New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: acoustic music

Guitarist Derek Gripper Builds a Magical Sonic Constellation at Lincoln Center

Thursday night at Lincoln Center, guitarist Derek Gripper played a show that was as impressive a display of daunting technique and irrepressible individuality as it was an immersion in celestially kaleidoscopic glimmers and ripples. Gripper got his start as a classical guitarist and plays with the requisite precision and steely focus. But he also has an outside-the-box sensibility, not to mention a sense of humor, that transcend the limitations – at least the usual ones -in that demimonde. His claim to fame is reinventing centuries-old Malian kora music for the acoustic guitar.

Sending a shout out to a major influence, pioneering Malian kora virtuoso Toumani Diabate, Gripper opened with a steady, spiky, liltingly circling theme and closed with a jaunty, allusively tongue-in-cheek cover of fellow South African kora player Madosini’s I Like a Motorcar. In between, there were moments that echoed John Fahey, and Adrian Legg, and maybe Michael Hedges, but Gripper’s sound is unique. His dry sense of humor became apparent early on, when he explained to the crowd how he’d developed a new appreciation for an old guy named J.S. Bach, particularly that composer’s work for a “European ethnic instrument, the violin.” And then launched into a well-known diptych from that guy’s catalog, the first part reinvented with an idiosyncratically kinetic approach, the concluding fugue with an edge and bite to match Gripper’s emphatic attack on the strings. More guitarists should take chances like that.

The most fascinating of all the pieces on the bill was a number for two koras that he’d arranged for solo guitar. Employing carefree but minutely nuanced five-finger technique, he alternated between calm, minimalistically anchoring phrases on the low strings and subtly crescendoing flickers and pings on the higher ones. For a couple of other numbers, he tuned the two lowest strings to the same note – was that just a double low E? – for extra ballast,amplified by his relentless hammering, which sent overtones wafting throughout the space.

The most challenging number of the evening was a mashup of enigmatic indie classical tonalities, Steve Reich, the baroque, and West Africa. Solo gigs are always harder than playing with a group, and it’s harder still to hold a crowd’s attention, especially on an acoustic instrument. But a diverse, multi-generational crowd, most of them most likely not particularly versed in Gripper’s source material, remained fixated throughout his hour onstage. It was a subtle reminder that music, no matter where it’s from, belongs to all of us: where we take it is the challenge, and Gripper gave a clinic in how to d o it.

The next free early-evening concert at Lincoln Center’s atrium space just north of 62nd St. on Broadway is this Thursday, June 29 at 7:30 PM with Marc Anthony Thompson, a.k..a Chocolate Genius, who’s sort of the Gil Scott-Heron of newschool retro soul music. Show up early if you want a seat.

An Allusively Intense, Psychedelic New Album by Larkin Grimm

Multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Larkin Grimm gets pigeonholed as freak-folk, probably because her music is mostly acoustic But that’s a box she doesn’t fit into. She can wail to match Yoko at her most assaultive if she wants, but she’s just as likely to soar gently over an artsy, psychedelic backdrop. Her latest album Chasing an Illusion is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing Sunnyvale at 8 PM tomorrow night, June 8; cover is $15. Renata Zeiguer’s trippy, creepy Prozac rock project Cantina opens the night at 7. Grimm is also at Planeta, 295 E 8th St. on June 16, time and cover TBA.

Grimm recorded the album with what sounds like a vast cast of performers  – neither her site nor her Bandcamp page lists them – at Martin Bisi’s legendary Gowanus basement space, BC Studios. The natural reverb on the recording – which was done live to max out the sonics – is subtle yet vividly alive. Grimm, who typically wears her cards close to the vest, explains the album as being influenced by Ornette Coleman, and a pivotal moment when she ran into a number of her major influences, Ravi Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders among them, at Coleman’s funeral.

