New York Music Daily

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Tag: album review

Tara O’Grady Salutes the Irish Influence in New Orleans Jazz

A lot of people don’t realize how much of an Irish influence there is in New Orleans jazz. But the Crescent City was a major port of call and received plenty of immigrants during the Potato Famine years and subsequently. So it’s hardly a surprise that the rich musical tradition they brought with them would become part of the city’s multicultural fabric. Torchy chanteuse Tara O’Grady pays tribute to that cross-pollination on her fourth album, Irish Bayou. She’s playing the album release show Thursday, March 26 at 7 PM at the Metropolitan Room, 34 W 22nd St. Cover is $20 – if you really want to go whole-hog, it’s $85 for the show plus open bar. Hmmm….

Although the album hasn’t hit the web yet, there are a couple of tracks up at O’Grady’s youtube channel. The opening tune, I Love You with All My Blood is an oldschool soul strut played as ukulele swing. And A Rude Awakening is a tartly slow-burning blues shout-out to early feminist Irish-American novelist Kate Chopin, lit up with some understately slashing Michael Howell guitar.

What’s the rest sound like? Lots of shuffles. As the Rain Fell Upon Bourbon Street is a bittersweet, ragtime-inflected number, pianist Sasha Papernik pairing against Justin Poindexter’s Hawaiian-infused slide guitar resonance. Carry Me Home is a deliciously vicious, accordion-fueled second-line shuffle that builds to a fullscale blaze. Dry Dem Bones, a deep-fried Little Feat-style remake of the old gospel tune, sways along on the groove from drummer Ryan Vaughn and bassist David Shaich. Ghosts of New Orleans follows a similar theme as the band swings it hard.

“You’re the olives in my muffulata from Central Grocery,” O’Grady croons in Heaping Helping of My Love, which builds to a jaunty dixieland dancefloor bounce. “We can order in some beignets and eat them in bed!” she entreats. The best track here is My Fall Romance, an original that sounds like a Billie Holiday swing classic from the 30s, O’Grady’s sassy, imperturbable alto delivery matched by trumpeter Jordan Sandke’s soulful muted lines. The most relevant number, the burning Take Me Home, reminds how much Irish immigrants have struggled  under the radar in this country.

There are also a couple of covers here; Louis Armstrong’s Irish Black Bottom, reinvented as a funk tune with some wry hip-hop flavor, and My Irish Molly-O redone as oldtimey swing with a coy Michael Hashim clarinet solo. And NYC guitar legend Pete Kennedy of the Kennedys – who have a reputedly amazing new album of their own due out soon – figures into the mix somewhere. One assumes that he’s responsible for all that edgy tremolo-picking.

 

Piano Luminary Myra Melford Returns to Her Old LES Stomping Ground

Is it fair to call pianist Myra Melford a cult artist? Her music is so full of life, and tunes, and ideas and color that spans the emotional spectrum. In the NYC downtown jazz scene, she’s iconic, a status she earned in the 90s before she hightailed it for a UC/Berkeley professorship. She’s got a weeklong stand at the Stone starting this Tuesday, March 24 with sets at 8 and 10 PM and continuing through the 29th; cover is $15. There are too many enticing sets to list here: the 8 PM duo shows with whirlwind drummer Allison Miller on the 24th and then with clarinetist Ben Goldberg on the 25th ought to be especially good for completely different reasons. There’s also a reunion of her playful Be Bread sextet on the 26th at 10 and a quintet show with trumpet luminary Dave Douglas the following night, also at 10 – and that’s just for starters.

Melford’s latest album, due out on the 24th, is Snowy Egret with the band of the same name: Ron Miles on cornet, Liberty Ellman on guitar, Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. For a taste of the album – since it’s not out yet – give a listen to the final cut, The Strawberry, which hints that it’s going to be a boogie-woogie number before Melford takes it to Havana – and Sorey’s drumming is funny beyond words in places. Ellman’s biting circularities kickstart a series of divergences before Melford pulls everybody back on the rails.

As for the rest? There’s humor and irony, and a frequently dancing pulse. A handful of numbers seem to allude to the first age of imperialism in the Americas and the centuries of havoc in its wake. The first track, Language, pulses along as shuffling variations on a fanfare riff bookending a typically soulful, clear-as-the-Denver-sky Miles solo. An expansively spiky, spare Ellman solo opens Night of Sorrow, the band plaintively filling in around Melford’s spaciously elegaic, bluesy motives. Promised Land delivers some wry shout-and-response and divergent tangents within its syncopated staccato bounce.

