New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: acoustic music

A Gorgeously Noir New Album and a Little Italy Gig by Bliss Blood and Al Street

There’s an embarrassment of riches up at Bliss Blood‘s Bandcamp page. With the irrepressibly jaunty, harmony-driven, Hawaiian-tinged Moonlighters, she pioneered the swing jazz revival here in New York in the early zeros. She got her start before that as a teenager in the 80s and early 90s fronting noise-punk cult heroes the Pain Teens. But she’s also a connoiseur of noir. She first explored those sounds thematically with her trio Nightcall, which she stripped down to a duo with guitar sorcerer Al Street. The two have a gorgeously shadowy new album, Unspun, up at Bandcamp and plenty of gigs coming up. Their next one is a trio set with reedman Ian Hendricikson-Smith on March 29 at 8 PM at Epistrophy Cafe, 200 Mott St. (Kenmare/Spring).

Blood has been one of the most intriguing and enigmatic singers in this city for a long time. A master of nuance and innunedo, she can be playful, or swoony, or downright sultry one second, and sinister the next. She’s just as strong and eclectic as a songwriter: she has a thing for foreshadowing, and subtle metaphors, and clever double entendres: Street has a fluency and edge on acoustic guitar that most players only dream of achieving on electric: forget about nailing the kind of sizzling, flamenco and Romany-influenced riffs with the kind of nuance he employs without help from amps or pedals.

The new album’s first track is Alpha, a flamenco-tinged cautionary tale about a guy whose “fingers are always on the snare” – as she explains, you don’t want to be on the banks when this particular levee gives way. Entropy has a distantly injured pulse that’s as dreamy and Lynchian as it is ominously steady: “Now the laws of all transgression have all been broken but a few/So don’t pretend we didn’t bend the universe in two,” Blood broods. Then they pick up the pace with the droll, innuendo-fueled hokum blues shuffle Give Me Lots Of Sugar, a dead ringer for a Bessie Smith classic. And though you might think following that with a song called It’s So Hard would be pretty self-explanatory, it’s not: Blood’s insistent ukulele anchors a pensively torchy, bossa-flavored anthem.

Lucia, a lively flamenco swing instrumental, gives Street a launching pad for all kinds of nimble spirals. No One Gets It All, the album’s most haunting track, has a surreally captivating lyric to match its bittersweetly gorgeous melody. It seems to be a defiantly triumphant if deeply wounded existentialist anthem:

Satiated, sinking in your sweet domain
Waking to a distant and whispered call
Stirring to the echoes of a fractured song
Reflection’s fading, no one gets it all

It’s Comfortably Numb without the stadium bombast.

The two take a richly nuanced detour toward the Middle East with Nuyaim, then hit a steady noir swing strut with Pitfall and its wry chronicle of romantic missteps. Please Do (I Like It So Much) mines a vintage C&W sway, while Rustbelt works a catalog of sly junkyard innuendos over a cheery swing tune. Then they float their way through Snowmelt, a reverb-drenched, hypnotically Lynchian mood piece.

Tying My Tail In Knots sets more of those devious innuendos to a chirpy drive with an unexpected 90s quirk-pop tinge. Street does a mighty impersonation of a balalaika on the angst-fueled but ultimately triumphant title track. The album winds up with Vixen, a femme fatale theme infused with unexpectedly Stonesy blues guitar. Multiple levels of meaning reverberate throughout these songs: it would take a novel to count them all. It goes without saying that this is one of 2015’s best releases (some context: noisy postpunks Eula, lyrical new wave revivalists Lazy Lions, avant art-song siren Carol Lipnik, noir duo Charming Disaster, and Paula Carino’s double entrendre-fueled Regular Einstein all figure into that equation).

Bliss Blood and Al Street work fast. They’ve got a new single, Clash by Night up at Bandcamp, a brisk, strummy, resolute individualist’s anthem. “Solitude, not loneliness,” is the central theme, a cause for any rebel.

