New York Music Daily

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Tag: alt country

Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters Bring Their Catchy Hardscrabble Americana Songs to the Flower District This Friday Night

“Just got word today that the money is gonna be ok,” Amanda Anne Platt sings in her North Carolina twang. “Start looking for life in a bathroom mirror,” she adds as Birthday Song, the opening track on her latest album with her band the Honeycutters (streaming at Spotify), gets underway. They’re making a rare New York stop on June 1 at 9:30 PM at Hill Country.

In a world of suburbanites who put on cowboy hats and pretend they come from the sticks, Platt is the real deal, a strong, populist storyteller with a knack for a catchy hook. The narratives on this latest release are more guardedly optimistic than the band’s previous output. Between the woman in the supermarket checkout line, the sign in the record store and the beater Japanese car whose odometer’s been around twice, these people are struggling, but they also aren’t giving in. This is also more of a rock record, compared to the honkytonk flavor of much of the band’s earlier material.

“We were dying but you couldn’t tell,” Platt muses over a loping groove from bassist Rick Cooper and drummer Josh Milligan in Long Ride – but as it picks up steam, the song grows more optimistic, Matt Smith’s pedal steel floating overhead.

“Oh how I needed men to love me, it made me ugly, made me unkind,” Platt’s older and wiser narrator muses in the gently shuffling What We’ve Got, livened with Evan Martin’s rippling piano and a joyous steel solo: “All the time I thought I was wasting, I was just learning how to look you in the eye.”

With its rivers of organ and simmering, distorted guitar, Diamond in the Rough is one of the harder-rocking tracks here – The Who meets Lucinda Williams, maybe. Eden is a steady, shuffling celebration of “24 acres of Indiana farmland, Airstream trailer, living in the heartland,” told from the point of view of an ex-Bostonian who’s come home after losing her job. At the same time, she doesn’t miss people with “delusions of grandeur,” even while harsher realities set in.

The Guitar Case is a vividly weary early-morning chronicle of the endless tour musicians these days have to stay on just to pay the bills. Platt saves some of her most venomous commentary for one of the wannabes on the roadhouse circuit:

You look good on paper
On tv too
But the real thing ain’t a joke, you fool

By contrast, Learning How to Love Him is a sobering, spare look at the pros and cons of making it through a marriage to the empty nest years. Then the band kick back in with a summery soul feel in Brand New Start, a bittersweetly resigned breakup tale: Platt suggests a five-year relationship might be best memorialized by leaving a Christmas wreath up on the door for the sake of leaving a lasting impression of togetherness.

With its layers of piano, organ and steel, Late Summer’s Child is an old Creedence song with whitewall tires and a sunroof, more or less. The album’s best song is the noir soul ballad The Good Guys (Dick Tracy), slinking along with uneasy, echoey electric piano:

A skeleton in every closet
Everybody in another man’s pocket
Did you ever stop to think you got it wrong
You remember why you’re here tonight
Soft sell if the price is right
You’ve been losing at this same fight for so long
Dick Tracy there ain’t no more good guys
You could be on a plane tonight
Leave this wasted city far behind

The backbeat-driven, distantly doo-wop inflected Rare Things is a lot more upbeat, spiced with some neat gospel piano. Baritone guitar, saloon piano and steel blend together for an oldschool hard honkytonk vibe in The Things We Call Home. The album’s last song is the wistful front porch folk-flavored The Road. Platt and her band move through a lot of different styles here, something they’re likely to do onstage at the barbecue joint this weekend.

A Diverse, Smartly Lyrical New Album and a Fort Greene Release Show From Karen & the Sorrows

Karen & the Sorrows are one of New York’s most most individualistic Americana bands. For those who might think that’s like being the best cumbia band in Iceland, keep in mind that Americana, hip-hop and reggaeton are this city’s default styles of music right now. The band’s brooding first album traced the narrative of a ghost story from lead guitarist Elana Redfield’s native New Hampshire. Their new one, The Narrow Place – streaming at their music page – also covers a lot of dark territory, but it’s a lot more eclectic. It’s inspiring to see how much the group has grown musically. They’re wrapping up their current US tour, with an album release show at 10 PM on Sept 22 at C’Mon Everybody; cover is $10.

