New York Music Daily

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Tag: album review

Palehound Brings Her Uneasily Lyrical Psychedelic Pop and New Wave to Los Sures

Would you go to the base of the Williamsburg Bridge for distantly brooding female-fronted psychedelic pop or catchy, tersely energetic new wave? If so, Palehound at Baby’s All Right tonight, May 25 at 10 is your thing. Cover is $14.

Guitarist/singer Palehound, a.k.a. Ellen Kempner, has a debut album wryly titled Dry Food streaming at Bandcamp – if you’re wondering what the joke is, just imagine you’re a dog. On one hand, for someone as young as Kempner to be riding such a wave of hype – at least from the PR machine behind her – is cause for suspicion. On the other hand, her songs are smart and relevant, she sings in an unaffectedly strong voice, and as a bonus there’s a lot of offhandedly savage, Babyshambles-ish guitar chord-chopping here.

The album’s opening track, Molly, is a time trip back to 1981, jagged flurries of guitar on the verse giving way to a catchy, jangly chorus over Jesse Weiss’ skitttish drums and a dancing eighth-note bassline from Dave Khoshtinat. On the surface, at least, it seems to be about a selfish girl rather than the drug.

Healthier Folk – a sarcastic dig at how the beauty product industry makes a fortune off feeding and encouraging womens’ insecurities – has a freak-folk sway, fueled by careening slide guitar over a bed of opaque acoustics and cymbals, up to a big dreampop peak. “Pushing back your tongue with my clenched-teeth home security system,” Kempner sings with a breathy unease in Easy, a creepy, shapeshifting post-party scenario.

Cinnamon sounds like a haphazard take on jaunty sunshower Cardigans lounge-pop, with hints of early Lush. The album’s eerily waltzing folk noir title track layers spare guitar and Kempner’s whisperingly cynical vocals over simmering organ. “You made beauty a monster to me, still kissing all the ugly things I see,” she half-whispers.

The spare, dusky Dixie is the folkiest number here. Cushioned Caging is the best and loudest, part clangy southwestern gothic bolero, part Sleater-Kinney. The album closes with the catchy See Konk, a sinisterly dispassionate account of loss and madness. Believe the hype: Palehound is every bit as worth hearing as she’s been made out to be.

Dada Paradox Pick Up Where the Wickedly Catchy, Lyrically Brilliant Larch Left Off

In recent years at least, it’s hard to imagine a more productive rock music couple than Ian and Liza Roure. As the brain trust of both the Larch and Liza & the WonderWheels, they made a mark as purveyors of hook-driven, lyrically sharp Elvis Costello-ish tunesmithing and acerbically catchy psychedelia, respectively. When both bands imploded, the Wheels morphed into Tracy Island – fronted by Liza, on guitar – and the Larch became Dada Paradox, fronted by Ian on a multitude of guitars, bass and percussion, with Liza on keys. Dada Paradox picks right up where the Larch left off with 2014’s In Transit without missing a beat. The new album, Mobile Flight – streaming at the band’s webpage – has some of the most memorable songwriting released this year, and the duo will bring it to the stage at the release show on May 25 at 8 PM at Bowery Electric. Low-key psychedelic crew Psychic Lines open the night at 7; cover is $10.

The anthemically crescendoing opening track, Find Ways to Matter traces an uneasily metaphorical space travel narrative over a tasty bed of judiciously multitracked guitar textures: the interweave between the acoustic, the electrics and the twelve-string is intricate and Byrdsy to the point where it’s hard to tell which is playing what. Light hand percussion rather than a full drumkit has the paradoxical effect of directing attention to Roure’s lattice of fretwork, adding a low-key bedroom pop charm.

The twelve-string also takes centerstage over twinkling electric piano on the first of a handful of miniatures here, the wistful, gently nocturnally-tinged Here Comes Another Day. From there the duo segue into the album’s catchiest and also most nonchalantly ominous track, the tropically-tinged Another Day in Paradise. It’s Squeeze’s Pulling Mussels without the one-note guitar solo, updated for the teens with a backdrop of global warming.

The resolute, propulsive Happy Families, another track from the late Larch days, looks back to vintage, offhandedly savage Armed Forces-era Costello with its sardonic portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Executive doing a number on each other while trying to keep up appearances. Spooky Action surrealistically explores an eerie sci-fi action-at-a-distance scenario over a stately Britfolk waltz, Ian’s recorder and Liza’s ghost-girl vocal harmonies ramping up the mysterioso ambience.

