New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: acoustic music

The Greenpoint Songwriters Exchange Create the Newest Sound Around

Every month, the Greenpoint Songwriters Exchange plays the freshest material you can hear anywhere in New York. That’s because almost all of the Brooklyn collective’s songs are brand new. Ringleader Lorrane Leckie hosts a weekly salon where a rotating cast of some of the best songwriters you’ve never heard of – and some that you definitely have – workshop new material, then they take it to the stage in Williamsburg. Leckie in particular has been working on new material for her upcoming show on Nov 24 at 7 PM with her ferocious, psychedelic band the Demons at the Mercury. Fellow guitarslinger and charismatic singer Mallory Feuer’s equally ferocious band the Grasping Straws open the night at 6; cover is $10.

The October Greenpoint Songwriters Exchange lineup was typically diverse and just as interesting. Leckie debuted a forlornly strolling tribute to her recently departed French bulldog, Eloise, one of the more memorable musician mascots in this city in recent years. LJ Murphy, the group’s cleanup hitter, recast a couple of broodingly aphoristic older tunes as vintage soul music. Another first-class singer, Paul Anthony, went just as deeply into Sam Cooke-tinged soul.

The edgiest new material of the night was from Jeannie Skelly, one of the group’s strongest singers and guitarists. Her first number was a hilariously vindictive anti-fascist rant; the second was just as amusing, an apparently true story about an old friend who returns from his world travels a changed man: he’s become a vegetarian supremacist!

Carly Spell, a relative newcomer, held the crowd rapt with an allusively haunting chronicle of addiction and its most dire consequences. Likewise, Sara Hurwitz‘s poignant opening number, assesseddiminishing hopes for artistic community in a city completely devastated by gentrification. Lead guitarist Robert Troise added some neat bluegrass flatpicking on that one.

Eve Blackwater got everybody laughing and singing along to one of the funniest and most explicit fuck-you anthems written in recent months. Eric Richmond took the crowd back to a 1979 of the mind with a bleakly imagistic, tightly composed, Graham Parker-esque new wave tune. Teresa Toro, the latest and brighest addition to another collective, the Bushwick Book Club, brought down the lights with a couple of understatedly torchy, jazz-inflected numbers. Feuer also set aside her usual firepower for an enigmatic, more dreampop-flavored tune. And Sarah Murdoch, who might be the most powerful singer of the entire bunch, validated the argument that she’s just as nuanced and intense a blues singer as she is with jazz and Americana.

The Greenpoint Songwriters Exchange’s monthly show continues at Pete’s tonight, Nov 11 at 6 PM, so you won’t have to worry about the L train going down on your way home.

Folk Noir and Fearlessly Political Songwriting: Still Going Strong in the East Village

Sunday night at Scratcher Bar in the East Village, Lara Ewen and Niall Connolly strung together a couple hours worth of memorably surreal narratives and catchy acoustic guitar tune with a crafty expertise that’s become increasingly rare in this city.

Ewen, who is probably best known as the founder and fearless impresario of the mostly-weekly Free Music Fridays series at the American Folk Art Museum, is also a distinctive tunesmith in her own right and opened this particular show. There was a lot of fresh new material in her set, an auspicious preview of her long-awaited new album, mostly likely due out sometime next year. This time out, there was more bluesy grit in her voice than usual, and she fingerrpicked a lot more as well.

“I don’t write political songs,” she told the crowd, “Politics is something we tend to do in every moment of our lives,” she explained, prefacing a witheringly sarcastic new number about an sexual assault survivor, and then a kid who narrowly misses getting shot by the cops, each emphasizing how incredibly lucky they are.

Another aphoristic, darkly sparkling new song concerned a guy who manages to dig himself into a hole where he’s comfortable, way down in the dark. In the final verse, he brings a length of rope down there, although Ewen never reveals what exactly he does with it. Her other character studies, some new and some older and full of strange, unresolved chords, had similarly lingering imagery, situated among the down and out, or the about to be down and out. Like hell Ewen isn’t political: she just doesn’t preach.