Drummer Tami Johnson keeps a stark, practically hypnotic beat as the album’s first track, Back Down to the Dirt gets underway: frontwoman/guitarist Karen Pittelman’s wary, soaring voice delivers an aphoristic, metaphorically-charged cautionary tale. Producer Charles Burst plays bass; on the rest of the album, Gerard Kouwenhoven keeps the four-string groove going.

Redfield’s pedal steel mingles with Julia Read’s fiddle behind Pittleman’s precise, chirpy vocals in Can’t Miss What You Never Had. a moody tale of 99-percenter longing for something better. The Wire is an ominously swaying noir Americana rock anthem that brings to mind the Walkabouts: “J.B. Flatt” supplies the funereal Hammond organ behind Redfield’s resonantly edgy guitar lines.

Pittelman’s bittersweet vocals bring to mind Amy Allison in the brisk, backbeat-driven Nowhere:

All these bones
On the other shore
How my sister sang
But I don’t sing no more

Take Me for a Ride is a big, aching, seductive rocker: “Here comes my girl in a flatbed Ford…let me take you out on the town, don’t care what those folks say,” Pittelman insists. Then she makes it clear that “I”m just the man who loves you” in the brisk highway rock number after that.

In The Price of the Ticket, Pittelman draws inspiration from James Baldwin’s assertion that artists should always reevaluate their work. It’s a bitter but resolute anthem for anyone who’s had to make a break with the past:

Write your notes back to home
In an alphabet they can’t read
Save your change for the phone
But no line could ever reach back

The album’s best and most allusively political song is the southwestern gothic-tinged Walk Through the Desert:

When they write what has happened here
It will seem so clear,
Like they knew
All that loss, all the haze and fear
It will disappear like the truth

The band go back to the country for the sad breakup ballad Do It For Myself. I Was Just Your Fool stomps along with some bitter theatrical imagery. The album winds up with Everything We Had, an unexpectedly welcome southern soul number.

Apropos of changing gender roles, isn’t it funny how the typical chick role in this band, i.e. the bass player, is a dude, while the women in the group play the rhythm guitar, lead guitar and drums? Maybe we’ve finally smashed the glass ceiling in music…or we’re just going back to an earlier era when groups like the Carter Family – or bands in villages across the world – divided up responsibilities among whoever was available to play regardless of who had the Y chromosomes.

The Auspicious Future and Gloriously Melancholy Past of Americana Rock at Lincoln Center

For the last several years, the Americana Music Association has partnered to book the closing night of Lincoln Center Out of Doors. Yesterday’s festivities began with multi-instrumentalist Amanda Shires and her similarly brilliant band and closed soaringly and bittersweetly with the unselfconsciously gorgeous harmonies of the Jayhawks. There were other acts scheduled throughout the day, some of them rambunctious, one of them absolutely putrid, but if these two are the foundation and future of Americana, New York’s default listening music is in good hands.

Shires doesn’t exactly play violin like your typical Americana fiddler. From song to song, she’d fire off savage Romany chromatics, venomous tarantella riffs and stark blues along with plenty of extended technique, from muted pizzicato harmonics to slow, eerily surfacing glissandos. She’s also a hell of a storyteller, chooses her words and sings every song differently, in character. A brittle ingenue, wounded valkyrie and wistful red-dirt Texas songbird were just three of them.

She has a hell of a band. Her lead guitarist wove his way from biting minor-key blues, through menacingly Lynchian twang, often sparring with the bandleader. The bassist played what would have been new wave if the drummer hadn’t swung the music so hard: all those steady eighth notes and the occasional emphatic chord on the low end gave the music extra majesty.

They opened with My Love (The Storm), more or less a remake of Wayfaring Stranger, and brought the show full circle at the end, taking out Look Like a Bird with the day’s most searing guitar/violin duel. After a noir bolero and an amped-up romp through the sharp, bitter The Way It Dimmed, Shires told a funny story about an encounter with a Florida fan aromatic with “an herb that is legal in Colorado and other kind states.” He gave her a bag that turned out not to be filled with the obvious but with bits and pieces of a dead Siberian tiger – or so he said. “It’ll make you bulletproof!” he explained.