A gentle baroque keyboard interlude leads into the wryly sarcastic character study Inflexible Flyer, Ray Davies channeled through the prism of peak-era, mid-90s Blur. For those who don’t get the joke, the Flexible Flyer was a popular kids’ snow sled back in the 60s and 70s. There are a couple of folk-flavored tracks here –  The Far Side of the Fray has a deadpan savagery in the same vein as Roger Waters’ The Bravery of Being Out of Range, while The Apocalypse Cheering Committee is as cynically funny as you would expect from this crew.

There’s also Solar Birds, aloft on a keening slide guitar line with an early 70s pastoral Pink Floyd feel, and the album’s majestically jangly closing escape anthem, Sorrows of Stephen: “The sorrow suffocates, to draw a free breath seems like it’s worth the risk that you take,” Ian encourages. A good fifteen-plus years since the Larch started ripping it up in scruffy dives all over Brooklyn, it’s good to see the Roures arguably at the peak of their career as players and songwriters. Count this among the half-dozen best releases to come out of New York this year.

Debo Band Bring Their Darkly Bristling Update on Classic Ethiopian Dancefloor Sounds to Williamsburg

What do you associate Ethiopian music with? Those slinky triplet grooves? Stark, ancient, otherworldly bluesy modes? Shivery, melismatic vocals and fiddle? Debo Band take all those tropes and rock them out with both blazing brass and strings over an undulating pulse. Their new album Ere Gobez is streaming at Storyamp, and they’re opening a killer twinbill at Brooklyn Bowl tonight at around 8, with similarly minor-key fixated original first-wave Afrobeat dancefloor groovemeisters Antibalas headlining afterward. Hopefully you have $15 advance tix; it’s more at the door.

On the album’s opening track, Endris Hassen’s hypnotically circling, oscillating massenqo fiddle riff underpins the blaze of horns, and then guitarist Brendon Wood fires off a succinct solo. The second number, a Somalian tune, is similar, but with a trickier, syncopated beat. Track three – in purist Ethiopian fashion, most of the song titles are in frontman Bruck Tesfaye’s native Amharic – sets a joyous mix of upper-register violins and saxes mingling with Marie Abe’s accordion over bassist PJ Goodwin and drummer Adam Clark’s dancing, waltzlike beat.

Track four, Yachat, is a hard-rocking detour toward psychedelic 60s garage rock – it’s their Psychotic Reaction, Wood’s rampaging, bluesy lines front and center. Blue Awaze makes more or less straight-up hard funk out of an uneasily modal, proto Middle Eastern riff, Danny Mekonnen’s judiciously smoky baritone sax solo leading up to a swirly, string-fueled psychedelic breakdown where everything goes haywire, then finally back. From there the band segues into Goraw, a defiant Amharic-language Ethiopian-pride anthem which sounds like the ancient roots of Isaac Hayes at his most psychedelic – or what Hayes might have done had he collaborated with Mulatu Astatke.

The band builds Sak ominously over a brooding bati vamp, like a thunderstorm on the horizon, counterintuitively growing more spare as Mekonnen launches into a growling baritone solo. The album’s most epic number, Oromo swings along on a mighty minor-key blues groove, following a long, triumphantly majestic upward climb punctuated by a thoughtful massenqo break. The band follow the joyously circling, lushly orchestrated Hiyamikachi Bushi with the slinky, bitingly latin-tinged Yalanchi and close the album on a searingly trad note with the hauntingly propulsive Eyew Demamu, arguably its strongest track and a lauching pad for Tesfaye’s intense, expressive vocals.

Since Ethiopia is where it all started, at least as far as the human species is concerned, it’s not an overstatement to say that music from this part of the world resonates on a deep level, quite possibly in our collective DNA. This is the rare album that will hit the spot with people who like energetic, upbeat music as much as with those who gravitate toward the dark and mysterious.