Watching Connolly parse a series of terse, judiciously picked tunes, it’s obvious that he’s a rock guy: it was easy to imagine him playing those lines on a Strat with a rhythm section behind him. He’s more overtly political than Ewen, with an unassuming, raw, often melancholy vocal delivery. The big audience singalong was a soaringly anthemic portrait of the last days of Irish Revolutionary hero James Connolly (an ancestor, maybe?): “Lily, don’t you cry, I’ve lived the fullest of lives” was the chorus.

The best of the new ones was a spot-on, strange account of a late-night Rockaways bus ride (interrupted for Miller High Life and a shot of well whiskey at a watering hole along the way), and the kind of weirdos you meet there, everybody sharing the near dream-state surrealism of outer-borough afterwork fatigue.

Connolly is also a great storyteller without his guitar (Ewen said that she’d stolen all her stage banter from him: not a bad place to start). The funniest tale of the night concerned a bus driver who pulled to the curb for a second, exited the vehicle and shouted his order for fried rice to the Chinese restaurant cook taking a break across the street. Connolly, a populist to the core, explained that he has a special appreciation for any employee who likes to bend the rules.This particular takeout joint’s fried rice is apparently worth a risk.

Connolly’s next gig is Oct 17 at 8:30 PM at the Hunterian at 413 E 70th St. between First and York Aves.. Theres also an excellent bill coming up at the Folk Art Museum on Oct 18 at at 6 PM with  Sharon Goldman – one of the great tunesmiths to come out of the NYC acoustic scene since the turn of the century – and dark, brilliantly lyrical oldtimey songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Pete Lanctot.

Guitarslinger Phil Gammage Goes Back to His Dark Blues Roots Again

Phil Gammage may be best known as the lead guitarist in legendary CB’s era postpunk band Certain General, but he also has a substantial body of work as a bandleader. Over the years, he’s done everything from dark Americana to electric blues. With his latest album, It’s All Real Good – streaming at Spotify – the guitarslinger/crooner revisits the spare acoustic sound of his Live at Little Water Radio ep from a couple of years ago. He’s playing the release show tomorrow night, Sept 5 at 9 PM at 11th St. Bar. Then on the 9th he’s at Shrine at 9, and on the 30th he’s at Cowgirl Seahorse in the South Street Seaport at 7.

The album’s opening track, Naked in the Rain is a stripped down acoustic bossa, Kenny Margolis’ accordion and Michele Butler’s backing vocals filtering through a song that’s kind of low-key considering that it’s about dancing around nude.

With David Fleming’s chuffing, reverbtone blues harp, the title track is a sarcastic, bawdy blues that draws a straight line back to Sonny Boy Williamson – or even further. Likewise, Dancing on Top of the World is a sardonic, Waits-ish barhopping narrative. Luck Don’t Pass Us By comes across as an acoustic take on the apocalyptic gutter blues of 80s bands like the Gun Club.

Fueled by Margolis’ darkly bluesy spirals, Hellcat Magpie is a colorfully creepy circus-rock waltz. Then skinny Elvis meets Jimmy Reed in the muted, crepuscular Second Time Around.

Wandering Stars has a slow southwestern gothic sway, while Give Away is slow, spare and Orbisonesque. Gammage closes the album with Let Love Begin, his counterintuitive chords over Tony Mann’s shuffling drums. Gammage’s voice has grown a little flintier over the years, and the music here is quieter than most of his back catalog, but he can still conjure up as much distant menace as ever.

A Sparkling, Verdant, Ecologically-Inspired Suite from Dana Lyn and Kyle Sanna

Dana Lyn is one of New York’s most captivatingly protean violinists. She leaps between Irish music, classical and jazz and makes it seem effortless. She’s also one of the most relevant composers around. Her previous album Mother Octopus was a trippy, shapeshifting musical parable about oceanic eco-disaster. Guitarist-keyboardist Kyle Sanna is just as eclectic, moving from Irish and Middle Eastern music to indie classical, jazz and the artsier side of rock. The latest release by the two musicians’ duo project, is the Coral Suite, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a more spare yet lingering and resonant exploration of the vanishing world of coral reefs. Catchy as it is, it’s hard to pin down: there’s baroque elegance and Celtic plaintiveness in Lyn’s alternately wistful and vibrantly lyrical phrasing, anchored by Sanna’s subtle, methodical acoustic work.