There’s a distinct Indian influence throughout the album’s eight often epic tracks. The opener, Ah Love is Oceanic Pleasure is a lush, rubato raga-rock soundscape of sorts, awash in austere strings, various plucked instruments and even a sax fluttering in the backdrop, high in the clouds. “You have to choose your freedom,” is the refrain.

Grimm’s harp flickers and ripples over a bittersweetly Lynchian Orbison-pop vamp throughout Beautifully Alone, which rises to a teeth-clenched midtown Manhattan scenario.. “I wanna be alone dangerously alone, beautifully alone,” she asserts.

Another raga-rock piece, Fear Transforms into Love (Journey in Turiya…) tingles with harp glissandos; true to the title, it reaches majestic, triumphant peak. I Don’t Believe You has a similar sweep with echoes of 80s dreampop, like the Cocteau Twins but more organic. “I wish that you would die, so that I could play outside,” Grimm laments. Yikes!

On the Floor contrasts Grimm’s balmy vocals with a simple, gritty electric guitar and violin arrangement. Tom Van Buskirk’s elegant drums provide a hypnotically symphonic sway for A Perfect World, a lush return to acoustic dreampop. Then Grimm goes in an unexpected 90s trip-hop direction with Keeping You Alive: her blithe understatement belies her…um…grim exasperation. The album winds up with the title track, a rustic blues amped with trumpet sailing over burning distorted guitar. “I feel dead inside,” Grimm rails as it gets underway and finally reaches an anguished peak. For those who wish that Nico had made Chelsea Girl with Arthur Lee instead, this is for you.

Rachael Kilgour’s New Album Transcends Trauma

Rachael Kilgour is the rare artist who sounds perfectly good in the studio, but onstage takes her formidable vocal skills to a level that few singers even attempt, let alone reach. Her Lincoln Center show last year was absolutely shattering. She cried during one of that evening’s saddest songs – that’s how deeply she inhabits her characters. And she’s hilarious, too: few songwriters can be so much fun, and so insightful, pillorying rightwing hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance.

But most of the material at that show wasn’t the political satire she’s best known for. The majority of the set was Americana ballads from her latest album Rabbit in the Road, streaming at her webpage. She’s bringing that harrowingly melismatic voice and alternately plaintive and biting tunesmithing to a couple of New York shows this month. On May 12 at 7 PM she’s at the Commons Cafe, 388 Atlantic Ave.in Cobble Hill; take any train to Atlantic Ave; The following night at 8, she’s at Caffe Vivaldi preceded at 7 by another eclectic songwriter with a sense of humor, Orly Bendavid & the Mona Dahls.

And now that you know how ferociously political Kilgour’s previous output is, now’s the time to tell you that her latest release is far more personal. It’s a breakup album.

Aie aie aie.

Michael Franti used to write brilliant political songs and raps back in the day. Then he decided that schlocky top 40 love ballads were his thing – and fell off the map. Paul Weller once fronted one of the best and most political punk rock bands ever, the Jam…and never wrote a song worth hearing after they broke up. Did Kilgour run out of gas too?

As it turns out, no. Her lyrics on the new album can be just as incisive and edgy, and she can still write a catchy hook and an anthemic chorus with the best of them. It’s just her focus that’s changed direction. It seems that Kilgour got blindsided in a particularly messy divorce. She’s been outspoken about how she wants to break down the barriers between audience and performer, and that she sees the new material as being therapeutic for both sides of that equation.

So it’s comforting on more than one level that she’s succeeded at what she wanted to achieve: this is the rare heartbreak narrative that doesn’t come across as mawkish or cliched. The album opens with a soul-tinged, somewhat stunned miniature that sets the stage. Deep Bruises is where the shock sinks in, Kilgour trying to talk herself through an endless cycle of despair: It’s the one song that best evokes her soaring, Orbison-esque angst when she slides up to a note to drive a chorus home. Steve Wynn’s Tears Won’t Help You Now is a good point of comparison.