Conspiracy of Venus Bring Their Artful Polyphonic Fun to Three NYC Shows

The thirty women of Conspiracy of Venus comprise one of the world’s most original and captivating choral groups. They’re sister to mighty all-male Leonard Cohen chorale A Conspiracy of Beards, specializing in ethereal, labyrinthine-voiced versions of rock and Americana songs. Their richly imaginative, innovative debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – is wryly titled Muse Ecology (say it fast if you don’t get it the first time around). They’re the centerpiece of the one of the year’s best triplebills, on May 21 at around 10 at the Jalopy. Two of the most unpredictably fun singers in newschool oldtime Americana, resonator guitarist/songwriter Mamie Minch and Brain Cloud frontwoman Tamar Korn open the night at 9, then fiery and often devastatingly funny klezmer punk band Golem – who are sort of the Jewish Gogol Bordello – headline at around 11. Cover is $10. In case you can’t make it to the magical Jalopy, Conspiracy of Venus are also at the big room at the Rockwood on May 20 at 7 for $10, then on the 22nd they’re at Highline Ballroom at noon for $12 in advance.

The album’s opening track, Wildwood, by the group’s director Joyce Todd McBride, begins as a stately, almost marching piece backed by bossa-tinged acoustic guitar. It’s probably the most lushly arranged folk-pop song ever recorded, its artful counterpoint expanding as the song goes on. You could call it a choral counterpart to what Sara McDonald is doing with big band jazz arrangements. Backed by minimal vibraphone and percussion, they make gentle but potent antique gospel out of Tom Waits’ Jockey Full of Bourbon. Once again, the counterpoint gets more intricate as the song goes along, low individual voices alternating below the pillowy highs. It’s all the creepier for being so low-key, like the Swingle Singers doing Procol Harum.

Bowie’s Life on Mars gets a lithely pointillistic treatment that follows the lyrics’ surrealistic tangent up to a sweeping peak. Cohen’s Dance Me to the End of Love follows an artful arrangement from a balletesque pulse, to swing, then echoes of country gospel. Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi has bass and drums anchoring a buoyantly sweet, charmingly swinging chart that plays up the lyrics’ crushing sarcasm. Later on they put an enigmatically intense, tropically-infused spin on another Joni number, Black Crow. The album’s most raptly renaissance-tinged track is McBride’s setting of Berthold Brecht’s The Buddha’s Parable of the Burning House.

Another McBride tune, In the Bud reverts to the opening track’s airy bossa-pop. Then the group makes lavish polyphony out of Iris DeMent’s lilting Appalachian-flavored Let the Mystery Be. As you might guess, the most playfully avant garde-flavored number is Bjork’s coy Possibly Maybe, shifting almost imperceptibly into an oldschool soul groove. They go back to the Cohen book for an irresistibly dancing, surreal, fun version of I’m Your Man and then wind it all up with a similarly funny reggae version of Bjork’s Venus As a Boy. What a blissfully entertaining album!

Dori Freeman Offers an Imaginative, Darkly Purist Take on Classic Country and Americana Sounds

Dori Freeman comes from Americana ground zero: Galax, Virginia. She’s still relatively young (early 20s), and she’s bringing her own tasteful, sometimes haunting update on a bunch of venerable American sounds to the big room at the Rockwood at 7 PM on May 19. Cover is $10.

It takes some nerve to open your debut album – streaming at Spotify -with a solo acoustic number, just voice and guitar. But that’s what Freeman does. The track is catchy: it’s easy to imagine fiddle and banjo and a bass pulsing behind her strums as she vacillates between longing and defiance: “I’ll be damned if I need any man to come to my rescue…the wall that you’ve been building, well it’s standing in the sand.”

Where I Stand is a sripped-down take on disconsolately waltzing Orbison Nashville gothic pop: “Once like a vision I haunted your mind, but the haunting I feel is a different kind,” she intones in wounded low register. Her voice is her big drawing card, gently parsing the blue notes with an ambered nuance that often makes her sound older than she is. Likewise, her lyrics can be imagistic and evocative: for example, when a treasured picture of a couple together falls off the wall, it brings relief instead of sadness.

Aloft on the wings of Jon Graboff’s melancholy pedal steel washes, Go On Loving is a vintage honkytonk ballad with spare Erik Deutsch piano and muted electric guitar, over the purist rhythm section of bassist Jeff Hill and drummer Rob Walbourne. Fine Fine Fine is an imaginative blend of jangly Americana, honkytonk and vintage 60s Phil Spector girl-group pop. Freeman offers a nod back to Merle Travis with Ain’t Nobody, a sarcastically fingersnapping, bluesy a-cappella blue-collar lament.