With that, Shires lit into  the song he inspired, which was funny for an instant but got dark quickly, a catalog of what might be worth protecting from gunfire, personal to political. A spare, lingering take of  Harmless, a cheating song that underscored dashed hopes rather than the potential fallout, contrasted with a loud, enigmatic rocker that brought to mind the Throwing Muses, then a loping, simmering Tex-Mex ballad that slowly crescendoed into growling psychedelia.

The Jayhawks have held up stunningly well since their glory days in the late 90s and early zeros. Frontman Gary Louris, pianist/organist Karen Grotberg and drummer Tim O’Reagan still blend voices for the most glistening harmonies this side of the Balkans, and bassist Marc Perlman still makes his slinky, seamlessly melodic lines look effortless. Meanwhile, the band’s newsboy-capped latest addition filled out the sound, switching between mandolin, airy violin lines, acoustic guitar and Telecaster.

In the years since the band’s legendary turn-of-the-century triptych of albums – 1997’s Sound of Lies, 2000’s Smile and 2003’s Rainy Day Music – Louris has grown into the lead guitar god he was struggling to be then. He’s switched out most of the screeching, Stoogoid dry-ice attack for a precise, meticulously dynamic, texturally rich volleys that varied from Mick Ronson heavy blues, to many subtle shades of clang and twang, enabled by fast footwork on a pedalboard. His signature sound – a little Beatles, a little Bowie and a whole lot of Big Star – has held up as well as the band.

They opened with the mighty, indomitable powerpop anthem I’m Gonna Make You Love Me and followed with an appropriately towering version of the evening’s best song, the angst-fueled individualist anthem The Man Who Loved Life and its bitter on-the-road narrative.

Trouble, the centerpiece of Sound of Lies’ thread of rejection and alienation, was as shattering as the album version, Louris hitting his flange for extra surrealism to raise the effect of being “Hung out to dry, backs against the wall, stoned out of our minds.”

The rest of the show followed a dynamic arc up to a big crescendo with Tailspin, its gloomy perspective muted within the framework of a mighty singalong anthem. O’Reagan took over lead vocals on the moody, C&W-fueled ballad Tampa to Tulsa. The material from the band’s latest album Paging Mr. Proust was surprisingly strong, including a vampy, vintage soul-inspired number that could have been the Zombies. Even the slighter, poppier material – like Angelyne and Save It For a Rainy Day – was fresh and forceful. How many other bands who’ve been around since the 80s still channel this much passion and intensity?

Lincoln Center Out of Doors wraps up tonight, August 13 at 6 PM out back in Damrosch Park with oldschool 70s soul man Don Bryant and then veteran blues guitarist Bonnie Raitt, And the atrium space just north of 62nd Street continues to program some of the most exhilaratingly diverse acts from around the globe. Next up there: a rare twinbill of hypnotic, otherworldly, intense Colombian bullerengue with singer and tambolero Emilsen Pacheco Blanco along with singer Carolina Oliveros’ mighty 13-piece vocal/percussion choir Bulla en el Barrio on August 24 at 7:30 PM. The show is free; the earlier you get there, the better.

Sofia Talvik Brings Her Poignantly Original Americana to Manhattan

One of the most distinctively memorable Americana albums of recent years was made by a tirelessly touring, talented Swedish songwriter. Sofia Talvik‘s next New York show is at Scandinavia House at 58 Park Ave, south of 38th St., at 8 PM on April 27. Cover is $15. The following night, April 28, she’s playing Lara Ewen’s prestigious Free Music Fridays series at the American Folk Art Museum at 5:30 PM.

Talvik’s 2015 album Big Sky Country – streaming at her music page – couldn’t be more aptly titled. Its wide expanses and purist, rustic playing explore themes of regret, disillusion, guarded hope. Talvik has obviously drunk deeply at the well of American and British folk music, adding her own fresh, distinctive voice to the tradition.