Ready Freddie is the ballad that Kilgour had the hardest time getting through at the Lincoln Center gig. It’s an attempt to cheer up her adopted daughter, someone she’s obviously close to and missed terribly when she wrote it. it’s a theme she revisits almost as fervently later on the record. By contrast, Up From Down is a kiss-off anthem, if a muted one, set to a pleasant if innocuous full-band folk-pop arrangement.

Anger rises in Still My Wife, the homey imagery that Kilgour opens with giving way to a cheating tale straight out of a classic country ballad. The dismissive patronizing title track is songwriter vengeance at its most subtle and satisfying: in case you haven’t already figured it out, never, EVER mess with one, they always get even in the end

Don’t Need Anyone echoes the defiance of Kilgour’s political work as much as her vocals echo Neko Case. “You think I need a lover to save me from my grief? I don’t need distractions, I don’t need your second hand relief,” she insists. Likewise, Hit By a Bus balances mixed feelings with vindictiveness: guess which one wins.

Kilgour has had great fun mocking Christian extremists (some people mistake her for a born-again because they don’t get the joke). So I Pray might seem like quite a departure, but it’s a wish, rather than a call to some patriarchal force, and a launching pad for vocal pyrotechnics in a live setting. Even here, Kilgour can’t resist a delicious dig: “I pray, to no one in particular, that they’ll help you find your way.” The album’s concluding cut, Break Wide Open is the only place where it feels overproduced: it doesn’t really add anything. Needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see what direction Kilgour goes in after this. We could use her stiletto wit and inclusive vision right about now.  

Poignant, Powerful Portuguese Fadista Gisela João Makes Her US Debut Downtown This Weekend

Fado is all about heartbreak. Like tango and the blues, it was dismissed for its ghetto origins long before it became more or less the national music of Portugal  Over the years, it’s gone transnational: you may not hear it on big stages in Paris or Berlin, but you will hear it wafting from maids’ quarters late at night in ritzy parts of town.

Charismatic singer Gisela João is just about the biggest thing in fado these days, making a lot of waves in the wake of the release of her latest album Nua (Naked), streaming at Spotify. She’s making her US debut on Feb 25 at 7 PM at the Schimmel Auditorium at Pace University downtown at 3 Spruce St. Tix are $30, and getting them in advance is a highly advised: this show is a big deal for expats across the tri-state area.Take the J/6 to Brooklyn Bridge.

João hardly fits the demure, doomed fado singer stereotype. Reputedly, she puts on a high-voltage show, and some of that energy translates on the album. Her voice has more than a tinge of smoke, and she often goes for the jugular with a wide-angle vibrato to drive a crescendo home. While that device is most closely associated with iconic fadista Amalia Rodrigues, João frequently evokes the darkest, most noirish side of the style. She’s got a fantastic band: Ricardo Parreira plays with a spiky virtuosity on the ringing, overtone-rich 12-string Portuguese guitar, Nelson Aleixo holding down the rhythm elegantly on classical guitar, along with Francisco Gaspar on acoustic bass. The overall ambience is both stately and impassioned.

Most of the tracks are popular standards with spare but dynamically textured arrangements, both retro and radical in an age where indigenous styles in so many parts of the world mimic the most cliched, techy American musical imperialism. Beatriz da Conceição’s Um Fado Para Este Noite (A Fado for Tonight) sets the stage with its ringing, rippling textures and João’s almost stern, angst-fueled delivery.

Há Palavras Que Nos Beijam (The Words That We Kiss) switches out the brooding lushness of the Mariza version for an oldschool, sparse interpretation. A little later, the group flips the script the opposite way with As Rosas Não Falam (Roses Don’t Tell), by Brazilian crooner Cartola. The first of the Rodrigues numbers, O Senhor Extraterrestre is a coyly bouncy, Veracruz folk-tinged tale which does not concern space aliens.