Ching Ching For Love of Fruit – a slot machine reference, it seems – moves from a mournful muted trumpet/melodica duet between Miles and Melford to an unexpectedly carnivalesque theme, Takeishi mimicking a tuba and Sorey rattling his hardware. Likewise, The Kitchen opens with picturesque pots-and-pans drollery from Sorey, Miles and Ellman having lots of fun spinning plates and such before Takeishi makes it funky, then Melford takes it on a clenched-teeth, uh-oh trajectory.

Takeishi’s growling attack and Ellman’s fluttery unease pair with Melford’s lingering foreshadowing and Miles’ resonance throughout Times of Sleep and Fate, a tone poem of sorts that builds to a brooding, AACM-inflected majesty. Little Pockets – Everybody Pays Taxes sees the band taking some aptly squirrelly cinematics in a considerably more ominous, insistent direction: whatever you do, don’t answer the door!

First Protest works a rhythmically dizzying marionette theme, Sorey and Ellman leading the charge along a twisted second line parade route. The Virgin of Guadalupe, the album’s most expansive and moodiest track, pairs Miles’ funereal lines with Melford’s understatedly plaintive neoromantic precision, building toward a bitter bolero. Of all the cuts here, it comes closest to being the definitive one, spacious and pensive and quietly packing a wallop.

Vivid, Smartly Intense, Individualistic Art-Rock from Singer-Pianist Joanna Wallfisch

Singer/pianist Joanna Wallfisch has a refreshingly smart, darkly individualistic new album, The Origin of Adjustable Things, a duo recording with pianist Dan Tepfer, due out soon and an album release show on March 24 at 8 PM at Subculture. Advance tix are $15. Because it’s not out yet, the album isn’t up at the usual places, although there are a few tracks at Soundcloud and at Sunnyside Records‘ site.

Wallfisch likes waltzes; she has a serious edge; she defies catagorization. Art-rock serves as a foundation for her songwriting, although there are echoes of jazz, cabaret, minimalism and classical art-song in her terse, plaintively lyrical tunesmithing. Her voice is strong, clear and unaffected: on the album, she prefers nuance to high-voltage theatrics, although she can really wail when she wants to. Among current New York artists, Carol Lipnik (the gold standard for this decade), Serena Jost and Karen Mantler are good comparisons. The new album, Wallfisch’s second, is solid all the way through, one of the year’s ten best so far: it portends great things for the British expat relocated to this city. One wonders how she found an affordable apartment.

Wallfisch playfully intersperses jazzy scatting within Tepfer’s steady, baroque-tinged lines on the opening track, This Is How You Make Me Feel, a sardonic look at both extremes of an intense relationship. The first of the waltzes, Satin Grey, paints an indelible picture from multiple perspectives: the yuppie taking selfies, the girl randomly caught in the flash, the narrator hiding in a doorway and then a cafe as the summer rain, revealing the curves in her rain-soaked dress.

Satellite, another tesrse waltz, works its way to an ominously surprising ending, a cautionary tale for tech-obsessed futurists. Wallfisch’s cover of doomed junkie songwriter Tim Buckley’s Song to a Siren offers a minimalist take on McCartneyesque balladry. By contrast, her low-key take of Radiohead’s Creep underscores the song’s menace, channeling an untypical femme fatale.

Time Doesn’t Play Fair delivers a regret-laden angst over Tepfer’s Asian-tinged, resonant Fender Rhodes piano lines. The stark, brooding waltz Anonymous Journeys might or might not be about a pedestrian murdered by a car – in NYC that’s how it happens in 2015. A license to drive is a license to kill, and all the yuppies and their hired-gun drivers who kill pedestrians are never charged. After all, that would raise the crime rate – and who wants that, when there are luxury condos for sale?

Wallfisch plays piano against Tepfer’s organ on the playfully vaudeville-tinged Brighton Beach: it’s a slightly less ominous counterpart to Matt Keating’s 1913 Coney Island. She follows the opaque title track with a wispy, creepy noir cabaret take on the jazz standard Wild Is the Wind, then the similarly uneasy Rational Thought and its offcenter harmonies, then closes the album with a low-key version of another standard, Never Let Me Go. Walllfisch brings serious chops and a welcome individualism to these songs and these parts: let’s hope she sticks around awhile.