The album’s opening track, Aha-Aha is a more wide-angle take on the kind of open-tuned original Britfolk that groups like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention were doing in the early 70s, lushly arranged but tersely played by Talvik and dobro player Marcus Högquist, bassist Janne Manninen, and drummer Joakim Lundgren.”It’ll make you stronger, take a deep breath now,” Talvik encourages, airy and pensive. She does the same with an American bluegrass shuffle, Fairground, later on.

Driven by John Bullard’s banjo, the towering, waltzing title cut, a band-on-the-run anthem, is absolutely gorgeous. it wouldn’t be out of place in the Hungrytown songbook:

I left my heart in a dirty old bar
Laramie, Wyoming, I slept in my car

Burning dobro and spare banjo pair off with Mathis Richter-Reichhelm’s violin at the center in Dusty Heart, Empty Hand, a wistful Nashville gothic tale of abandonment. The album’s most riveting and most parlor pop-oriented cut is Lullaby, a distantly elegaic waltz. “It’s summer and everything is beautiful, still you wish you were dead,” Talvik intones in her precise, clipped delivery.

Bonfire has echoes of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, although it’s a lot more brisk. Talvik’s bright, lilting vocals downplay the sober lyrics of the banjo waltz Jasmine, Rose & Sage. Jozsef Nemeth’s piano ripples uneasily in tandem with David Floer’s cello in the late-Beatlesque ballad Give Me a Home, building to an understatedly windswept, orchestrated crescendo. The album winds up on an optimistic note with the airy love ballad So. There’s also a cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s American Indian freak-folk tune Starwalker. It’ll be interesting to see what else Talvik has come up with since this came out.

Americana Crooner Jack Grace’s Long-Awaited New Album Might Be His Best Yet

Back in the radio-and-records era, conventional wisdom was that a band’s first album was always their best. The theory was that in order to get a record deal, a group had to pull together all their most impressive songs. These days, that theory falls apart since artists can release material at their own pace rather than having to constantly deliver new product to the boss at the record label.

Still, how many artists do you know whose material is stronger than ever after twenty years of incessant touring and putting out the occasional album? Crooner/guitarist Jack Grace, arguably New York’s foremost and funniest pioneer of Americana and urban country, is one of that rare breed. His long, long awaited new Eric Ambel-produced album Everything I Say Is a Lie is arguably the best thing Grace has ever done, due out on April 28 and presumably streaming at Soundcloud at that point. Grace and his band are playing the album release show at around 8 PM on April 27 at Hifi Bar.

Interestingly, this is Grace’s most straight-ahead rock record to date: there’s plenty of C&W influence but no straight-up honkytonk this time around. It’s also more straightforwardly serious than Grace is known to be, especially onstage. As usual, the band is fantastic: a swinging rhythm section of ex-wife and Pre-War Pony Daria Grace on bass, with drummers Russ Meissner and Diego Voglino, plus Ambel contributing plenty of his signature, counterintuitive guitar and Bill Malchow on keys.

Driven by a catchy, tremoloing guitar riff, the album’s first song Burned by the Moonlight is a garage-soul number spiced with some characteristically savage lead work from Ambel. Grace’s voice has an unexpected, angry edge: “Let the wolves tear you heart out every night,” he rasps. Kanye West (I Hear That You’re the Best) is Grace at his most hilarious. “Taylor Swift, I hear you’ve got a gift, I don’t want to hear any more about it…Kardashians are so beautiful, Lindsay Lohan’s problems are so real.” As good as the lyrics are, this slowly swaying late Beatlesque anthem’s best joke is when it becomes a singalong.

Run to Me follows the kind of allusively brooding desert rock tangent that Grace was often going off on five or ten years ago. “Evil has connections we can use,” he muses. Being Poor, a song for our time if there ever was one, has a stark, rustic Steve Earle folk-blues vibe: “It’s all got you down on your knees, no power to question why.”

Bad Wind Blowing has a tense, simmering roadhouse rock sway and a souful vocal cameo from Norah Jones: “Lean against the wind or get your ass blown to the ground.” Then Grace shifts gears into wry charmer mode with the steady backbeat Highway 61 rock of I Like You.