The album’s most recent number, Sombras do Passado (Shadows of the Past), is also arguably its most mutedly plaintive. Likewise, the rustically low-key, hushed take of the metaphorically-charged Rodrigues classic Naufrágio (Shipwreck). Then the group picks up the pace with the rustic Romany waltz Lá Na Minha Aldeia (There in My Village)

Another Cartola tune, O Mundo é um Moinho (The World Is a Windmill) brings back the crepuscular ambience, João channeling a low-key, world-weary cynicism. The band pull out all the stops with Labirinto Ou Não Foi Nada: (Labyrinth, or It Was Nothing): the twin guitars building a hypnotic, harpsichord-like backdrop for this slowly crescendoing lament for what could have been.

João saves her tenderest vocal for the last of the Rodrigues’ songs, Quando Os Outros Te Batem, Beijo-Te Eu (When the Others Hit You, I Kiss You). I In keeping with the album’s up-and-down dynamic shifts, João picks up the pace once again with the scampering, Romany-flavored party anthem Noite de São João

The album winds up with a desolate take of Argentina Santos’ Naquela Noite em Janeiro (On That Night in January) and then a wounded, gracefully lilting fado-ized version of the Mexican folk standard La Llorona. Awash in longing and despair, João’s new collection works both as a trip back in time for fado fans as well as a solid introduction to the style for newcomers from a purist who knows the music inside out.

Smart, Cutting-Edge Tunesmithing at Manhattan’s Most Comfortable Listening Room

Much as the world of singer-songwriters has shrunk, in the wake of the death of the big record labels – call it a market correction – Manhattan still has a great listening room for solo acoustic acts and small string bands. That venue is the American Folk Art Museum, just a few steps from the uptown 1 local to 66th Street, across the triangle from Lincoln Center. Their mostly-weekly Free Music Fridays series starts at 5:30 on the nose, goes to about quarter after seven and spans the world of folk music, from vintage Americana, gospel and blues to bluegrass, original songwriters and sounds from all over the world. That’s why this blog picked the museum as Manhattan’s best venue for 2016.

Jessi Robertson, with her harrowing narratives of angst and despair and her otherworldly, soul-infused wail, is the star of the show there on Friday the 29th. She’s a surprisingly funny performer for someone whose music is so dark and intense. She’s as captivating as the three best acts to play the space over the past few weeks: Joshua Garcia, Dina Regine and Anana Kaye.

Garcia held the crowd rapt throughout his brief set there last month. He has a flinty, clipped vocal delivery that’s bluesy without being cliched. He sounds like a throwback to the artists from the 1950s who influenced Dylan, but whom Dylan couldn’t quite figure out how to copy, at least vocally speaking. Along with a handful of populist anthems and nostalgic character studies, Garcia’s most riveting song was That’s the Way You Drop a Bomb. Told from the plainspoken perspective of one of the the crew of the Enola Gay, Garcia nailed every detail, right down to the pilot’s admonishment not to watch the explosion on the ground, the mushroom cloud or the firestorm afterward. Except that Garcia’s crewman had a conscience.

Dina Regine is best known as one of the pioneers of EDM, but her songwriting is vastly more interesting. On that same bill, she played solo acoustic on guitar, unselfconsciously making her way through a fearlessly populist set that made a great segue with Garcia. Shadowy vamping post-Lou Reed grit stood alongside warmly familiar retro 60s soul and doo-wop tunes, everything anchored in Regine’s background as a daughter of the Queens projects in the 1970s. She’s reputedly working on a new album which, if this set is any indication, promises to be just as eclectic and relevant as her last one.

Last week, Anana Kaye opened the night flanked by a couple of guys on rhythm and lead guitar. With her raccoon-eye makeup and circus rock outfit, she looked the part, but she transcends the theatrics of that cubculture (that’s a typo, but it works, right?). As a pianist, she really has a handle on uneasy, cinematic voicings that sometimes reach lurid, bloodcurdling depths. The best song in her tantalizingly brief set was Down the Ladder, a cruelly haunting desperation anthem. The most playful was Blueberry Fireworks, an aptly surrealistic shout-out to a gradeschool-aged friend with a vivid imagination. The more low-key material in her set reminded of Tom Waits while her upbeat, carnivalesque numbers reminded of a strummy, guitar-driven, lyrically infused Rasputina or female-fronted World Inferno. Kaye’s next gig is on Feb 15 at 8 PM at LIC Bar in Long Island City.