With its elegant Lynchian jazz tinges, the understatedly menacing Lullaby is the strongest song on the album, bringing to mind Eilen Jewell in a pensive moment. A wounded, muted country gospel ambience pervades Song for Paul, another real gem: “Catch me, catch me, catch 22,” Freeman sings to open it. Likewise, the honkytonk waltz Still a Child traces a simmeringly vindictive narrative. There’s also Tell Me, a jaunty electric pop song with blithely melismatic vocals and pizzicato fiddle from Alex Hargreaves, and the gently syncopated Any Wonder, which is the closest thing to corporate singer-songwriter fodder here.

Those of you who already know who Dori Freeman is might be wondering why a blog like this one – typically focused on the shadowy side of the street where all the most interesting things are happening – would cover somebody who’s already been praised to the rafters by the likes of Rolling Stone. The answer is that as vital and important as Rolling Stone’s political coverage has been and continues to be, it’s been thirty years since their music section had any relevance. Compared to what usually gets covered there, Freeman is in a completely different ballpark.

Desert Flower’s Menacing Heavy Psychedelic Debut: One of 2016’s Best Albums

Desert Flower are one of the half-dozen best bands in New York right now. The heavy psychedelic quintet spice their wickedly tight, menacingly careening, darkly individualistic sound with punk, stoner blues, 70s boogie and echoes of gothic rock. They’re also notable for being one of the few psychedelic bands out there fronted by a woman, powerful bluesy wailer/keyboardist Bela Zap Art. What Jefferson Airplane were to San Francisco, 1967 or what Siouxsie & the Banshees were to London, 1985, Desert Flower are to New York in 2016. Their debut ep – streaming at Soundcloud – instantly vaults them into contention for putting out the best album of the year. Right now they’re back in the studio – watch this space for future NYC dates.

Much as Zap Art has Ann Wilson power and intensity, the studio setting here gives her a chance to project far more subtlety than she typically gets a chance to do out in front of the marauding twin-guitar attack of Migue Mendez and Paola Luna. Likewise, bassist Seba Fernandez and drummer Alfio Casale get to show off dynamics that sometimes don’t make it into their high-voltage live show.

The first track, Darketa opens with a wash of guitar sitar before Fernandez’s slinky bassline kicks in and the band sways along, Mendez’s lysergic echoes ringing out against Luna’s gritty attack, Zap Art rising from a wounded, guarded intensity, to trippy lows that she runs through a phaser. As the song builds toward a pulsing peak and Fernandez’s catchy bass hook pans the speakers behind Mendez’s searing lead, it suddenly becomes clear that it’s just a one-chord jam!

Longest Way is a brisk mashup of downstroke postpunk and classic Motor City rock: “Let me take you to the secret place, where nobody can see your face,” Zap Art intones enigmatically. The majestic, haunting Sube sways along over an uneasily pouncing 6/8 groove, an orchestra of guitars channeling ornate Nektar-ish art-rock and MBV dreampop, “Going down on the grey skies,” Zap Art belts ominously.

Tango follows a creepily pulsing southwestern gothic trajectory, fueled by Mendez’s slide guitar and Luna’s lingering, brooding lines. The catchiest of the originals here, Warrior stomps along over an incisive, sarcastically faux-martial groove, with tongue-in-cheek trombone and some tasty, purist blues playing from Mendez.

The centerpiece of the record is Traveler, a towering 6/8 anthem by a friend in Buenos Aires. Zap Art plays macabre washes of sound on her organ as Mendez alternates between fat, vibrato-laden lines and a menacing growl, Luna anchoring it with her murky, watery broken chords. Look for this on the best albums of the year page in December if we make it that far.

Jenifer Jackson Brings Her Erudite Texas Americana Charm to the New York Outskirts

The plushly ambiguous cover image of Jenifer Jackson’s latest and tenth album, aptly titled Cloud Ten – streaming at Bandcamp – speaks volumes. Look closely and you’ll see a furry cat! There’s a feline grace, and playfulness, and warmth, and hominess to the cutting-edge Americana songcraft and performances on this charming, irresistibly engaging new collection of songs. As a bonus, Jackson plays not only her usual guitar but also piano, drums and for the first time, ukulele. On her current US tour, she’s bypassing Manhattan for an intimate house concert on May 18 at 7 PM at 11 Bollenbecker Road in Rhinebeck. Westchester dwellers and adventurous city people can get information and rsvp here. She’s also doing house concerts on the 19th and 20th in Ancramdale and New Paltz, respectively.