A Cool Change of Pace and a Couple of NYC Shows by Americana Purists Foghorn Stringband

Portland, Oregon gets a bad rap, just like Brooklyn. A lot has to do with that stupid tv show – come to think of it, the same could be said for Brooklyn. Both towns have been blighted by gentrification, yet despite that, both have Americana scenes which arguably produce the most vital music coming out of either place. One of Portland’s finest exports, Foghorn Stringband, hits New York on their current US tour, with a show at the Jalopy this Friday at 9 PM on a killer twinbill with the brilliantly guitar-fueled, increasingly oldschool soul-oriented Miss Tess & the Talkbacks headlining at 10. Cover is ten bucks. Then Foghorn Stringband return to town on the 24th at 11 PM for a pass-the-hat show at the small room at the Rockwood, another good segue since acoustic Americana maven Michael Daves is playing his weekly Tuesday night slot beforehand at 10.

Foghorn Stringband also have a new album, Devil in the Seat, streaming at Spotify. This one’s quite a change from their usual barn-burning romps: it’s a little heavier on reinvented versions of old classics than originals, and it’s a lot more low-key, although the musicianship is as invigorating as ever. As usual, they don’t skimp on quantity, with a total of sixteen songs. They also keep it stylistically diverse, from the brisk, roughhewn stroll of the old folk tune Stillhouse, through the rustic, autumnal closing number, Chadwell’s Station, gently spiced by mandolinist Caleb Klauder and fiddler Sammy Lind.

In between, the band looks back to Alice Gerrard for their Appalachian gothic take of Mining Camp Blues, guitarist Reeb Willms and bassist Nadine Landry joining forces on vocal harmonies with a keening intensity. They do the same later on with the old British folk song What Will We Do. Likewise, the stark version of Columbus Stockade Blues sounds like something that influenced Bill Monroe, not the other way around: all that’s missing is the scratches and pops of an old 78. And the matter-of-fact takes of the old outlaw ballad John Hardy and the soaring waltz Henry Lee benefit especially from the band’s old-fashioned recording style, standing round a central mic instead of miking instruments and vocals individually.

Lind gets to dip and sway elegantly while his bandmates give him plenty of space on the old Clyde Davenport fiddle tune, Lost Gal. The most striking song on the album is arguably its slowest, the absolutely gorgeous, bittersweet Leland’s Waltz. There’s also a handful of lively reels; a stark detour into oldtime country gospel; a pensive take of the old Appalachian tune Pretty Polly; a mashup of Celtic folk and newgrass; and a wryly lickety-split cover of Hank Snow’s 90 Miles an Hour.

Celtic Americana Trio the Henry Girls Play a Rare, Intimate Barbes Show

Where does one of the most interesting and unique bands in Ireland play when they come to New York? Barbes! The harmony-rich Henry Girls – multi-instrumentalist singing sisters Karen, Lorna, and Joleen McLaughlin – have an intimate 8 PM gig there on March 18, quite a change from the big concert halls they’ve been playing on their current US tour. Their latest album Louder Than Words is streaming at Soundcloud.

There’s no other band who sound like them. While much of their music is rooted in oldtimey Americana, they’re just as likely to bust out a brooding traditional Irish ballad. They mash up American, Irish and Scottish influences and have an unorthodox core of instrumentation anchored by Joleen’s concert harp, Lorna’s accordion and mandolin and Karen’s fiddle, ukulele, piano and banjo. On album, they’re backed by an acoustic rock rhythm section; it’s not clear from the group’s tour page if they’ll be by themselves or they’ll have the whole band with them.

The album’s opening track, James Monroe, is a swaying, angst-fueled minor-key ballad, spiced with a punchy chart by the Bog Neck Brass Band. Presumably it predates the guy with the Doctrine. Then the sisters take a leap forward a couple hundred years into the present with The Weather, a cheery, bouncy number that’s part oldtime hillbilly dance, part Brilll Building pop. Likewise, Maybe has a lushly yet rustically arranged current-day folk-pop feel – it wouldn’t be out of place on a Sweet Bitters album.

Driven by Ted Ponsonby’s rich web of acoustic guitars, the catchy, anthemic, backbeat-driven No Matter What You Say could be a Dixie Chicks tune, but with organic production values. The sisters’ spiky instrumentation and soaring harmonies add an extra surreal edge to a shuffling cover of Springsteen’s creepy roadside anthem Reason to Believe.

The Light in the Window, the most Celtic-flavored tune here, manages to be as ominous as it is wistfully elegaic, Karen’s fiddle rising over Liam Bradley’s clip-clop percussion. Home paints a broodingly detailed, sweepingly orchestrated tableau set amongst the down-and-out. The sisters’ gorgeous take of the old proto-swing tune So Long But Not Goodbye compares with the version by longtime Barbes band the Moonlighters.