Four First-Class Female-Fronted Global Acts at Drom Last Night

Early into her second raga yesterday evening at Drom, Roopa Panesar took an impulsive slide up the neck of her sitar. Then another, then another, against the rumbling, rippling beat of both a tabla and a mridangam. That twin-percussion drive is unusual in Indian classical music, but it suited Panesar well. For somebody whose right hand was a blur much of the time, she plays with an economy of notes, letting the river of beats carry most of the weight while she ran through a deep catalog of centuries-old riffs and thoughtfully placed variations. None of the material in her tantalizingly brief set went on for much longer than about eight minutes, slowly crescendoing alaps (improvisational intros) included. Meanwhile, the mridangam anchored the music with a fat low end, sometimes in tandem with the tabla, at other times giving the tabla room to sail overhead with an extra layer of polyrhythms. Panesar could have gone on for three times as long as she did and the audience wouldn’t have complained.

Punjabi songwriter and ghazal reinventor Kiran Ahluwalia was next, fronting a fantastic band which included both her brilliant guitarist husband Rez Abbasi and accordionist Will Holshouser along with a rock rhythm section. Abbasi only took one detour into the raga jazz that he’s been exploring so memorably lately, but he really those adrenalizing upward flurries count. Holshouser and the bassist added more than a hint of roots reggae on one of the later numbers while the bandleader brought an especially vigorous edge to her lustrously entrancing songs. The most anthemic was Jane Na, which contemplates how to exorcise personal demons, she explained. The group closed with their bounciest number, a cover that gave Ahluwalia a chance to air out her nuanced but potently expressive upper register.

Quebecoise fiddler Briga and her band have lately shifted from the Balkan music that she first made a name for herself in, to embrace North African grooves and melodies. It’s a good fit all around. There were echoes of moody chaabi balladry, funky Nubian beats and plenty of enigmatic, Egyptian-tinged tunefulness in her kinetically pulsing mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers. Singing first in French in a cool, unaffected alto, she led her excellent band through a set which, like Panesar’s, could have gone on for much longer – but this weekend is the booking agents’ convention, necessitating a constant changeover between acts. Briga’s keyboardist shifted artfully from spacy P-Funk synth, to slithery accordion, to reverbtoned, Herbie Hancock-tinged electric piano psychedelia while her subtle, propulsive bassist and two percussionists wove an intricately boomy lattice of lows.

Eclectic cellist/banjo player Leyla McCalla enjoyed a warm homecoming set, joined by her husband Daniel Tremblay on five-string banjo and electric guitar, in addition to an inspired violinist playing under the name Free-For-All. McCalla’s biggest audience hit was a spare, bluesy, aphoristically minor-key number that she dedicated to “the President-Elect,” whose meaning essentially boiled down to “if you don’t have money, you’re no more than a dog.” That was the night’s most political moment. Otherwise, she switched between instruments, singing in a cool, clear voice in English, Cajun and Kreyol, reflecting her Haitian-American heritage. The spare, Caribbean folk-tinged Time For the Hunter, Time For the Prey, an early number, addressed the perils of Haitian immigration. There was also a lilting Haitian love song, a bouncy Acadian-flavored number along with distant references to zydeco and some deep blues. Hearing her play those spare, plaintively antique phrases way down low on her cello made for some of the night’s most texturally delicious moments, matched by her down-to-earth vocals.

