeling sheer emotional destitution, alienation and abandonment – and some good jokes. The funniest number in her set had a title along the lines of “I hope I hurt you more than you hurt me.” Robertson plays at around 9 this Saturday, April 25 at Pine Box Rock Shop, opening for her lead guitarist Rony Corcos’ excellent power trio Rony’s Insomnia.

March was a good month. Eva Salina, one of the world’s great Balkan singers, joined forces with her longtime collaborator, whirlwind Romany accordionist Peter Stan for a dynamically intense run through songs from her latest album Lema Lema: The Songs of Saban Bajrmovic. A global Romany icon, Bajrmovic was sort of a Balkan mashup of Al Green, Hank Williams and Jim Morrison. That it took an American woman – Salina is a friendly Californian with an ethnomusicology degree from UC/Santa Cruz – to bring his songs to a larger audience is pretty radical. And while she expertly voiced the difficult clusters of the Romanes language in an often heartwrenchingly nuanced, otherworldly chromatic run through songs about unrequited love, gambling and Romany pride, she told the crowd that the star of the evening would be Stan. She wasn’t kidding. With a pedal to the metal, he shredded the reeds on his deluxe model with lightning cadenzas, cascades up and down the scale and enough minor keys to drown your sorrows in a thousand times over.

Along with lustrous tunesmith Sharon Goldman – whose often harrowing, deeply personal account of coming to grips with her roots as a secular Jewish artist has been chronicled here in detail – other March artists here included Heather Eatman, Joanna Sternberg and Chris Michael. The last time this blog caught a show by Eatman…well, this blog, or any other blog for that matter, didn’t exist back in the fall of 2003 when she played the old Living Room at the corner of Stanton and Allen. She hasn’t lost a step since then; if anything, she’s even more interesting as a singer and tunesmith. She hasn’t changed her formula much: uneasy, unresolved verses building from open chords into sudden, head-on, impactfully catchy choruses. Her voice still has both the coy chirp and the moody, monsoon resonance; her lyrics add an edge and bite. Interestingly, she used this show to run through a handful of songs she’d written as a teenager back in the early 90s, which, if a little simpler, stood up against her more recent material. Eatman is at the small room at the Rockwood next month sometime.

Sternberg is a cutup and an irrepressible bon vivant. She made herself laugh as much as the audience. She’s charming and funny and unlike most adults, hasn’t lost touch with how it feels to be a kid. Her funniest number was a kids’ song directed at a stubborn little girl who doesn’t want to get in the shower. But Sternberg doesn’t talk down to kids: this one eventually revealed that the little girl is actually a little spooked by the water, and that all it took was a little sympathy to get her to pull herself together and wash up. Sternberg’s material for a drinking-age demographic was more nuanced, including a bittersweetly meta breakup song, a couple of more romping, upbeat front-porch folk originals and a detour into pensive vintage Appalachian balladry. Sternberg’s next gig is at the Jalopy Tavern (adjacent to the big main space) on April 28 at 9.

And this past Friday, Michael transcended any cheap Tom Waits comparisons, impressing with his fluency in a whole slew of southern blues, soul and gospel-inflected material. He’s a good guitarist and doesn’t fake the drawl like so many of his yankee counterparts, entertaining the crowd with a mix of upbeat numbers that occasionally brought to mind a less cynical Dan Hicks.

Two NYC Shows and a Brave New Project from the Tuneful Sharon Goldman

Sharon Goldman is one of this young century’s great tunesmiths. She gets pigeonholed as a folksinger, and she plays that circuit, but she’s more likely to go deep into elegant chamber pop. And every now and then she’ll dash off a country song, or an intricately fingerpicked guitar ballad. Much as a lot of her material has a very intimate feel – the title track to her 2013 album Silent Lessons is one of the most spot-on, shattering portraits of wee-hours despondency ever recorded – she doesn’t write a lot of autobiographical songs. Her latest project, which she’s about to begin recording, is a radical departure, and a genuinely brave move for her, an examination of her conflicted roots as a secular Jewish artist raised in the Modern Orthodox tradition. She’ll be unveiling some of those songs along with material from her substantial back catalog at a couple of upcoming concerts. Tomorrow night, March 18 she’ll be at the American Folk Art Museum at 5:30 PM for an early, free afterwork show. Then on April 7 she’ll be playing one of the First Acoustics House Concerts in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. Cover is $25, with dessert and coffee at 7 PM, show at 8; advance registration is required, email for info.