Rudresh Mahanthappa Brings His Sizzling Indian-Flavored Take on Charlie Parker to the Jazz Standard

Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is one of the world’s most individualistic and thrilling musicians, a wide-ranging scholar of jazz as well as Indian music. His latest album, Bird Calls – streaming at Spotify - is a characteristically unconventional effort, heavily influenced by Charlie Parker, although not a tribute album per se. His performance with the quintet on the album at this year’s Winter Jazzfest was a spine-tingling display of chops, ideas, and high-voltage banter between the musicians. He’s doing it again, playing the album release show at the Jazz Standard on March 24 with sets at 7:30 and 10 PM with a slightly different crew: trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, pianist Bobby Avey, bassist François Moutin and drummer Jordan Perlson. Cover is $25.

Musicians have been highfiving each other in song for eons. The shout-outs to Bird on this album are all over the place, some as simple as Mahanthappa playing his own tune over Parker’s changes, to switching up the rhythm of a Bird melody or solo, along with more artfully concealed passages. Whatever the case, it’s classic Mahanthappa, ancient-sounding, often majestic Indian motifs within a somewhat harder bop framework than usual.

The album juxtaposes brief interludes with larger-scale numbers. Bird Calls #1, which opens it, is a brief, murkily suspenseful modal platform for the first of many animated sax-trumpet conversation (at Winter Jazzfest, they really took their time and had a ball with this). On the DL (a reference to Bird’s Donna Lee) opens with the same interplay at triplespeed or more – how firebrand young trumpeter Adam O’Farrill (son of latin jazz maven Arturo) matches Mahanthappa’s silken, precise intonation is stunning. At Winter Jazzfest, Indian percussion master Vish, of dancefloor groove instrumentalists SuKhush commented that if this was a sine wave, it would be completely flat [thanks for the company and the erudite insights, guys!].

Sax and trumpet join in a tightly rhythmic duet with echoes of Indian bhangra brass music, followed by Chillin’, referencing Bird’s Relaxin’ at the Camarillo in bubbly, joyous trumpet/sax eschanges, graceful melismas from O’Farrill and long, elusive flights from Mahanthappa. They follow a playful, masterful solo sax passage replete with overtones and subtle rhythmic shifts with Talin Is Thinking, inspired equally by Parker’s Mood and Mahanthappa’s young son. A pensive march that rises to majestic, fiery heights, pianist Matt Mitchell’s resonant, hard-hitting but surgically precise pedalpoint enhances the shadowy Indian-tinged mystery underneath.  Moutin’s dancing, kinetic lines blend with and then leap from drummer Rudy Royston’s steady, subtle rat-a-tat drive: who knew he could channel an intricate tabla rhythm yet bring it into the 21st century, thousands of miles away?

Both Hands (based on Dexterity) is another showcase for clarity and rapidfire precision from sax and trumpet, hard bop over a briskly rumbling, hypnotic backdrop, Mitchell nimbly choosing his spots. A rustling Moutin solo leads into the wryly tiltled Gopuram (referencing Steeplechase – in India, a gopur is a temple tower), a tersely simmering, modally-charged number that reminds of Marc Cary (has he played with Mahanthappa? What a collaboration that would be!).

Maybe Later (drawing on Now’s the Time) contrasts lively, upbeat postbop horn riffage with a sternly rhythmic underpinning, with an acidically rippling Mitchell solo over Royston’s tumbling aggression and jabs. An expansive Mitchell solo sets the stage for Sure Why Not? (a shout-out to Confirmation and Barbados), the album’s least Indian-flavored and most lightheartedly pulsing track. The album winds up much the way it started, but with a staccato pulse, referencing Bird’s Anthropology with all hands on deck, blistering spirals from Mitchell and a hard-charging sax/trumpet debate. In case you haven’t figured out, there’s no one on earth who sounds remotely like Rudresh Mahanthappa, and he’s a force of nature live. This show promises to be amazing, get there early.

Orphan Jane Bring Their Creepy Circus Rock Theatrics to Arlene’s

Creepy, theatrical circus rock band Orphan Jane put up some rough mixes at their Soundcloud page last year. This blog reported at the time that they sounded better in an unfinished state than most bands’ final mixes. In the time since, the band mastered and released those songs and a few others on their debut album, A Poke in the Eye, streaming at Bandcamp. They’ve also got an early gig this coming March 24 at 7:30 PM at Arlene’s; cover is $8. Generic dadrock singer Victor V. Gurbo recycles familiar Waits, Dylan and soul tropes afterward.