He sings the almost cruelly sarcastic title ballad over Malchow’s Lennonesque piano; Ambel’s twelve-string guitar break is just as surreal. Again, this song’s best joke is a musical one. By contrast, the album’s most crushingly relevant cut is Get Out. “We really used to try to get out of Brooklyn, now everybody’s trying to get in,” Grace laments over a stark banjo/guitar backdrop. It’ll resonate with anybody who remembers the days (ten years ago if anybody’s counting) before every entitled, recently relocated yuppie tourist in New York was starting a band named after this city’s second-most-expensive borough.

The album closes on a similarly somber note with So We Run, an unexpected and successful detour into early 70s style psychedelic Britfolk. Good to see a guy who’s been one of the most reliably good tunesmiths in town still at it, and at the top of his game.

Joshua James Brings His Gothic Americana to the Mercury Tonight

Joshua James plays a surrealistic 21st century take on Nashville gothic and folk noir. He likes minor keys and ominous nature imagery. The production on his new album, My Spirit Sister – not yet streaming at Bandcamp, but due there at the end of the month and serendipitously available on vinyl – manages to be sleek and digital without dulling the edge of James’ song cycle. There’s an understatedly symphonic sweep to what’s essentially a theme and variations. He’s got a gig tonight with his band at the Mercury at 8. If you didn’t already get your $15 advance ticket, it’ll cost you three bucks more, which is as pricy as that venue gets these days. But James is worth it.

The album’s indelibly catchy opening track is Broken Tongue. It’s like the shadow side of a 60s Simon and Garfunkel folk-rock hit, with shivery digital reverb effects on the many layers of guitars over a steady backbeat anchored by bassist Isaac Russell and drummer Timmy Walsh. In his flinty twang, the Nebraskan songwriter ponders alienation and the struggle to communicate through the debris of a lifetime worth of damage.

As the similarly brooding yet propulsive Coyote Calling moves along, the guitars of James and Evan Coulombe slash and stab through the digital haze: in a subtle way, it’s the album’s funniest song. It segues into Real Love, a creepy hitchhiking narrative which mirrors the opening track. Is the “mighty wind that’s gonna lift you up” a tornado, a fire-and-brimstone religious metaphor, or both?

The crushing, distorted electric guitars return in Golden Bird, a druggy, apocalyptic tale that unwinds amidst the contrast of high lonesome, reverbtoned guitar twang and a crushing, distorted chordal attack. James paints an understatedly cynical portrait of rural white ghetto nickel-and-diming: it’s like Tom Waits backed by Jessie Kilguss’ band.

In a swaying Wallflowers/Deer Tick rock vein, Pretty Feather is the first pop-oriented number here. Backbone Bend, which nicks the chord progression from a familiar Prince hit, strays further beyond Americana than any of the other tracks. Losin’ My Mind is a tasty reverb guitar-fueled update on vintage 60s acoustic Dylan. In Dark Cloud, James weaves a richly detailed story about a young couple hanging on by their fingernails: you can see the end coming a mile away, but it still packs  an impact. The cycle winds up with the Springsteen-folk of Blackbird Sorrow, which is a decent song, although the ending is too pat: dark clouds don’t usually vanish from the sky as fast and inexplicably as they do here. It’ll be interesting to see where James goes after this.

The Cactus Blossoms’ Moody Americana Hits the Spot Gently at Lincoln Center

Last night at the Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center, the Cactus Blossoms built a lowlit, Lynchian ambience, rising out of it occasionally with hints of rockabilly, Tex-Mex and a detour into rambunctious Vegas noir. It was indicative of how much edgier the American Songbook series here is now. Tonight’s show features blue-flame oldschool soul songstress Ruby Amanfu; showtime is 8 PM, and be aware that latecomers aren’t allowed in.

It wouldn’t be overhype to mention brothers Jack Torrey, who played artfully terse leads on a shortscale Guild guitar, and rhythm guitarist sibling Page Burkum in the same sentence as the Everlys or the Louvins. Their blend of voices is every bit as celestial, and often heartbreaking as either of those two iconic Americana acts, and they work it for all it’s worth. Burkum didn’t talk to the audience at all; Torrey didn’t do that much either, and then only with a laconic, aw-shucks Midwestern modesty.