What’s most striking about Goldman’s new song cycle is that it’s as universal as it is rooted in centuries of tradition. Any individualist who’s come out of a strict religious background will find a lot in common with Goldman’s narratives. She played a fascinating set of some of them at Caffe Vivaldi last month, joined by a terse, melodic mandolinist/lead guitarist. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not she records these songs as a set of related vignettes, as she did that night, or in linear fashion. The night’s uneasily strolling first number, Sabbath Queen, captured the exhaustion and exasperation of a young Jewish matriarch trying to be all that’s expected of her, to keep herself together and remain a calm center of attention at yet another Sabbath dinner.

Set to an ominous descending riff, the darkly blues-tinged Don’t Look Back flipped the script on the Sodom & Gomorrah myth, casting the fate of Lot’s wife in a sympathetic new light. The gently fingerpicked song after that brought back a muted exasperation, a girl waiting for a sign in the night sky overhead to signal the end of the Sabbath…so she can go off and be herself, and search for spirituality by herself…or not.

Goldman kept the music delicate throughout the next number, building an eerily evocative tableau of a conflicted bride at a traditional wedding celebration, finally bringing in a bit of a hora and an aptly dark, rustic Middle Eastern-tinged riff at the end. As she did on more than one song, Goldman sang it in both English and Hebrew.

She built a wistfully catchy, elegiac portrait of a lost relative, then switched to the piano for a smolderingly understated minor-key ballad.“The ghosts of my ancestors haunt me, they speak a language that used to be mine,” she mused on the next number, a waltz, weighing the pros and cons of cultural baggage. Then she offered a soaring, bluesy tribute to Lilith, a villain in the Torah and the Bible but a heroine to feminists around the world.

The intensity kept up with another simmering, insistent minor-key number addressing the power of a woman’s voice, forbidden as a solo instrument in more than one religious tradition around the world. A vividly picturesque shout-out to Jerusalem, where Goldman has spent a lot of time, was gentler and more pastoral but also disquieted: Goldman made it clear that she felt like a stranger in a strange land. She wound up the set with a pensive, somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the pros and cons of membership in a “tribe,” and then a swaying blues: “The season of the songbird has arrived,” Goldman asserted.

This project is likely to generate a lot of controversy, considering that Goldman celebrates her roots in centuries of rich Jewish artistic tradition while carving out an individualistic path. Being aware of the rest of her body of work, one would expect no less.

An Intimate Brooklyn Show by the Hilarious and Haunting Honor Finnegan

Singer/ukulele player Honor Finnegan self-effacingly calls herself “the Susan Boyle of quirky indie folk, only hotter.” Vast understatement on both counts. Finnegan has a stiletto sense of humor, can’t resist a devious pun or double entendre and sings in a dramatic yet nuanced soprano, drawing on a theatrical background that dates back to her childhood. The songs on her latest album Roses and Victory – streaming at Bandcamp – span from jaunty swing, to country, jazz and Celtic-tinged balladry. She’s playing this Friday, March 11 at 8 PM at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture at 53 Prospect Park West. Cover is $10; take any train to Grand Army Plaza.