Lyn begins the first part of the suite solo with a bittersweet ballad theme, then Sanna makes his entrance and the the two build stately, pointillistic ambience. They shift to a punchy reel of sorts, which in turns morphs into a hypnotic waltz, violin flitting and then soaring over terse, enigmatic chordal guitar varations. The two reharmonize the first reel theme, which leads to another, the multitracks growing more lush. Sanna’s deep-space, delta blues-tinged slide work closes the first section.

The duo begin part the epic, 27-minute second half with slow, hazy, Debussy-esque wave motion, then develop an increasingly lively Irish open-road (or for that matter, open-sea) melody. Echoes of acoustic Fairport Convention – imagine a particularly bright Dave Swarbrick solo – eventually lead to another waltz, a joyous line dance and then more waves.

Sanna makes a gorgeous, poignant Renaissance theme out of that last waltz. From there, the music grows from a tightly strolling intertwine, goes flying through another reel, then recedes to a spare pizzicato interlude. The two take it out with a gently tidal wash of atmospherics.

Lyn’s next New York gig is on July 11 at around 9 PM at Happy Lucky No. 1 Gallery, where she’s playing with pianist JP Schlegelmilch, a similarly diverse artist who may be best known as the not-so-secret weapon in Hearing Things – the missing link between the Doors and the Ventures – but has also released the only album of solo piano arrangements of Bill Frisell works. Rising star tenor saxophonist Anna Webber opens the night, leading a chordless trio at 8. Cover is $20.

Soaring, Haunting Folk Noir Band Bobtown Make a Mighty Return to the Stage

Bobtown are the most individualistic folk noir band you could possibly imagine. They have soaring three-part vocal harmonies – and they’re fronted by their drummer. They’ve also been AWOL lately since they’ve been working on a new album. Last weekend, they packed the big room at the Rockwood and played most of the tracks from the record, Chasing the Sun, due out at the end of next month. If the show was any indication, it’s going to be amazing.

Everybody in the band plays a lot of instruments. Bandleader Katherine Etzel began the show on ukulele, then switched to a big, imposing standup drumkit. Karen Dahlstrom played guitar for most of the set but then broke out her banjo, something she rarely does live. Jen McDearman took turns on both lead and harmony vocals while adding percussion and eerily twinkling glockenspiel. Alan Lee Backer switched between electric and acoustic lead guitar while bassist Dan Shuman held down the low end, bolstered on a couple of tunes by stark resonance from guest cellist Serena Jost (who also plays on the record).

They opened with Devil Down, a brightly shuffling tune with thematic if not musical resemblance to Tom Waits’ Down in the Hole:. As Etzel intimated, the new album is slightly more optimistic than the ghostly tales that populate much of the band’s previous output. After that, McDearman didn’t waste any time taking the music back in that direction with Hazel, a banjo number about a crazy woman who’s reached the end of her rope.

Etzel went back to lead vocals for Let You Go, a kiss-off anthem with echoes of the chain gang songs the band were exploring in the early part of the decade. Daughters of the Dust, a spaghetti western bluegrass tune, kept the charming/sinister dynamic going, the women’s shiny harmonies in contrast with the emotionally depleted Dust Bowl narrative. Then they picked up the pace with the Buddy Holly-ish Come on Home.

In My Bones turned out to be classic Bobtown, a chirpy, blackly amusing tune about how to cheat the man in black when he makes a “certain visitation.” With its hushed ambience, This Is My Heart could have been an especially melancholy number from a Dolly Parton bluegrass record. Then the group built to a big, vamping peak with Kryptonite and its Hey Jude-style chorus.

The biggest surprise of the night, with Jost on cello again, was a slow, spare, hazy cover of Tom Petty’s American Girl: who knew the lyrics were so sad? They closed with the night’s most mighty, majestic number, No Man’s Land, sung with gospel-infused intensity by Dahlstrom. In a year of full-frontal assaults on women’s rights from Ohio all the way to the Mexican border, it’s a new national anthem:

No man’s words can still my voice
No man can tell me where I stand
No man’s will can take my choice
I am no man’s land

Mari Kalkun Sings a Rare Program of New and Ancient Estonian Music

Tuesday night at Scandinavia House, Mari Kalkun treated a packed auditorium to a very rare program of pensively bucolic, often hypnotic Estonian songs. But Kalkum is no ordinary folk singer: she writes her own material, often utilizing texts by both contemporary and historic Estonian poets. She sang in Estonian, Finnish and Voro a south Estonianl language that has only about seventy thousand remaining speakers, as she explained.