This being booking agent weekend, there were other acts on the bill. The last time this blog was in the house at a Banda Magda show, it was the summer of 2015 on the Hudson River way up on the Upper West, rugrats were running all over the place and frontwoman Magda Giannikou entertained them with a mix of jaunty retro 60s-style French pop, Mediterranean ballads and some hauntingly shapeshifting, Middle Eastern-flavored material. And southwestern gothic avatars Orkesta Mendoza, who were scheduled to headline (after doing the same at a late show at the Mercury, no less), haunted and pulsed their way through a mighty set of noir mambos and bolero rock. That was a couple of weeks after the Banda Magda show and was a lot further inland, at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival. That band has a characteristically psychedelic, epic new album out; catch you next time around, amigos.

There’s another fantastic lineup starting at 7 PM tonight at Drom. With the snowstorm, this might be your chance to see an unusually intimate show featuring all kinds of global sounds from darkly slinky psychedelic boleros, to wild Ethiopian funk, to Moroccan trance grooves and more. Cover is an insanely cheap $10.

Kaia Kater Brings Her Individualistic Update on Classic Americana to a Couple of New York Shows

Banjo player/multi-instrumentalist Kaia Kater ranks in the vanguard of roots musicians inspired by classic Americana but not constrainted by it. Her debut album, Sorrow Bound encompassed oldtime Appalachian sounds, bluegrass and newgrass. Her latest album, Nine Pin – streaming at her music page – is considerably starker, darker and more blues-based. You’ve got a couple of chances to check her out live this week (see below: she’s on a couple of cool multiple-act bills). Give the album a spin and chances are you will be drawn in by her purist, rustic sensibility as much as by her commitment to age-old populist themes that have become especially relevant in these horribly surreal, pre-inauguration times.

The opening track, Saint Elizabeth – an Elizabeth Cotten shout-out, maybe? sets the stage. It’s mostly just Kater’s stark vocals and banjo over minimal washes of bass until Caleb Hamilton’s trumpet kicks in at the end. “Can’t you hear me calling to you, with black and broken teeth?” her grim narrator implores.

Likewise, Little Pink is a morosely swaying field-holler style vamp,  Hamilton’s spare trumpet contrasting with ringing electric guitar that adds an unexpected Malian desert rock duskiness. Paradise Fell brings an antique Appalachian-style tune into the 21st century, lowlit with resonant steel guitar: “Paradise fell, and the tenements grew,” Kater muses.

Rising Down hypnotically blends spiky banjo and pizzicato fiddle textures, fluttery trumpet on the top end balanced by low washes of steel: “I will stand with my people as one,” Kater intones matter-of-factly. Harlem’s Little Blackbird is a moody jump-rope rhyme of sorts, while the album’s title track broodingly contemplates the “evils of the setting sun,” in a down-and-out milieu. After all this dirgelike ambience, the aptly titled, spare instrumental Fun Times At Our House makes a sharp contrast.

The ominously spare piano waltz Viper’s Nest edges into minimalist art-rock, followed by White, a more sprightly, trickily syncopated, oldtimey banjo tune with gospel-flavored harmonies. Kater takes the music into warmly nocturnal territory with Harvest and the Plow and then after the last of a handful of improvisational miniatures that pepper the album, she winds it up with the jaunty Hangman’s Reel: this executioner is obviously having fun, maybe sarcastically.

Kater’s on the bill this Jan 5 at the Jalopy at a little after 8 on a great bill assembled by first-class Alaskan fiddler Ken Waldman along with several other artists: Nic Gareiss and Maeve Gilchrist doing their folk dance and harp act; Wild Hog with Thomas Bailey, Aaron Jonah Lewis and Max Johnson; Brian Vollmer & Claire Byrne playing oldtimey guitar-and-fiddle music; the fiddle-fueled trio of Chris Miller, Audrey Knuth and Mark Kilianski; and individualistic string band Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards. Cover is $15. You can also catch Kater at the small room at the Rockwood on Jan 8 at about 8:30 PM followed by thoughtful newschool Americana songstress Kristin Andreassen and charming antique Appalachian folk duo Anna & Elizabeth.