Curmudgeons beware: she’s going to get you smiling like a big Texas sunrise, and asking yourself in astonishment, “Did they really just play what I think they did?” whether you like it or not. Which isn’t what you might expect from someone with such an extensive back catalog of thoughtfully crafted, often melancholy songs. Her career’s taken her from Beatlesque nuevo bossa nova, to harrowing folk noir, to classic Brill Building style pop, slinky psychedelia, blue-eyed soul, and now the Americana she’s been mining for such rich results over the last few years. Joining the brain drain out of New York City, her move to Austin in 2007 jumpstarted a career that had critics swooning but had reached critical mass in the big city. Cloud Ten reconfirms how fertile the Texas landscape has been for one of the most prolific, irrepressibly fun and unselfconsciously brilliant tunesmiths working today.

The innumerable little touches define this album. You might expect to hear multi-instrumentalist Kullen Fuchs’ good-naturedly purist honkytonk guitar in the vintage C&W sway of Pen to Paper, but probably not his glimmery Mad Men era vibraphone. But you get both! The Texas shuffle groove and Jackson’s own piano mingling with classic Beatles allusions in Love Me Best; hints of Laurel Canyon psychedelia and coy 50s exotica in the bossa-flavored Coriander; a little later, Jackson and Fuchs’ coyly aphoristic duet on the album’s title track makes gently narcotized uke indie-pop out of a classic western swing theme.

Some touches are somewhat more traditionally oriented to the various styles she expands on here, but no less apt. The elegantly rippling George Harrison Abbey Road lead guitar amidst her vividly summery fingerpicking in the Britfolk-tinged River Road; Fuchs’ deep floodwaters of accordion throughout Gravity, a lilting lullaby. Longtime Johnny Cash collaborator Earl Poole Ball’s elegant Floyd Cramer slip-key piano mingles with glockenspiel, enhancing the gently crepuscular ambience of Only in Dreams; Jesse Ebaugh’s deep-sky pedal steel on the sharply lyrical Wondering, which looks back to Townes Van Zant outlaw balladry. Perhaps the album’s most striking if shortest track is the wary, austere Birdy’s Lament, Fuchs’ melodica taking the song into surrealistic early 70s folk-rock terrain. Its most period-perfect is Mother Nature, a spot-on evocation of early 60s honkytonk.

Jackson draws on the multicultural fabric of her adopted state with two songs in Spanish: the tender, bolero-tinted Sabor a Mi and the gentle Bahia/Veracruz mashup Como Fue, Fuchs’ trumpet sailing overhead. It’s as heartwarming as it is just plain fun to hear this genuine American treasure continuing to evolve and keep audiences entertained: if there’s any album released this year that makes you reach for the repeat button, this is it.

The Alan Ferber Nonet Bring Their Dynamic, Intense Large Ensemble Sound to the Flatiron District

Considering how time-consuming it is just to keep a big band together and playing, it’s amazing how the likes of Arturo O’Farrill and Maria Schneider manage to do that and keep coming up with fresh and interesting material for their large ensembles, year after year. Count trombonist/composer Alan Ferber among that dedicated elite. His latest album, Roots & Transitions is a suite for an only slightly smaller ensemble, his long-running Nonet with trumpeters Scott Wendholt and Shane Endsley, alto saxophonist Jon Gordon, tenor saxophonist John Ellis, bass clarinetist Charles Pillow, guitarist Nate Radley, pianist Bryn Roberts, bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Mark Ferber. The album hasn’t hit the web yet, but there are a trio of tracks up at Sunnyside Records’ site. The band also have a weekend stand coming up this Friday and Saturday night, May 13 and 14 at the Jazz Gallery, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $22.

The composer bases the suite on a series of variations on a cleverly rhythmic cell-like theme. Ferber’s music tends toward the lustrous and enveloping, and this is no exception. It’s no surprise that his charts give the material might and majesty that seems like it’s being played by a considerably larger group. Ferber’s moody solo trombone opens the first track, Quiet Confidence, a slowly swaying ballad that Roberts’ methodical, slowly spiraling solo takes into brighter territory over a cymbal-fueled scan of the perimeter, setting up the bandleader to take it up on an ebullient upward climb before bringing it full circle. The low, lustrous shifting low brass sheets of the miniature Hourglass segue into the misterioso trombone/guitar intro of Clocks, an alterered fanfare over a tense pulse building to a powerfully dark modal crescendo, Gordon’s nimbly bluesy phrasing throwing some light into the shadows, which Radley then shreds and scatters. It’s the most noirish piece here.