The night’s most stunningly relevant number was the disconsolate border ballad Adios Maria. Awash in longing and doomed acceptance, it spoke for anyone dreading deportation, or, possibly even worse, an early-morning raid to snare a loved one. Introducing a shuffling, vintage C&W flavored take of Chuck Berry’s Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Torrey spoke of being on tour in Europe during the Presidential inauguration back in January and missing Obama’s presence in the Oval Office. “I hope they hear this over at the Trump Tower,” he deadpanned.

Otherwise, this band lets the music speak for itself.If there ever was a retro group for this era, the Cactus Blossoms are it. Even the upbeat Happy Man, with its 50s R&B allusions, positioned its central character in a gloomy context. The most surrealistically dark of all the songs, Burkum’s Powder Blue, used the Twin Peaks theme as a stepping-off point to build a backdrop that was equal parts lovestruck rapture and understated dread. Torrey’s more country-flavored Queen of Them All worked that territory with similar, wounded grace; then the band picked up the pace with a swaying cover of the Kinks’ Who’ll Be the Next In Line, followed by Torrey’s honkytonk-spiced kissoff anthem A Sad Day to Be You.

They went into sardonic, rockabilly-tinged territory for Clown Collector and drew the night’s loudest applause with the surprisingly jaunty Stoplight Kisses. Burkum and Torrey wove their harmonies with the kind of intuitive chemistry that you would expect from family members, while the latter parsed the songs with muted early-rock leads, slinky Nashville licks and hints of electrified bluegrass. And the rhythm section was tremendous. Bassist Andy Carroll swung as judiciously as Torrey did, playing his Guild hollowbody model just a hair behind the beat with a little treble bite in his tone. Drummer Chris Hepola switched judiciously from sticks to brushes, pushing the quieter numbers with a rapt rimshot beat, then breaking out his mallets for the voodoo groove of the obscure Vegas C&W novelty Uncle John’s Bongos. For their first encore, the brothers voiced the high/low contrasts of the Beatles’ This Boy rather than the moodier internal harmonies, something of a departure from what they’d been doing all night. The Cactus Blossoms’ tour continues; their next stop is in their hometown Minneapolis on around 10 PM on April 14 at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Union Theatre.

Dark Crooner Mark Sinnis Releases His Catchiest, Hardest Country Record

There’s not a little irony in that baritone crooner Mark Sinnis’ catchiest and hardest country record comes out of the most difficult and arguably most complicated time in his life as a recording artist. His latest album, One Red Rose Among the Dying Leaves – streaming at Spotify – picks up the doomed tangent he began in 2012 with It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter. At that point, his marriage was on life support this one traces the despair that followed in its wake, yet paradoxically it’s Sinnis’ most hopeful album ever. Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

As you might expect from Sinnis’ most traditional country album, there’s plenty of reverence for and references to to a century of tradition. The Elvis homage In Tupelo opens it; a homage to New York’s one and only country station, 1050 WHN, which aired at that frequency on the AM dial from 1941 to 1987, closes it on a similarly nostalgic note.

In between, there’s On This Thanksgiving Day, a cruel Johnny Cash-flavored anthem chronicling Sinnis’ departure/eviction from his Westchester home (he’s since resettled in North Carolina). There’s the towering, angst-fueled, Orbison-esque bolero that serves as the album’s title traack, inspired by an actual flower Sinnis discovered the day he moved out of his home in the frigid winter of 2014. It graces the album’s back cover.

Why Should I Cry Over You is a brisk, propulsive minor-key honkytonk blues number. There are a couple of older songs dating from Sinnis’ days fronting gothic-tinged art rock band Ninth House, notably the haunting When the Sun Bows to the Moon – “You create your own atmosphere, breathe your own tainted air” – and the creeping, low-key, doomed Jealousy.

There’s surprisingly upbeat, optimistic material here too. Love, Love Love (You’re Such a Four Letter Word) is a funny and wickedly catchy update on Don Gibson-style 1960s country-pop. Five Days, Seven Nights looks back to the roots of alt-country and bands like the Mekons, but with more finesse. Where It All Ends, a 70s style country ballad, serves as the album’s quietly triumphant coda.