Hauntingly Rustic Oldtime Appalachian Duo Anna & Elizabeth Play Manhattan and Brooklyn Next Month

Anna & Elizabeth are revered in the folk music world for their homemade “crankies” – a 19th century invention which is sort of a cross between a nickelodeon and a flipbook – and for their otherworldly take on antique Appalachian sounds. When the duo come to New York, they usually play the Jalopy. This time around, on Jan 8 at around 10 they’re at the small room at the Rockwood preceded at around 8:30 by banjoist Kaia Kater – who lately alternates between bluesy rusticity and pensive atmospherics – and thoughtful newschool Americana songstress Kristin Andreassen. If you feel like paying a cover to see Anna & Elizabeth, they’re at National Sawdust on Jan 20 at 7 for twenty bucks in advance…but no drink minimum.

The news about this purist, old-fashioned pair is that their 2012 album, Sun to Sun, is available again after having gone out of print shortly after the two released it. If you think that Elizabeth LaPrelle’s voice is hauntingly stark now, you should have heard her then – and you can, at Spotify. The duo sing an a-cappella take of a variation on the old lullaby All the Pretty Horses to open it, then a slow, spacious version of a Transatlantic folk tune, When I Was a Young Girl, backed by simple, keening fiddle washes that are acidic enough to give you goosebumps.

They juxtapose a slow, resonant instrumental, Darlin Don’t You Know It’s Wrong with the understatedly creepy Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail, Anna Roberts-Gevalt anchoring it with her stately baritone uke. Then she picks up her banjo for a hypnotically steady version of the surreal battle-of-the-sexes tale Old Kimball, switching to guitar for the even more surreal country gospel number Ooh My My!

The two sprint through a tighly wound fiddle-and-banjo dance, Patroller, then take their time with The Letter Song, a sad a-cappella message home from a woman married away on the desolate edge of the early American frontier. The banjo-and-guitar tune Green Icy Mountain is a lot more upbeat if not much more optimistic: life in those days in that part of the world was always precarious.

Lone Pilgrim contrasts Anna’s spare guitar with the raw power of Elizabeth’s vocals. The two take the album’s title track back to its roots as a grim field holler – rather than making lickety-split bluegrass out of it like many have done – and do the same with a sparse take of the Scottish ballad Highlands of Heaven. The lo-fi quality of the original recording enhances its homemade charm.

House Concerts in New York: A Rare Trend Worth Following

One of the most redemptive developments in live music in this city over the past year has been the slow but steady trend away from the money-grubbing concert venue model toward artist-supportive house concerts and community-based performances. Three of this year’s best concerts have been staged not with monitors and smoke machines but with barbecue smoke in the background, or hamburger smoke wafting through the courtyard, or amidst a haze of various kinds of smoke (as of this date, it’s still legal to do that in your own apartment).

We’re talking transcendent, all-acoustic performances by Greg Squared and Rima Fand’s haunting Balkan/flamenco/Middle Eastern group Sherita, the similarly haunting Great Plains gothic songwriter Ember Schrag, theatrical art-rock band Goddess, mesmerizingly atmospheric guitarist/composer David Grubbs, astonishingly improvisational resonator guitar/viola duo Zeke Healy and Karen Waltuch and African psychedelic jamband 75 Dollar Bill.

You might not think that a band as wildly popular as 75 Dollar Bill, who played Bowery Ballroom last month, would play a house concert – well, they did. In fact, if you know where they played, there just might be another party there this Saturday night and while 75 Dollar Bill aren’t on the bill, if you know the owners of that space, you can text them and join the party. And if you don’t, you can be the next person to book your favorite band in your space, if you have the room and the beer or whatever it takes.