Wayfarer is an amiably buoyant tune, part retro, part Jim McNeely newschool swing with a judiciously low-key Ellis solo at the center. That tricky three-on-four feel really makes itself present throughout Flow, reflecting the tuneful, nonchalant drive of the suite’s opening cut, the bandleader’s imposing trombone contrasting with Radley’s blithe upward flights. And then its Morricone-esque ending brings back the shadowy intensity.

Perspective offers a warmly melodic take on lustrous teens pastoral jazz, a simple, gently modal piano riff underpinning its amiably rustic, syncopated stroll, Ellis adding his usual melodicism when his turn comes up. Echo Calling brings back the distant ominous feel: listen closely and you’ll discover a disquiting fugue underneath. The album winds up with the chatteringly cheerful barnburner Cycles and its gritty, pinpoint-precise staccato phrasing. Much as it’s got one of Ferber’s usual imaginative charts and plenty of high-voltage playing from everybody, it seems tacked on as as way to close this otherwise often gorgeously uneasy collection on an upbeat note. Maybe when the Ferber box set comes out sometime around 2030 (by then, box sets will probably be all vinyl, or who knows, organic vinyl), he can use it as an opening cut.

Rev. Billy Brings His Infectious Environmentalist Punk Gospel to an Old Haunt

For the past several years, Billy Talen has been a thorn in the side of the robber barons, the banksters and their schemes to transfer income up from working people to the one-tenth-of-one-percent…as well as speaking truth to power as far as how global chains are destroying the individual fabric of communities worldwide. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Talen became an even more committed environmentalist. Since then, he’s given the bozack to rapacious mountaintop clearcutters, agribusiness and their frankenseeds and frankenfood. He’s got a new book out, The Earth Wants YOU, and an album of the same title with his mighty punk gospel group. Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir‘s new record is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing the album release show at a familiar haunt, Joe’s Pub tomorrow night, May 10 at 9:30 PM. Cover is $12, or $10 with code “Earthalujah.”

The group are sort of the gospel version of the Clash. Depending on where they’re playing – bank headquarters, ATMs and Starbucks are where Talen and his activist crew typically get cuffed by the cops – they often number more than forty people. The core of the band comprises pianist/musical director Nehemiah Luckett, bassist Nathan Stevens and drummer Eric Johnson. As befits a democracy, singers from throughout the choir get plenty of chance to show off their chops. Soprano Laura Newman is more or less the main soloist, and contributes many of the songs as well: if Rev. Billy is the group’s Joe Strummer, she’s their Mick Jones.

The album opens with Flying, its 70s latin soul groove anchored by an understatedy ominous eco-disaster theme and “circle around” vocal riff. Newman’s powerful soprano fuels the swinging, antique-flavored gospel anthem Fabulous Bad Weather: when global warming really gets out of control, “What will you do?” Newman  calls to the choir for an answer.

Revolution is a ferociously relevant mashup of latin soul and hip-hop, referencing Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood while making the connection between the prison-industrial complex, eco-disaster and the destruction of individual cultures around the world. Another edgy latin soul groove, Monsanto Is the Devil calls bullshit on the dangers of GMO seeds: “The devil must be slain,” the choir roars.

Talen makes his first appearance out in front of the group in The Human Blues, fervently pondering how so many of us got lost and switched out community for apathy. The Man Down offers swaying, towering encouragement to “get home safe,” commemorating the murder of innocent victims from Trayvon Martin all the way back to Emmett Till.

Climate Change Blues and Gratitude, both oldschool gospel tunes, take a more personal view of activist commitment. Newman immortalizes the Declaration of Occupy Wall Street in the massive epic We Are The 99%. The brief Cops & Bankers reminds that cops on the beat and people who work in banks are 99-percenters just like us…and that we ought not to jump to conclusions about them.  The album winds up with the snarky, satirical Shopocalypse, a throwback to the irresistibly fun, funny anti-consumerist anthems of the band’s early years. A towering triumph for the entire crew, including but not limited to singers Lillian Ball, Jess Beck, Gusti Bogok, Mayfield Brooks, John Carlin, Sierra Carrere, Molly Chanoff, Katie Degentesh, Dragonfly, Ben Dubin-Thaler, Gina Figueroa, Christopher Beck, Donald Gallagher, Yvonne Gougelet, Amber Gray, Gaylen Hamilton,  Pat Hornak, Monica Hunken, Lizzie Hurst, Sarah East Johnson, Denice Kondick, Barbara Robin Lee, E. Katrina Lewis, Chantel Cherisse Lucier,  Laurie Mitttleman, Shilpa Narayan, Onome, Sylver Pondolfino, Susannah Pryce, John Quilty, Shuhei Shimizu, Ashlie Lauren Smith, Dawn Stewart-Lookkin, Catherine Talese, Theodros Tamirat, Travis Tench, Chideo Tsemunhu, Danny Valdes and David Yap.