The album’s opening track is Whiskey and a Lie, a surreallistically rustic number that sounds like the Pogues covering a Brecht-Weill take on a sea chantey. Lost Mind is a menacing Weimar blues, frontwoman Jessica Underwood’s brassy cabaret delivery colliding with an eerie choir on the chorus over guitarist Dave Zydalis’ icepick accents and accordionist Tim Cluff’s minor-key swells. Last year, this blog described The Mansion Song as “a vividly scampering Roaring 20s noir cabaret song with uneasy Hawaiian-tinged steel guitar and a strange tale of wrongdoing and karmic payback among the idle classes.”

Still Life is a sad, bitter, klezmer-tinged waltz, bassist Robert Desjardins teaming with Cluff for a dark undercurrent as uneasy high vocal harmonies drift sepulchrally overhead. This blog previously called the album’s most vaudevillian number, Hole in the Head, “a bizarre duet between Underwood and Zydalis: he seems to be a quack doctor, she likes a smoke and a pill and some wine as a chaser, you think you can guess the rest but you really can’t.” The last of the tracks from last year’s Soundcloud page, simply titled “Murder!” welds skronky guitar and Underwood’s spot-on impersonation of a theremin to an indignantly strutting noir cabaret tune.

Underwood sings the murderously bouncy Losing Touch, the tale of a stage mom and her daughter with an evil agenda. The nocturnally waltzing final track, Night with a Stranger is a funny cautionary tale: be careful who you take home from the bar in the wee hours. There’s also a deadpan cover of Dylan’s surrealist stoner country tune You Ain’t Going Nowhere. There are scores of theatre kids who’ll hire an accordionist to play their campy cloak-and-dagger narratives, but Orphan Jane really get this style of music. Much as it’s a lot of fun, they always leave you guessing whether maybe they might actually be up to no good. A stealth contender for one of 2015’s best albums.

Richard Bennett Reinvents Ragas at the Rubin Museum This Friday

It’s easy to play ragas on the piano. Right? It’s even easier than playing rock – you don’t even have to change chords! And make sure you ride the pedal because you want a big pool of sound, like the drone of a sitar.

Umm…actually, it’s REALLY HARD to play ragas on the piano because there isn’t a set of sympathetic drone strings like there are on the sitar (yeah, there’s an overtone series in the piano, which we can get into later). The main challenge is to play with the same kind of restraint that the great sitarists – Ravi Shankar, Shujaat Khan and the rest – have relied on far more than pyrotechnic speed. Pianist Richard Bennett tackles that challenge with passion and precision on his album New York City Swara, streaming at Bandcamp. He’s leading a trio with Indrajit Roy Chowdhury on sitar and Naren Budkhar on tabla tomorrow evening,, Friday, March 20 at 7 PM in the sonically excellent downstairs auditorium at the Rubin Museum of Art, 150 W 17th St. just east of 7th Ave. Cover is $20.

Listening to his 2011 album Noir & B, it’s easy to see how Bennett would gravitate toward Indian music: lingering phrases and variations abound. Each of the tracks on New York City Swara references a classic Indian raga, with embellishments and improvisation that reflect the spirit of classical Indian music as they take the tradition to new places. The opening track, The Swan Swoons, is a triptych, Bennett doubling pensively on melodica as it opens, violinist Aran Ramamurthy gracefully introducing the tune over Budhkhar’s dancing tabla. They seem to solve the drone issue with a low-key, oscillating electronic texture that fades away from Bennett’s incisive yet ultimately hypnotic drive on the second part. A close listen reveals how artfully the pianist veers between scales and passing tones, adding tension and suspense.

Light dubwise electronic touches figure throughout the rest of the album. Restless, noirish strings and eerily glimmering piano figures flicker throughout the diptych that follows, building to an achingly Middle Eastern-inflected theme fueled by Ramamurthy’s violin. Then Bennett fips the script after that with a swaying, trip-hop inflected pastoral stroll with an early Pat Metheny feel. After that, there’s a bouncy, echoey rainy-day (pre-monsoon?) electric piano-and-violin theme.

The borough of Brooklyn is portrayed via a murkily intense, cinematic boogie-woogie groove, then Bennett brings it down with a trippily vamping acoustic-electric theme. The highlight of the album, a triumph of terseness and taste for Bennett, is the increasingly menacing, Satie-esque, staccato nocturnal theme that follows. Bennett chooses to end the album counterintuitively, maintaining the intensity with a hard-edged solo piano reprise of the introductory melody.