The album opens with an irresistibly coy Hawaiian swing number, Fortune Cookie, Finnegan’s voice rising to a gale-force cabaret delivery as her ravenous, Chinese food-fortified narrator weighs the possible promise of predicting the future:

I don’t have a predilection
For your crunchy sweet confection
I don’t want to learn Chinese
Lucky numbers only bore me…
I know there’s no Prince Charmin’
But I know there’s no harm in
Fortune cookie…

Paul Silverman’s accordion soars throughout the wryly galloping, Celtic-tinged The Librarian, possibly the only song ever written that mention a ISBN:

The Book of Love is still on hold
I searched in every single stack
Maybe someone’s forgot to bring it back

Aviv Roth’s leaping dobro and electric guitar team up with Pete Donovan’s bass and Eric Puente’s drums in Movie Star, a rapidfire hillbilly boogie that brings to mind Amy Rigby at her most hyper. By contrast, Swimming opens on a dead body floating in the river, a stark Irish ballad infused with broodingly resonant cello. Finnegan may be best known for her irrepressible wit, but her strongest material may be the dark stuff and this is a prime example.

Roth takes centerstage on dobro again on Take Me, a soaring, vintage C&W shuffle. Then Finnegan pulls out all the stops for In Bed. Conflating sex and religion is as old as punk rock, but this mighty gospel anthem takes it to the next level, Finnegan joining voices with the choir of Catherine Miles, Carolann Solebello and Karyn Oliver to bring the song completely over the top. The song that’s going to make everybody’s playlist is I Should Stop Having Sex with You, a familiar tale about a girl who can’t stay way from Mr. Wrong, set to bouncy Bacharach bossa-pop.

The witchy, vengeful folk ballad Stark as Stone sounds like a classic from centuries ago. Finnegan puts her own dynamic stamp on a cover of the moody jazz ballad When Sunny Gets Blue that stands up alongside the iconic Jeanne Lee version, no small achievement. The album winds up with the catchy, upbeat folk-pop number Wishing Flower. Can you think of another artist who’s this eclectic, haunting and hilarious, all at the same time?

Jessi Robertson Brings Her Otherworldly Intensity to the American Folk Art Museum

Jessi Robertson‘s voice looms out from a deep, otherworldly, often tortured place. Her singing has little in common with Nina Simone and even less with Little Jimmy Scott, but she channels the same kind of deeply personal yet unselfconscious torment and emotional destitution as both of those artists. That’s not to say that all of Robertson’s songs are sad – a handful are actually pretty funny – but that her slowly rising melismas and full-throated wail come from the same place: the blues. While Robertson isn’t a blues singer per sen, she uses blues phrasing with the same emotional wallop as any artist who grew up in that idiom. In a very auspicious move, Robertson has teamed up with fellow guitarist Rony Corcos, who has a similarly intense command of the blues, even though she ‘s also not a blues artist in the purest sense of the word. The two played their debut show together last month at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick, and it was scary. They’re bringing that same intensity to the American Folk Art Museum for a show as part of Lara Ewen‘s fantasttic series of free afterwork concerts on February 19 starting at around 5:30 PM.

The tantalizingly brief Bushwick set featured mostly songs from Robertson’s latest album I Came from the War. They opened with a real showstopper, You’re Gonna Burn, Corcos’ lingering phrases underscoring Robertson’s ominous and eventually venomous insistence, finally rising to the top of her range for a long single note that seemed it would never stop. After that, they made Trouble a study in contrasts, enigmatically resonant verse against an anthemic chorus, Corcos’ spare, rainy-day phrases mingling with Robertson’s open chords, bringing to mind the Throwing Muses at their 80s peak.

They swung their way into a Breathe, another study in parallels: hypnotic verse, wickedly catchy, soaring chorus, contemplating “an instrument of beauty and sorrow”-  the same could have been said what both these musicians were channeling. Corcos shifted from shimmery raindroplets on that one to a wounded, deep delta blues hooks on the next: “How can I get high when you always bring me down?” Robertson intoned. Corcos went back to pointilllistic drizzle mode for the next number, a gorgeously crescendoing, bittersweet waltz, then delivered deep-space echo onYou Don’t Wany to Taste My Heart, told from the doomed viewpoint of a girl who sheds “her winter coat” at night and cuts herself. The two closed with a bitingly vamping minor-key breakup anthem. When Robertson wailed, “This is crazy, this is crazy,” the impact was visceral. It would have been interesting to see how many more people would have enjoyed it if the bar’s back room was more visible. If you think the back room at Otto’s seems forbiddingly off-limits to bar customers, you’ve never been to Pine Box Rock Shop.