It’s Not Easy sets a flamenco melody to a gentle country sway: it’s sort of this band’s Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. Producer Calum Malcolm plays churchy Hammond organ behind the sisters’ harmonies, and a gospel choir, on the album’s closing cut, Here Beside Me. If Americana or Irish sounds are your thing, get to Barbes early on the 18th.

Disarmingly Down to Earth, Catchy Original Acoustic Americana from Joanna Sternberg

Joanna Sternberg‘s expression on the cover of her new solo acoustic album Lullaby to Myself – streaming at Bandcamp – isn’t quite a scowl. But whatever she’s thinking about, she’s dead serious. Which could be a bit of a red herring since her lyrics have a deadpan humor that’s often just plain LMAO funny. Her vocals have the well-rounded fullness of a choirgirl (was she one in previous incarnation? Good possibility). Although guitar is not her main axe – she’s a conservatory-trained bassist – she plays her six-stringer confidently, knows her way around a catchy tune and draws on centuries of Americana without sounding cliched. Linda Draper is a good comparison, but where Draper fingerpicks, Sternberg strums. She’s playing the small room at the Rockwood tomorrow night, Feb 10 at 7 PM. In a vexing if probably unintentional stroke of booking, lyrical rock cult hero Ward White is playing next door at the big room at the same time. Tough choice, huh! If that’s too much of a dilemma, she’s at the Knitting Factory at 9 on Feb 18.

The first track on the new album is A Country Dance, a liltingly evocative nocturnal tale. “Follow me and my bottle of wine and we’ll dance near the stars,” Sternberg entreats, ” I’ll tell you my various schemes.” He Dreams is a sad, stripped-down take on the kind of honkytonk waltz Patsy Cline would do, set to a Mr. Bojangles-y tune. Likewise, Sternberg’s blithe vocals mask the wry sarcasm of the front porch folk number The Love I Give.

It Happens to Be a Boy looks at the same equation with a lot more optimism and good cheer. I Will Be With You has a misty, bittersweetly nocturnal vintage C&W angst – it’s sort of a mashup of the Davis Sisters and Roy Orbison, a feel that recurs toward the end of the album in a brooding breakup waltz simply titled The Song. Although Sternberg is clearly addressing herself on the charmingly antique title track, it’s a lullaby for pretty much anybody, even a toddler. Then she picks up the pace with the most bustling number here, I’ve Got Me, a wry look at the perils of self-absorption: “Between self-hatred and self-awareness is a very fine line…why is it so hard to be kind and gentle to myself?” she muses.

Without You brings to mind Bessie Smith’s After You’ve Gone; like a lot of the songs here, it benefits from some absolutely marvelous natural reverb in the space where it was recorded. The final track, I’ll Make You Mine is hardly as cheerful as the title suggests, one of many places on this album where the subtext runs deep. These songs may be just guitar and vocals, but Sternberg packs a lot into them.

Revisiting and Looking Ahead to a Bunch of Great Acoustic Shows

Karen Dalhstrom is one of the four first-rate songwriters in Bobtown, who with their unearthly four-part harmonies and creepy tunesmithing are arguably the most distinctive noir Americana band on the planet. They’re playing the album release show for their long-awaited new album, A History of Ghosts on the big stage downstairs at Hill Country at 9:30 PM on Jan 14. Not to take anything away from her work with that band, but Dahlstrom is also a solo artist, with a killer album of her own, Gem State, a collection of songs set in frontier-era Idaho and written in a period-perfect oldtime vernacular. It was good to be able to catch one of her infrequent solo shows awhile back at the American Folk Art Museum across the Broadway/Columbus triangle up by Lincoln Center.

Taking advantage of the space’s natural reverb, Dahlstrom aired out several of the songs from that album, including a goosebump-inducing a-cappella version of Streets of Pocatello, a menacing, hardscrabble hobo’s tale. Miner’s Bride, an even more doomed narrative told by a mail-order bride sent off to an uncertain fate on the high plains, was every bit as haunting. But the high point of the show – and one most spine-tingling moments at any concert in town last year – was her version of Galena. The Idaho city takes its name from a woman, maybe a Russian or Polish immigrant, mother or wife to one of the men who flocked there during the Gold Rush. Over a sad, elegantly waltzing tune, Dahlstrom brought the sudden rise and equally sudden decline of this boomtown to life, aptly personifed as a woman, who ends up “A penny curiosity, old bones in a pinewood vale,” Dahlstrom’s elegaic alto rising just a little from almost a whisper, to low and mournful.