75 Dollar Bill occupy a place somewhere between the camelwalking desert trance music of Tinariwen, the bubbles of soukous and the uneasy modes of the Middle East. It was interesting to see them actually veer away from chromatics toward microtones when guitarist Che Chen introduced his brand-new guitar, which Brooklyn Lutherie guitar maven Mamie Minch had refretted masterfully for halftones and whatever nuance can be bent away from a string when you’re in between notes to begin with – in the western scale anyway. The jangling, chaming richness, underpinned by Rick Brown’s similarly hypnotic, subtly polyrhythmic drums, held the party faithful rapt.

Opening the night at that party, resonator guitarist Zeke Healy and violist Karen Waltuch distinguished themselves as both the most original oldtime Americana act and jamband in town. On one hand, their country blues had a comfortable familiarity that drifted off into space as each player diverged, with gentlly shapeshifing rhythms and long, nebulous, time-stands-still interludes that had more in common with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, than, say, Laura Marling. What was coolest to watch was how each player complemented each other, Healy’s incisions and rhythm against Waltuch’s resonance and intensity, nobody stepping on each other.no matter how far outside each of them took the melodies. And then they’d reconverge again, bringing three hundred years of string band music full circle.

Zeke and Karen’s next gig is at Bar Lunatico in Bed-Stuy on Dec 13 at 8 PM. 75 Dollar Bill have a weekly Sunday night residency at Union Pool this month, with remaining shows on Dec 11 and 18 at 8 PM; cover is $10.

Purist Americana Banjo Player and Songwriter Kaia Kater Hits New York for a Couple of Shows

Kaia Kater is sort of a Great White North counterpart to Sarah Jarosz. Both are relatively young (early 20s) and esteemed in Americana circles. Kater’s axe is the banjo; like multi-instrumentalist Jarosz (who has since fallen in with the dadrock crowd), her repertoire draws heavily on high lonesome Appalachian traditoinal sounds. More impressively, Kater is also a talented, tuneful songwriter whose originals stand out in the crowded newgrass/string band world for their vivid, often brooding rusticity. Her debut album, Sorrow Bound, is streaming at her webpage. She’s playing the Jalopy tonight, Oct 5 sometime after 9 as part of Feral Foster‘s weekly Roots & Ruckus multi-act extravaganza; haunting flamenco/Sicilian song reinterpreter Julia Patinella and blues duo Miss Jubilee & Ethan Leinwand are also on the bill. Then tomorrow, Oct 6 Kater is at the small room at the Rockwood at 10 PM.

Kater opens the album by reinterpreting the old standard When Sorrows Encompass Me Round as an ominously allusive southern gothic narrative, her spare, syncopated banjo encompasssed by low cumulo-nimbus piano ambience and the occasional steel guitar whine or roar. Kater’s gentle, honeyed voice rises a little in the jaunty, moonshine-fueled seduction tale Southern Girl, punctuated by dancing fiddle. By contrast, the field holler Sun to Sun evokes the most brooding, terminally depressed chain gang song you could imagine.

Kater switches to French for the spare but lively Acadian dance tune En Filant Ma Quenouille. Then she multitracks her voice for the understatedly funny, surreal, a-cappella Moonshiner. The instrumental Rose on the Mountain gives Kater the chance to flex her chops in tandem with the fiddle, eerie steel lingering underneath. A little later, the trio – Kater again joined by fiddle and steel – swing though another instrumental, the considerably more animated Valley Forge.

The one-chord, minor-key cautionary tales Oh Darlin’ and West Virginia Boys are dead ringers for mid-1800s Bible Belt folk tunes.The album’s longest instrumental, Salt River, is also its most hypotic and modern-sounding. Kater winds up with the understatedly eerie Come and Rest and its enticing Blair Witch ambience.

That Kater happens to be Canadian-born, of Afro-Caribbean descent, is really beside the point. Does anybody make a big deal of the fact that Hank Williams was white and sang a lot of blues? If anything, Kater’s writing reminds just how much cultural cross-pollination there was back when songs first soared over mountain valleys that hadn’t yet been clearcut, stripmined or dotted with cellphone towers disguised as pines.