Is It Safe to Say That Murder Ballad Mondays Are Killer?

It took four months worth of Murder Ballad Mondays before somebody played Rock Salt and Nails. It’s one of the real classics of folk noir. And it’s well known. Populist folksinger Nevada Smith gets credited for it, but it’s unlike anything else in his catalog and has a vernacular that looks back as far as the 1850s. And it’s as disconsolate as it is vengeful: the violence is implied, and even then, not til the last verse. Bobtown guitarist and songwriter Karen Dahlstrom channeled that sadness with distance and understatement, saving her powerful wail for a creepy a-cappella performance of her own grim Old West outlaw ballad Streets of Pocatello , from her brilliant Idaho-themed album Gem State. Then she picked up her guitar and did a new one that was a lot quieter but just as eerie.

That’s Murder Ballad Mondays in a nutshell: elite performers having fun with deadly tales from across the centuries and from their own repertoire as well. So far, the two most popular covers at this well-attended monthly extravaganza seem to be Delia’s Gone and Henry Lee, referencing both Johnny Cash and Gillian Welch. But the originals are what people come for: organizers Jeff Morris and Ellia Bisker, better known as torchily menacing parlor pop duo Charming Disaster, pack a lot into two hours. The next one is Monday, January 18 at 8 PM at Branded Saloon in Ft. Greene (closest stop is Bergen St. on the 2/3) featuring ominous baritone crooner Sean Kershaw and other similarly minded acts.

Charming Disaster have treated crowds here to short sets at previous Murder Ballad Mondays installments; last time around, they did just a single number, the allusively torchy Ghost Story (although they played a full set at Pete’s Candy Store this past Saturday night, packed the place and delivered an actually very funny show that included both a devastatingly tongue-in-cheek Led Zep cover and a new one about breaking strings onstage).

A duo version of phantasmagorical circus rock/noir cabaret band Orphan Jane – accordionist Tim Cluff and his trumpeter – also joined the festivities last time out, firing off a furtive number simply titled Murder as well as The Mansion Song, a menacingly vaudevillian narrative whose message seems to be that it pays to be cautious when seeking revenge against the one-tenth-of-one-percent: they can afford a bigger army than you.

Other artists included art-rock luminary and multi-instrumentalist Serena Jost, who held the crowd rapt with a typically allusive new tale about murder on the gallery floor, and an icily doomed cover from the current Nordic art-pop catalog. And singer Karen Poliski worked a similar intensity as she went to the well for a chilling Handsome Family cover.

Linda Draper Plays One of the Year’s Most Memorable Shows, Then Hits Williamsburg on the 28th

Liz Tormes and Linda Draper made a calmy intense twinbill back in October, each folk noir tunesmith playing solo acoustic at the American Folk Art Museum. It was good enough to make this year’s Best New York Concerts page – obviously a list that reflects only a tiny sliver of the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of concerts that took place in this city this year, but a very fun evening all the same. Both performers can be hilarious, but this particular show was more about songcraft than devastating one-liners. Draper is at Pete’s on December 28 at 10 PM, followed by lush, sparklingly anthemic Americana parlor rock band the Hinges, who are sort of the Pacific Northwest version of Hem. Tormes is most likely done for the year, at least as shows are concerned, although she has a long-awaited new album in the works.

Tormes played first, setting a tone for the night immediately with her uneasily catchy major/minor changes and blend of Americana and purist 60s pop. Gently and methodically, she worked her way up from hypnotically lowlit. minimalist post-Velvets ambience to an understatedly sardonic waltz, alluding to those who might want the limelight more than they deserve. Dancing hints of 80s new wave lit up a simmeringly exasperated nocturne about being kept up by noisy Lower East Side neighbors, inspired by real events during Tormes’ long tenure in that neighborhood. Through the purposeful stroll of Don’t Love Back and a similarly bittersweet, middle-period Dylanesque backbeat anthem, Tormes tied all her influences together with her plush, matter-of-fact vocals, rising and sailing from time to time but mostly mining a richly allusive midrange, resolute if wounded in places. It was a set for survivors, optimistic in the face of everything that had come before.