Lara Ewen, the crystalline-voiced Americana songstress who hosts the pretty-much-weekly free Friday evening afterwork acoustic shows at the Folk Art Museum, told the crowd that this show was roughly the fourth time she’d booked Dahlstrom for a gig there: if that’s not instant cred, nothing is. As you would expect, there have been plenty of other excellent shows there in recent months. Sweet Soubrette, the more pop-oriented project of singer/ukulele player Ellia Bisker (who has a murderously good new album with the creepy Charming Disaster, her duo with Kotorino‘s Jeff Morris, due out shortly) swung through to play a stripped-down trio set. The highlight of that one was the eerily glimmering Burning City, an evocation of the bombing and subsequent firestorms in WWII Berlin.

Greg Cornell of the Cornell Brothers played a fascinating duo set there. What an interesting, and original, and excellent guitarist this guy is. Few other players rely on the low strings as much, and as imaginatively, and tunefully, as this guy does. His style is somewhere between bluegrass flatpicking and janglerock, and it’s completely his own. It helps that his songs are as anthemic and catchy as they are.

Another individualistic act, folk noir duo Mark Rogers and Mary Byrne – whose debut album I Line My Days Along Your Weight has been burning up the internet lately – got the call to pinch-hit for an act who’d cancelled, and hit one out of the park with their hypnotically moody, allusively lyrical songs. Byrne switched between guitar and a vintage mandolin, singing with a wary, carefully modulated, wounded delivery as Rogers nonchalantly aired out a deep and equally considered mix of classic blues, folk and bluegrass licks that merged seamlessly into Byrne’s somber, crepuscular narratives.

There seem to be two Caitlin Bells playing music in New York these days; purist oldtime Americana singer Caitlin Marie Bell is the talented one. She shares a pensive, rustic quality with Rogers and Byrne, mining the classic folk repertoire from the 1800s for her all-too-brief solo acoustic set there. Her high, resonant vocals soared over her nimble guitar fingerpicking as she made her way through warmly bucolic, Appalachian flavored front porch material along with a couple of darker, more incisive, blues-infused numbers.

Another purist folk musician from a completely different idiom, Pete Rushefsky played a rapturous, often exhilarating, glistening set there a few weeks later. His axe is the tsimbl, the pointillistically rippling, otherworldly Ukraininan Jewish hammered dulcimer that’s the forerunner of the Hungarian cimbalom and the western European zither. The first part of his set featured him leading a trio with two violins leaping and dancing against the tsimbl’s lush undercurrent; the second featured his wife doubling on flute and vocals, delivering several obscure treats from the Ukraininan folk tradition. What’s especially interesting about Rushefsky’s songbook is that much of it sounds completely different fom the boisterous, carnivalesque Romany-flavored klezmer music from points further west: this was both more somber and lustrous.

Where Rushefsky worked a pensive, hypnotic ambience, Sharon Goldman was her usual direct self: the acoustic rock tunesmith can say more in a few words than most people can in a whole album. She can also be drop-dead funny, although this time out her set was more about painting pictures, whether an unexpectedly triumphant late summer Park Slope scenario, or the ominous foreshadowing of the morning of 9/11…or a coy couple competing over a pint of ice cream. Goldman bought them to life with catchy chord changes on the guitar and her richly modulated, subtly nuanced vocals.

And Ewen booked a pretty perfect choice for Halloween: Jessi Robertson. She’s got an unearthly wail to rival anyone, and this time out had made herself up as a bloody corpse or accident victim or something similarly gruesome. So when she cut loose with “You’re gonna burn, my love,” on the chorus of the first song on her excellent new album, it worked on every conceivable level. And after she’d done a few similarly harrowing numbers, going off-mic and singing without any amplification, she did a cruelly funny country song with a title something along the lines of I Hope I Hurt You As Much As You Hurt Me.

Goldman, like so many others in the vanguard of acoustic music, likes house concerts: her next one is in Jersey City on Jan 25 at 8 PM, email for info. Sweet Soubrette are at Freddy’s on Jan 22. And the American Folk Art Museum’s free, 5:30 PM Friday concert series resumes on Jan 9 with first-class, politically-fueled lyricist and anthemic folk-rock songwriter Niall Connolly headlining at around half past six.