Her main axe is the kannel, a semi-oval-shaped stringed instrument that resembles a dulcimer but which she plucked like a harp slung around her shoulders. Since she uses traditional open tunings, the melodies didn’t move around much beyond the center,, further enhancing the dream state effect. Even when she switched to piano, she played similarly intricate, intertwining, subtly shifting upper-register voicings, anchored by an insistent, rhythmic lefthand. She did much the same on a Finnish box lute. The result was stately, often rapt and spacious: she let those starry plucks and chimes linger.

Engaging the audience at length between songs, she explained almost every one of them. Nature was a common theme, as was the ongoing population shift from rural areas to the cities;. Kalkun also sang a couple of love ballads that gave her a chance to air out a surprisingly powerufl low register, considering how airy and lilting most of the rest of the music on the bill was.

Her most energetic song was a sardonic post World War II tune about the Forest Brothers, the freedom fighters who’d managed to escape the Nazis by building underground bunkers deep in the woods – and then had to remain there to escape being captured by the next bunch of invaders, the Soviets. An impressive number of Estonian speakers in the crowd recognized the traditional numbers on the bill and sang along.

Toward the end of the show, Kalkun broke out her loop pedal and became a one-woman choir, interpolating an increasingly complex, rhythmically challenging series of layers. She sang the last of her encores a-cappella, walking through the auditorium and getting the audience to join her.

Kalkun’s next show, a duo set with Aleksandra Kremenetski, is back in her home country at the Writers House Festival in Talinn on May 25 at 9 PM. Scandinavia House, less than five blocks south of Grand Central on Park Avenue, has very diverse programming, with music, film and exhibits representing artists from across the Nordic countries. The next concert there is June 20 at 7:30 PM with Icelandic  jazz bassist Sigmar Matthíasson and Arora – cover is $15

Catchy, Anthemic, Innovative Newgrass Instrumentals and a Lower East Side Show from Fiddler Sumaia Jackson

Fiddler Sumaia Jackson writes catchy, soaring, individualistic instrumentals that draw equally on Americana as well as British folk traditions, along with a little jazz and hints of indie rock in places. Her debut album Mobius Trip is streaming at youtube. Jackson likes catchy riffs that circle round and round – get it? It’s fresh and invigorating and full of inspired, purposeful playing: if Chris Thile would for once give some thought to the melodies he used to play back when he was winning all those bluegrass awards, before he got all indie and boring, he might sound like this. Jackson and her band are at the basement-level room at the Rockwood on May 15 at 8:30 PM; cover is $15.

The first song is the title track, artfully shifting from a weird indie-chamber-newgrass mashup to a lilting, catchy waltz with an elegantly spiky duet between guitarist Colin Cotter and banjo player Jayme Stone. With its syncopation and allusive Celtic melody, Truth or Consequences is even catchier, Simon Chrisman’s hammered dulcimer solo bristling midway through.

Halifax has a rustic, enigmatically atmospheric opening, then Jackson and the banjo build a dizzyingly rhythmic circle dance. True to its title, Roundabout is sprightly clog dance – and is that a gong making those big big whooooooshes as the track gets going?

Smoke Jumpers is a big, crescendoing newgrass anthem – in 11/8 time. A pair of jigs – The Fog Rolls in, and Hi Karl Bye Karl – are next. Again, the band take their time, gently edging their way into the melody before the rhythm kicks in. Peanut, which is a lot closer to a traditional Irish reel, makes a good segue, as does There and Back, which has more distinctive vintage Appalachian flavor.

The band romp through a couple of reels, Buttonwillow and Gloucester Nightdriver, the dulcimer again adding incisive contrast with Jackson’s sailing lead lines before an unexpectedly murky jam in between. Old Granny Blair has some neat shifts between contrasting themes, then the band pick up the pace with the spirited, oldtimey Knoxville. The album closes with Paper Towns, a spare tableau that contemplates wide expanses, something that bands on the road know a little bit about. It’s inspiring to see how Jackson and her crew take a legacy style like bluegrass and make something completely new and exciting out of it.