Erica Smith Brings Her Poignant, Spectacular Voice and Eclectically Shattering Songs to the East Village

Erica Smith is one of New York’s most distinctive and often harrowing voices in folk noir and Americana. But even in this city, Smith’s ability to shift effortlessly from style to style is pretty spectacular. In addition to performing her own music, she’s currently a member of both the Richard Thompson cover group the Shootout Band – in which she puts her own stamp on Linda Thompson’s vocals – and also the explosive gospel-rock band Lizzie and the Sinners. Smith can belt a blues ballad or deliver a plaintive Appalachian narrative with anyone. And she’s also a versatile jazz stylist. Her latest album, a jazz recording with her band the 99 Cent Dreams, is One for My Baby, streaming at Spotify. She’s got a gig coming up on an excellent twinbill at Hifi Bar on May 10 at 7:30 PM; similarly lyrical and somewhat sunnier Americana singer Rebecca Turner follows at around 8:30 PM.

There’s a tragic backstory here: as it turned out, this was the final recording by the great New York drummer Dave Campbell. Perhaps best known for his serpentine, turn-on-a-dime work with psychedelic rock band Love Camp 7, Campbell was also a terrific swing jazz player with a flair for Brazilian grooves, which comes across vividly on the more upbeat tunes here. This is a collection of counterintuitive versions of standards recorded with rock band instrumentation – electric guitar, bass, drums and Leif Arntzen’s soulful muted trumpet on two numbers – along with an obscure treasure by one of this era’s great lit-rock songwriters. It opens with The Very Thought of You, where Smith distinguishes her version from the famous Billie Holliday take with her inscrutable delivery, growing more playfully optimistic as she goes along. Guitarist Dann Baker (also of Love Camp 7) mashes up Barney Kessel and Wes Montgomery as he follows Smith’s emotional trajectory.

Interestingly, there are a couple of songs commonly associated with Sinatra here. Smith does I Could Write a Book as ebullient, optimistic swing: the song feels like it’s about jump out of its shoes, but Smith holds it in check over a slightly ahead-of-the-beat bassline And she does the title track a tad faster than the Ol’ Blue Eyes original, echoing the bartender’s desire to call it a night as much as the wee-hours angst of the lyrics, Baker with her every step of the way through an alternately woozy and vividly brooding interpretation.

She does Rodgers and Hart’s It Never Entered My Mind as lingering, noir-tinged torch jazz, Baker’s gracefully stately chordal ballet in tandem with Campbell’s tersely slinky 6/8 groove. Smith’s careful, minutely jeweled, woundedly expressive vocals mine every ounce of ironic, biting subtext in the lyrics. Ain’t Misbehavin’ gets a hushed low-key swing treatment that builds to coyly nonchalant optimism, Arntzen’s trumpet following suit.

Campbell’s artfully acrobatic tumble opens Everything I’ve Got as an altered bossa before the band swings it by the tail, Smith leading the group on a long upward trajectory that far outpaces the Blossom Dearie original. The album’s most shattering track is a desolate, rainswept take of Cry Me a River, Baker shifting Kessel’s lingering lines further into the shadows over Campbell’s low-key, sepulchrally minimalistic brushwork. The band does the first recorded version of Livia Hoffman’s Valentine as a slow swing tune: “What are childhood crushes for? For crushing all your dreams forevermore,” Smith intones in a knowing, wounded mezzo-soprano. The album winds up with a wryly good-naturedly suspenseful, rainforest-swing solo take of Campbell’s drums on Everything I’ve Got: just wait til the hip-hop nation finds out that this exists. Throughout the record, Smith’s disarmingly direct, imaginative, emotionally vivid phrasing breathes new life into songs that other singers sometimes phone in, reason alone to give this a spin if classic jazz is your thing.

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