Southern Gothic Tourmates Play Two Killer Shows on December 19

Folk noir songwriters Lorraine Leckie and Kelley Swindall wound up their third annual Southern Gothic Tour, making their way back from New Orleans to their home turf with a sold-out gig at the Mercury on the thirteenth of the month, an appropriate date for the two haunting, haunted, relentlessly intense bandleaders. The crowd squeezed around the video tripod set up in the middle of the floor: if the crew who were meticulously working it got their levels right, both performers got a great live album out of it. Swindall is playing what’s rumored to be her farewell NYC gig on Dec 19 at 9 at the Bitter End, of all places, for $10; Leckie plays two hours later that same night at 11 at Sidewalk for free, so if you’re adventurous, you can catch what crowds south of the Mason-Dixon line got to enjoy on a doublebill this past fall.

It’s impossible to imagine a better straight-up rock band than Leckie’s group the Demons (Huffington Post has a funny, insightful piece on them here). Lead guitar monster Hugh Pool channeled Hendrix in sideswiping, lighter-fluid-on-the-frets mode over the deep, in-the-pocket groove of bassist Charles DeChants and drummer Paul Triff. Pool unleashed a sunbaked, blistering Stoogoid attack on the album’s title track Rebel Devil Devil Rebel, a surrealistically joyous shout-out to New Orleans. At the end of the show, the band cut loose with a viciously ecstatic version of Ontario, a wickedly catchy Crazy Horse style stomp, Leckie’s explosive yet bittersweet shout-out to her Canadian roots. In between, the band snarled their way through the Warren-Zevon-on-acid glam of Rainbow, the distant menace of Watch Your Step and a lingering version of The Everywhere Man, a serial killer narrative fueled by Pool’s vertigo-inducing, echoing slide work. Out in front of the band, playing Telecaster (and keys on one plaintively brief number), Leckie’s steely vocals were undiminished over the maelstrom.

Swindall cut her teeth playing music with a long-running residency at Stefan Lutak’s legendary East Village dive bar the Holiday Lounge. If you could play there, you could play anywhere, so Swindall took the stage at the Mercury like she owned the place. She’s sort of a musical counterpart to Flannery O’Connor or Carson McCullers, a southern gothic intellectual giving voice to the restless and the outcasts among us, with an indelible wistfulness. This time out, playing acoustic guitar and harmonica and backed by a three-piece band, she opened with a brooding, Waits-ish blues set in a vivid Lower East side milieu. She revisited that hauntingly later in the set with a creepy, noir tableau where “every high becomes its low” and then a cheating song set to an oldtimey shuffle groove.

Bassist Stephanie Allen (also of the Third Wheel Band) propelled a brisk mashup of an oldtime talking blues and a country patter song, followed by a triumphant version of the weed-smuggling anthem California and a little later, Swindall’s own original, full-throttle version of Minglewood Blues. She wound up her set with the kiss-off anthem to end all kiss-off anthems, I Never Loved You Anyway, and then the Murder Song, a vindictive ending for a clueless chick who spends her nights getting trashed at honkytonk karaoke. If New York ends up losing Swindall, it’ll be our loss and someone else’s gain.

Radio Jarocho Reinvent High-Voltage, Rustic Mexican Party Music

Radio Jarocho‘s music isn’t watered-down exotica for politically correct yuppies. It’s raw and roughhewn and funny and fearless, which even though it’s all-acoustic makes it about as punk as you can get. It’s something people might have danced to over tequila shots in a dingy Veracruz cabana fifty years ago – except that with one exception, all of the songs on their latest album, Café Café – streaming at Bandcamp – are brand new.

What Radio Jarocho play is sort of a Son Jarocho counterpart to Very Be Careful‘s rustically biting retro Colombian cumbias. They’ve made the claim that their self-titled 2009 debut album was the first Son Jarocho album ever recorded in New York. The backstory to Café Café, their second release, is that after playing the raucously soulful Mexican coastal repertoire for years, they figured they could write originals that were just as good. They’re bringing them to a fantastic, free triplebill at the Jalopy on Dec 11 starting at 8 at with oldtime string band maven Feral Foster and most likely headlining later, Hubby Jenkins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. And the Jalopy folks will be donating a portion of all drink sales to God’s Love We Deliver.