The Irrepressible Deena Shoshkes Opens a Night of Cult Favorites This Friday in Park Slope

Some music you can listen to pretty much anytime. Deena Shoshkes‘ music is what you might want to hear when you DON’T want to hear noiserock…or eardrum-smashing jazz improvisation…or doom metal. It’s upbeat and fun and cheery without being bland. For the longest time, Shoshkes fronted the Cucumbers, one of the defining Hoboken bands of the 80s and 90s. Her chirpy high soprano and irrepressible charm won the group an avid cult following, as well as earning a curmudgeonly backlash from a faction who found the band terminally cute. In the years since, Shoshkes has gotten more in touch with her lower register, has added a tinge of smoke and plenty of welcome nuance to her vocals. She’s opening a historically rich triplebill of cult favorites with her band the Laughing Boys at Union Hall in Park Slope this Friday night, March 20 at 8:30 PM followed by downtown NYC postpunk supergroup Heroes of Toolik and then Hoboken janglerock vets Speed the Plow at around 10:30. Cover is $10.

Shoshkes’ latest album Rock River is streaming at Spotify. Her calling cards are craft and a sense of humor. On one level, she takes what does does completely seriously, but she doesn’t seem to take herself seriously at all, and the result is infectious. After awhile, it’s hard to be curmudgeonly, you just start bobbing your head and humming along. A droll spin of the maracas here; a lush waterfall of twelve-string jangle there; a little silly P-Funk portamento synth; references to Brill Building pop, vintage C&W, the majestic clang of the Church in the 80s, even 90s trip-hop in the spirit of edgier bands like Madder Rose.

Her longtime fellow Cucumber Jon Fried adds southern-fried [resisting the urge to say cucumber!} flavor to the punchy opening track, My Own Advice. Longtime Hoboken (ok, ex-Hoboken) luminaries Rebecca Turner and Elena Skye make a Spectoresque chorus on All She Wrote, which sounds like a L’il Mo country crowdpleaser. There are a couple of pensively swaying ventures into Tex-Mex balladry. There’s a soaring country anthem spiced with Jonathan Gregg’s washes of pedal steel that wouldn’t be out of place in the Amy Allison songbook. There’s a saucy organ-and-horn-driven soul groove. Other tracks channels watery new wave and wistful chamber pop. And just when Shoshkes has you thinking that all this is about the hooks and the arrangements, she zings you with a line like “Lost a lot a long time ago in the backdrop of her eyes.”

You aren’t going to hear her sing about how the remains of the Fukushima reactors keep leaking into the Pacific, and that it’s going to kill every living thing on the planet if we don’t stop the deluge. Expecting her to do a song about the Pentagon trying to engineer regime change in Russia – and inciting a global nuclear holocaust – would be a bit of a stretch. Shoshkes seems more content working the corners of a song, intricately and thoughtfully, and having so much fun with it that it makes you jealous. You can get that kind of jealous this Friday in Brooklyn.

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.

Visual Music Circus Bring Their Movies for the Ears to the East Village Friday Night

Pianist/bassist Petros Sakelliou‘s Visual Music Circus plays movies for the ears. Despite Sakelliou’s money gig with a famous troupe of acrobats, the ensemble’s new instrumental album – streaming online – isn’t circus rock, nor is it as phantasmagorical as the band name implies. But it is cinematic. The group is playing a rare NYC show on March 20 at 7:30 PM at Drom; advance tix are ten bucks. The album features a twelve-piece group including horns and strings, which realistically might be more stripped down in concert.

It opens with an uneasily swaying, lush minor-key theme with echoes of Belgian barroom musette, Mediterranean balladry and the Italian baroque, Sakelliou tossing in a darkly blues-infused piano solo followed by a considerably more carefree one by alto saxophonist Ryoichi Yamaki as the mood brightens. Susanna Quilter’s balmy flute in tandem with Magda Giannikou’s ambered washes of accordion give the second track the feel of a mellotron-driven 70s art-rock theme and then take it in a more pensively bustling, Romany jazz-flavored direction, down to a long, allusively creepy, marionettish piano solo and then some stark violin from Ben Powel.

Linus Wyrsch’s chill clarinet lines in tandem with Giannikou’s accordion infuse the tiptoeing latin stroll that follows, Anna Hoffman’s baritone sax adding a wry edge that Yamaki spirals away from before the band drops out for an expansive piano solo: lots of moods packed into seven minutes. Sakelliou describes the diptych that follows as ironic: it’s not clear how its colorful, accordion-fueled Punch-and-Judy ballet, chase scene, and blustery, achingly vamping jazz tableau qualify as such.