Siting at the Heartbreak Saloon wouldn’t be out of place in the classic-era Merle Haggard songbook. And the album’s best song, Tough Love Is All She’s Got, is one of the all-time greatest kiss-off anthems ever written. See, on the surface, this retro chick – as he tells it, Sinnis’ ex – looks like a classic car from 1956 or so. But wait – pop the hood! Fans of classic country from Lefty Frizzell, to Waylon and Willie, to Jack Grace will love this album A period-perfect and smart, tersely recorded performance from multi-instrumentalists Stephen Gara-  who plays everything from banjo to bagpipes – ass well as W. D. Fortay on lead guitar, Ken Lockwood on fiddle, Brian Aspinwall on pedal steel and trumpet, Lee Compton on lead trumpet, Mike Gross on bass and Michael Lillard on drums.

The Long Ryders and Lorraine Leckie at Bowery Ballroom: Two Generations of Smart Americana Rock

Last night at Bowery Ballroom, the Long Ryders opened with their big 1983 college radio hit Tell It to the Judge on Sunday – an ominously scampering mashup of electrified bluegrass and the 13th Floor Elevators – and encored with a singalong of the rapidfire, Dylanesque imagery of Looking for Lewis and Clark. Despite a layoff of more than two decades, and the fact that they hadn’t played Manhattan in almost three, the guys who pretty much invented Americana rock all by themselves proved little worse for the time away. Beyond their three excellent albums from that era, and the new four-disc retrospective Final Wild Songs that came out earlier this year, the quartet distinguished themselves with vocals as well as a deep, and, when you think about it, surprisingly eclectic back catalog. Can you name another rock band from that era, or any other, with three lead singers as strong as guitarists Sid Griffin and Stephen McCarthy and bassist Tom Stevens? Isn’t it weird to hear songs like And She Rides – whose infamously funny video Griffin mentioned toward the end of the set – and realize just how good a new wave band these guys were when they weren’t using Griffin’s Kentucky roots as a stepping-off point for a brand-new style that combined punk energy with rootsy rusticity?

Stevens ended up taking the lion’s share of lead vocals and a handful of tantalizingly brief bass breaks, more than you’d expect from a country-rock band. McCarthy switched between his signature twangy Telecaster leads and searing steel guitar. Counterintuitively, the high point of the show was midway through the set, when Griffin, playing twelve-string Rickenbacker, led the band through an insistently raging cover of Dylan’s Masters of War, McCarthy adding menace with his blazing, upward and then descending steel slides. They kept that intensity going with a broodingly lingering take of Two Kinds of Love. Methodically and energetically, the band aired out most of the hits – and there were a lot of them: the wry shuffle Run Dusty Run, the pensively jangly Ivory Tower, You Can’t Ride the Boxcars Anymore and Mel Tillis’ Sweet Sweet Mental Revenge..

Opening act Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons had come to conquer, and the charismatic Canadian-American frontwoman was taking no prisoners.“If you ask me, I’m for immediate impeachment on the grounds of extreme ugliness,” the wiry, black-clad singer asserted. Hitting their stride right off the bat with a classic 1979 CBGB-style powerpop shuffle, Language of the Night, they roared and stomped through material as diverse as the enigmatic, Neil Young/Crazy Horse sway of Beware and the New Orleans shout-out Rebel Devil Devil Rebel – title track to Leckie’s 2014 album.

Drummer Keith Robinson kept an energetic swing going in tandem with bassist Charlie DeChants as guitarist Hugh Pool and violinist Pavel Cingl – just in from Prague – teamed up for a slinky, elegantly fugal duel during the volcanic coda, Ontario. But the best song of the night might have been when Leckie went centerstage with just her vocals and acoustic guitar for a brand new co-write with the Jigsaw Seen‘s Dennis Davison, possibly titled The Owl. It wasn’t clear whether the song’s narrator gets lured away and then overdoses, or gets murdered, but either way, the audience responded with rapt silence: you could have heard a pin drop. And Bowery Ballroom was packed. The Long Ryders are at Cafe Nine in New Haven tonight, Nov 11 for lucky Fairfield County peeps; Leckie is at Sidewalk on Nov 18 at 11.

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.