The album opens with the title track, Juan Carlos Marín’s requinto (a Mexican tenor guitar) mingling with the flurrying jaranas (shortscale eight-string guitars) of Carlos Cuestas and Emmanuel Huitzil as their dancer, Julia del Palacio keeps the beat going with her pandero hand drum. The lead instrument is Francisco Martínez’s marimbol, an Afro-Caribbean instrument with a midrange tone that looks and sounds like a cross between a mbira and a Jamaican rhythm box.

By contrast, Malhaya el Sueño is a brooding, eerily shapeshifting, waltz-ish nocturne, folk noir done Son Jarocho style. They pick up the pace again with the defiant party anthem Conga Libre, a happy-go-lucky, La Bamba-style singalong and keep it going with the most antique-sounding track here, a hellraising tale aptly titled Los Jaraneros (The Partyers).

Morena es la Virgen is another moody track, flamenco run through a surreal Mexican prism. The wistful waltz La Tristeza is a lot more lively and bittersweet than the title would suggest. Las Comadres (The Wives) works a droll back-and-forth dialogue, the whole band joining in on the chorus as they do on most of the songs, one of the jaranas firing off an unexpectedly jazzy solo..

Se Ve Que Sabes Bailar brings back the flamenco drama and intensity, followed by Conga Le Lé, its dips and swells and animated call-and-response. The album winds up with the anthemic Bemba y Tablao, by popular Son Jarocho songwriter and poet Patricio Hidalgo, who also sings on it. One especially cool thing about this album is that the songs go on for four or five minutes apiece, giving the band a chance to take their time and cut loose and capture the sly humor and exuberance that you’d find at the fandangos where it’s played. And as much fun as this stuff is, it also has depth and gravitas – and you don’t need to speak Spanish to enjoy it.

Sunday Singles

It’s not like any of these songs will ever get stale – they’re all good – but they’ve been sitting around here for awhile. So enjoy!

Vatan play propulsive, hauntingly shuffling Persian folk-rock. Check out those gorgeous chromatics, the lush web of tar lutes and Mona Kayhan’s cool, slow-burning vocals on their single Niloufar, at bandcamp.

Field Report’s Decision Day is acoustic and Steve Earle-ish, a little heavyhanded lyrically but the tune is catchy and builds anthemically. “Now you and I are free to extricate ourselves from the mud,” via soundcloud.

CTMD honcho Pete Rushefsky is also an accomplished player on the hauntingly rippling tsimbl, the Ukrainian Jewish dulcimer which is the forerunner of the Hungarian cimbalom. His show a couple of Fridays ago at the American Folk Art Museum with a couple of violinists (and his similarly talented wife on flute and vocals) was off the hook. Here he’s playing Joseph Moskowitz’s Oriental Movement #1 (youtube).

And here’s another fun live youtube clip: surfy post-Bollywood art-rockers Bombay Rickey doing a live take of their catchy, shapeshifting Bombay 5-0 at their Ditmas Park hideaway earlier this year. The surf kicks in really good at about 1:40.

Aiofe O’Donovan Brings Her Cutting-Edge, Purist Americana Tunesmithing to the Upper West

Aiofe O’Donovan is cool. The Crooked Still singer/guitarist played one of the outdoor concerts at Madison Square Park a couple of months ago and wasn’t impressed by that burger joint there with the interminably long lines – and if you’d been standing downwind in the greasy smoke wafting from the kitchen, you wouldn’t have been either. “Is the food really that good?” she asked, skeptical. A lone guy sheepishly put his his hand. “OK, if you say so,” she grinned back.

O’Donovan makes her living on the road, whether playing bluegrass classics, singing in progressive jazz icon Dave Douglas’ group, with symphony orchestras, or doing her own stuff. September’s show was mostly original material, much of it taken from her debut solo album, Fossils, and it was consistently excellent. If you missed the show – and a lot of people did – she’s making a quick swing through town, in between Crooked Still reunion shows, for a free concert at 7:30 PM on Nov 13 at the Lincoln Center Atrium. It’s not clear who’s playing when, but she’s on the bill with a solid quartet of performers: explosive New Orleans trombonist/gospel shouter Glen David Andrews; Elle King, who is sort of an Americana counterpart to Cat Power; and charming guy/girl harmony duo the Spring Standards. These shows are a neighborhood institution and fill up fast, so the earlier you get there, the better: you can probably expect about a half an hour from each act.