Field Medic Brings His Strummy Stories of Sadness and Drinking to Bushwick

Poor Field Medic, a.k.a. Kevin Sullivan. People talked through his set when he played, and that bummed him out. So he wrote a song about it. It’s called Used 2 Be a Romantic, and it’s on his latest album Fade Into the Dawn, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s jangly and melancholy and plainspoken and catchy, like all his best stuff. He’ll probably play that tune at his gig at Alphaville on May 11 at 10 PM; cover is $12. With the L train apocalypse in full effect this coming weekend, this show is even more of an attrraction, considering that the venue is just a couple of blocks from the Central Ave. stop on the J/M line.

But you mustn’t feel sorry for him. That song’s a humblebrag. “I used to be a romantic. now I’m a dude in a laminate,” Sullivan kvetches. Meanwhile, a million other dudes with acoustic guitars, playing for the tip bucket and a couple of drink tickets, would gladly trade places, blinding stage lights and all. One assumes a guarantee came with what Sullivan’s got slung around his neck.

He follows that with I Was Wrong, an oldtimey-flavored freak-folk shuffle, and stays in Americana mode – vocally, anyway – for the waltz The Bottle’s My Lover, She’s Just My Friend. Imagine Hank Snow and Bon Iver duetting – ok, that’s a stretch, but just try.

Hello Moon is acoustic spacerock, part trip-hop and part Elliott Smith. Sullivan picks up his banjo and goes back to oldtimey flavor with Tournament Horseshoe: it wouldn’t be out of place as a rare happy song from a vintage Violent Femmes album.

“When the bombs start to drop and the world starts to end…I can hear the hooves pounding, sounds like apocalypse” he intones in the brief waltz Songs R Worthless Now. A New Order-ish percussion loop foreshadows where Everyday’s 2Moro is about to go: it’s a funny account of daydrinking and then trying to clean up the crash pad before the girl with the lease gets home. The album’s last track, Helps Me Forget is a pretty waltz straight out of the early Jayhawks catalog: “How did I get here, how in the hell am I going to escape?” Sullivan asks the empty room.

Not everything here works. Henna Tattoo is a bizarre mashup of newgrass and 90s emo – although you have to give the guy credit for at least using real percussion instead of a drum machine to make that trip-hop loop, and the other ones on the album. And Mood Ring Baby could use a verse that’s as catchy as the banjo-driven chorus.

Back in the day, this is what we used to call a three dollar record. Those of us who were lucky enough to be kids – and who were at least theoretically solvent enough to pick up some of the vinyl that the yuppies had dumped and replaced with cd’s – ended up with lots of those cheap albums. They were three bucks instead of four or five because everybody knew that most of them had only about a single side worth of good material. Some of those we kept; others we recycled again, but not before making some pretty awesome mixtapes. It’s a good bet the same thing’s going to happen to this one, digitally at least.

An Expertly Playful, Psychedelic New Album and Yet Another Barbes Show by Bluegrass Master Andy Statman

The other night at Barbes, there was a bluegrass band playing in the back. It was one of those immutably grim, raw, late winter evenings this city has had to deal with lately. Nobody, not even birds or cats, hates rain more than people in the venue business since nobody comes out. This particular moment was the kind where you plug in your phone charger, have a swift one, reconnect with the outside world, then head off to deal with what everyone’s throwing at you.

It would have been more fun to stick around tor the bluegrass band, because they were good. Gene Yellin, leader of the Night Kitchen, was playing guitar, and way over in the corner on the mandolin, expertly picking out a spiky lattice of notes, was Andy Statman. He’d just played a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall – and here he was, chilling with his friends at Barbes, not seeming to care if anyone other than his bandmates had decided to brave the storm.

Statman has been a pillar of the Barbes scene since the very beginning: if memory serves right, his monthly Wednesday night 8 PM residency there is in its sixteenth year now. And he’s the rare musician who’s iconic in two completely different styles: he’s also a virtuoso klezmer clarinetist.