A soaring, lushly bubbling, latin-tinged love theme slowly develops out of a warily circling intro, solos all around capped off by vibraphonist Mika Mimura – who also plays in Giannikou’s similarly colorful, shapeshifting Banda Magda. The album ends with a jaunty, dixieland-inflected “swingalong” that sounds like the Microscopic Septet going off on a tangent toward Romany jazz, driven by the nimble rhythm section of Yuki Ito on bass and Ryo Noritake on drums. In this age of bedroom recording, it’s rare to find something so unselfconsciously epic and richly orchestrated, a credit to Sakelliou’s ability to shift on a dime between idioms, ideas and instrumental voicings. They should be a lot of fun live.

Paula Carino’s Edgy, Lyrical Original Band Makes a Brilliant Return

Paula Carino is one of the half-dozen smartest rock songwriters of the past twenty years. She hasn’t been as prolific as, say, Richard Thompson or Elvis Costello, and she came up couple of generations after them, but she’s just as clever a wordsmith and as catchy a tunesmith. It’s impossible to imagine a better album released in 2010 than her bittersweet Open on Sunday, or for that matter, a more richly tuneful, lyrical 2002 release than the somewhat more powerpop-flavored Aquacade. Most recently, Carino has resurrected her original band, Regular Einstein, who had been dormant since the mid-zeros. They’ve got a characteristically melodic, lyrically rich new album, Chimp Haven, streaming at Bandcamp and an album release show at 10 PM on March 20 at Rock Shop in Gowanus. It’s a great twinbill, with the similarly smart, intense Lazy Lions also playing the album release show for their excellent new one and headlining at 11. Cover is $10.

Regular Einstein’s new record opens with Mayor Beam: it’s an unexpected departure toward insistent, downstroke-driven postpunk, with some dreampop swirl in there as well. The lyrics mirror the enigmatic melody. Carino’s cool, resonant vocals channel a relentless unease:

We wanna stop the bad guys
We wanna yank the thread
And then end up pulling wool over our own heads
But far away a flare is fired into the freezing air…
Mayor Beam is always hiding, guiding us

Those outside New York might miss the pun in the title: Abraham Beame was the New York City mayor in office during the “Bronx is burning” era in the 70s and the city’s plunge toward bankruptcy.

Jimmyville is a triumphant escape anthem fueled by drummer Nancy Polstein’s artful, hard-hitting drive and lead guitarist Dave Benjoya’s raga-ish licks. The punchy Three-Legged Race, a sardonic breakup anthem, recalls the early Kinks, Benjoya adding swirly organ and honking harmonica. Carino, always a tremendously good singer with her cool, crystalline alto voice, has never sung with more velvety nuance than she does here: “I’ll watch your back ’cause there’s nothing left to see,” she intones.

Bassist Andy Mattina’s dancing lines propel the paisley underground-tinged Hydrangea, a love song that seems hopeful at first and then predictably hits a bump in the road. Bad Actor is pretty straight-up punk rock: “I’m an amateur production of A Streetcar Named Desire,” Carino broods, “When you start that smooth talk I’m Madonna in Shanghai Surprise.” Evolution welds Benjoya’s dixie-fried lines to Carino’s scratchy postpunk rhythm over a waltz beat, a wry look at what it truly might mean to be evolving.

Another snarling, punk-infused number, Queens Tornado has Carino riffing on a completely unexpected, metaphorically-charged storm that leaves carnage across the whole borough, “from Forest Hills to Jamaica Bay, Flushing our Sunnyside away.” Polstein’s jungly tom-toms give the album’s Link Wray-tinged title track an uneasy undercurrent,

At this point, the band sticks with a punky psychedelic tangent throughout Old People, a funny, older song and a big audience favorite: “They’re a living affront to the sexual hunt…old people must go, set them all on an ice floe,” Carino deadpans. Never Saw It Coming has a catchiness that contrasts with its grim lyrics: it marks the first point on the album where Carino indulges her love for odd meters.

The Good Times is the albun’s most unexpectedly savage and arguably best track, a noirish 6/8 soul anthem that reaches haphazardly toward some better future that doesn’t exactly seem to be on the way. The album winds up with the deliriously catchy, upbeat Coming to My Senses and its delicious bed of alternately watery and skittish guitar multitracks. It’s classic Carino with a little more guitar energy: Dann Baker‘s production aptly captures the buzz and roar without muting it. Watch for this on the best albums of 2015 page here at the end of the year if we’re all still here.

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