O’Donovan, being a runner, likes to jump around a lot onstage, and reveled in the chance to do that at the park because, as she explained, she’d been playing on a boat where that hadn’t been an option. Backed by terse upright bass, drums and lead guitar, she mixed up ballads and more upbeat numbers. As you might expect from someone in a band whose name refers to moonshine, whiskey figures into a lot of her songs, from the swaying, John Prine-influenced opening number, Oh Mama, to a jaunty country blues punctuated by a bouncy bass solo a little later on.

They followed the broodingly shuffling Thursday’s Child, fueled by Austin Nevins’ lingering, red-sunset guitar leads with a slower but similarly simmering, late-summery tune. O’Donovan sang Briar Rose with a moodily insistence as ambulance sirens passed north of the park. It was cool to watch the group mash up trad styles with electric rock energy, without turning it into cliched 70s-style dadrock, then going deep into the Appalachian catalog. And through it all O’Donovan soared, and sailed, and brought edge and bite to the songs when they asked for them, as songs do. It’s not clear if O’Donovan will have a band with her at the Lincoln Center show or not, but either way she’s a lot of fun live.

Another Creepy Masterpiece and a Bell House Show by O’Death

O’Death are one of those great bands who sound like no other group on the planet – and yet, they’re one of the most widely imitated acts around. Part Nashville gothic, part oldtimey, part circus rock and part noir cabaret, like all successful bands these days they make their living on the road. And they just had their tour van stolen – with all their gear in it. They’re in the midst of crowdsourcing an emergency fund to get some new gear, an effort that’s happily been pretty successful, but what’s been especially problematic is that the kind of vintage instruments they typically play aren’t available off the shelf. In the meantime, they’re got a characteristically excellent new album, Out Of Hands We Go – streaming at Northern Spy Records – and a New York show coming up at around 11 PM on Nov 14 at the Bell House. General admission is $15 – if there’s any band that could use your support right about now, it’s these guys.

Frontman/guitarist Greg Jamie’s voice is as menacingly quavery as ever, throughout a typical mix of creepy Edward Gorey-esque tableaux and disquietingly befuddling narratives. Arthur Lee is a frequent reference, especially on All Is Light, with its delicately orchestrated Forever Changes vibe, and the off-kilter Apple Moon, with its delicious blend of steel guitar and what sounds like a mellotron. Neil Young is another, most obviously on Go & Play with Your Dead Horses – but in this case it sounds like Neil Y on some obscure but powerful mushrooms.

The slowly shuffing Herd, which opens the album, takes the point of view of someone who’d like to stray – but Jamie only implies that. That’s what makes his songs so interesting – much as some of his images can be flat-out-ghoulish, he always draws the listener in with them. Likewise, the bluesy circus rock tune Wrong Time, which might or might not be about cannibalism, swaying its way up to a hypnotic Magical Mystery Tour psych-rock pulse.

“Maybe we’ll burn this house together and drag our corpses cross the floor,” Jamie muses on Roam, the hardest-rocking track here. “Like sleeping naked in the rain – wouldn’t have bothered anyone, but would have rendered me insane,” Jamie’s narrator nonchalantly intones on the understatedly morbid, Tom Warnick-esque Wait for Fire. The longest track here, We Had a Vision, blends layers of stark strings with Gabe Darling’s banjo and Jamie’s gracefully picked minor-key acoustic guitar.

“Don’t tell me I don’t know what I saw, crushed leaves on the morning fire – I’ve stoked all I can from your desire,” Jamie casually explains in the ominously dancing waltz Heal in the Howling. The most ornate, and arguably most menacing track here is Isavelle, a murder ballad fueled by Bob Pycior’s icepick violin. The album ends with another macabre waltz, its narrator pondering what to do with his victims – it brings to mind Bobby Vacant at his most uneasy. As usual, O’Death have turned in (dug up? exhumed?) yet another great album, one of the best of 2014. And if you want the band to make more, if you know of anyone who’s got a vehicle they could borrow to finish their East Coast tour, or who might be selling a decent quality used guitar amp, bass amp or maybe a bass head or cab, put them in touch with the band.

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