Draper didn’t waste any time picking up the pace with the rousing anti-conformity entreaty Modern Day Decay, the title track to her new album due out early next year. She went toward classic Britfolk with the next number and its broodingly descending vocals over an insistently steely fingerpicked minor-key hook. Likewise, the insistent C&W-tinged sway of Take the Money and Run underscored its defiance, an escape anthem in search of fellow travelers. She kept the energy in the red with an especially amped take of Broken Eggshell, her lyrically torrential, crescendoing shout-out to gentle, everyday iconoclasms. As she tells it, eggshells are to be stepped on, not tiptoed around.

She worked an uneasy resolve as enigmatic open chords shifted back and forth with warmer major changes, then went into the snidely tongue-in-cheek stroll of Sleepwalkers, a considerably uneasier escape anthem: Draper is no fan of the meh-ness of the walking dead. Then she shifted gears and evoked the bittersweet jangle of Matt Keating – with whom she’s enjoyed a memorable collaboration in recent years – with a new song, With the new album due out soon, Draper is likely to air out even more auspicious new material at Pete’s.

Robin Aigner Slings Her Double Entendres and Lascivious Levels of Fun at the Jalopy Next Week

There are innumerable levels of meaning in Robin Aigner‘s songs. She’s made a name for herself with her voice, which can be any number of things: brassy, coy, seductive or shatteringly poignant, depending on the song. But it’s the narratives and tunesmithing that ultimately distinguish her from the rest of the modern-day flappers in the oldtimey demimonde. She’s bringing her signature nuance and innuendo and double and triple entendres to an intimate duo show with bassist Larry Cook at the Jalopy on December 10 at 9 PM; cover is $10.

The last time this blog caught one of her shows all the way through was back in August at Barbes. It figures that she’d open the set there with a song wryly titled Le Français Salé, an enigmatically torchy musette-inflected waltz whose fractured title actually means “salted” rather than “salty,” Being a New York-born and bred historian, it also figures that many of Aigner’s songs would be historical vignettes set to jaunty Americana tunes from across the ages. The second song of the set, propelled by Reuben Radding’s bass and Rima Fand’s sailing violin lines, was a pensive waltz that imagined a relationship between Irving Berlin and the first woman to come in through Ellis Island: only in New York, right? From there Aigner brought the lights down, playing spiky broken chords on her ukulele under Fand’s austerely hazy ambience on a moody tale of Spanish Civil War refugees, resonating even more in this era of civilians in flight across a Europe that doesn’t want them.

Serious as those songs were, when she’s on her game, Aigner is hilarious, and she was here, treating the crowd to a devious take of Kiss Him When He’s Down, a hokum blues shuffle that takes a series of boxing metaphors into the boudoir. The show took another dip downward with a plaintive, wintry waltz before picking up the pace with Crazy, a surreal, tonguetwisting litany of the kind of kooks that a girl in this town can pick up on if she’s so inclined. Raddding gave that one a swingingly terse bass solo.

From there Aigner channeled a muted woundedness on a plush cover of a ballad by Pinataland – a group she’s often collaborated with over the years – its narrator drifting further and further into space. Interestingly, the best song of the night was the most angst-fueled one, a biting, flamenco-infused take of Greener, awash in bitterness and schadenfreude and images of being stuck on the outside looking in. From there she went into Tex-Mex territory, then Pearl Polly Adler, an unexpectedly bittersweet reminiscence told from the point of view of the high-end brothel owner who did a brisk business with FDR.

Aigner was also one of the stars of the most recent monthly Murder Ballad Mondays extravaganza at Branded Saloon, treating the crowd to a low-key, smoldering cover of Neil Young’s Down by the River as well as a brand-new, metaphorically bristling original which she said was directed toward a composite of ex-boyfriends rather than any specific person. Which raises the inevitable question of what guy in his right mind would mess up with a woman whose voice can pull you off the ledge like Aigner’s can? Then again, the world is full of nuts.