Statman’s next Barbes gig is April 3 at 8 PM. He also has a new album, Monroe Bus – streaming at Spotify – on which he plays mostly mandolin. Although the record is a shout out to his and every other bluegrass musician’s big influence, Bill Monroe, it’s a mix of traditionally-inspired material and acoustic psychedelia. Alongside the rhythm section in his regular trio – bassist Jim Whitney and drummer Larry Eagle – Statman is bolstered by Michael Cleveland on fiddle and Glenn Patscha on piano and organ.

A picture in the cd booklet speaks for itself. It shows Monroe making his way to the stage at a performance in Fincastle, Virginia in 1966. In the background is a sixteen-year-old Andy Statman. Each looks very focused on his individual business; neither seems aware of the other. At this point in time, Statman has been playing even longer than Monroe, the “father of bluegrass,” had then. And it shows: his mandolin style has a rare elegance. His chords and his phrasing often have a deep blues influence, and he gets a full range out of the instrument rather than just picking it lickety-split like so many other bluegrass hotshots do.

Cleveland takes the first, dancing lead as the title track sways along over Statman’s unpredictable changes, the bandleader taking a characteristically edgy, bluesy solo. Reminiscence has some of Statman’s most gorgeous voicings here, although the organ threatens to subsume them. Ice Cream on the  Moon is a surreal mashup of Charlie Parker, Romany jazz and bluegrass, with a big breakdown at the end, while Ain’t no Place for a Girl Like You is all over the map, a Leftover Salmon-class blend of gospel, oldschool soul and jamgrass.

There’s a languid southern soul influence in Reflections, driven by Whitney’s bass; then Eagle introduces a clave! Old East River Road has an enigmatic, uneasy haze, then the band take the trippiness several notches higher with the bitingly klezmer-flavored, offhandedly creepy Brooklyn Hop.

The sad, nostalgic Lakewood Waltz has a late 19th century feel, Mark Berney’s cornet looming in the background. Statman’s rapidfire phrasing is on dazzling display in the Statman Romp – again, with distant klezmer tinges – and also in Mockingbird, a brisk shuffle tune.

Stark harmonies from Cleveland and Whitney anchor Brorby’s Blues as Statman rustles and trills overhead. Raw Ride is the album’s most deviously funny track: there’s a little Rawhide and a whole lot of Bob Wills in its briskly shuffling swing. The last track, Burger and Fries is a summery, gospel-fueled midtempo cookout of a tune. It’s hard to think of anyone taking bluegrass further outside the box, and having as much fun with it, as Statman does here.

A Clown-Free Valentine’s Day Show at Lincoln Center

Obviously, if you run a music blog in a town where there are over 230 fulltime venues, it pays to get out as much as possible. This blog takes three official vacation days a year: New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day and St. Paddy’s. What’s out there in the clubs on those three nights is almost inevitably worse than what’s onstage.

If Celtic sounds are your thing, you can wait til the 18th when all the amateurs are still at home recovering. New Year’s Eve is a ripoff pretty much everywhere, and Valentine’s Day is cheese central. Venues that wouldn’t ordinarily consider booking a Justin Beiber cover band blink and and hope that there are enough Jersey tourists to justify torturing the sound guy and waitstaff for a night.

But this year there is a show on Valentine’s Day that’s neither cheesy nor extortionistic, and that’s Cape Verde singer/guitarist Tcheka’s gig at 7:30 PM at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. As with the rest of the mostly-weekly early evening shows here, there’s no cover, although the seats tend to get taken as early as an hour before showtime.

Tcheka’s album Boka Kafe is streaming at Bandcamp. He plays solo acoustic guitar, with flair and flurrying energy in an individualistic style that draws on samba, bossa nova, soukous and even funk in places. Which makes sense: music from island nations tends to be a mashup of everything that’s blown in on the trade winds. He sings in an earnest tenor voice, with a smoky falsetto, in his native vernacular and also in Portuguese.

He chops his way through thickets of rainy-day jazz chords on several of the album’s faster numbers; on one, he strums into rapidfire flamenco territory. The quieter songs have a lingering luminosity with echoes of Portuguese fado balladry. And his hooks are catchy: you walk away humming them. Lyrics are a big deal for this guy – themes of the rigors of rural island life, coastal mythology and on one track here, women’s rights are front and center, so his music will resonate most with those who can understand them. But fans of tropical acoustic sounds also ought to check out Tcheka (sorry – couldn’t resist).