New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: alt country

Nora Jane Struthers Brings Her Fiery New Americana Rock to Joe’s Pub

Nora Jane Struthers made herself a name in newgrass, more or less. Her previous album, Carnival, was a gorgeously purist blend of original acoustic Americana. But Struthers likes to rock out. Her new album, Wake – streaming at Bandcamp – is a burning Americana rock record, a harder-hitting take on recent Amanda Shires or vintage Lucinda Williams. Struthers and the newly configured version of her band the Party Line – guitarists Josh Vana and Joe Overton, bassist Brian Duncan Miller and drummer Drew Lawhorn – are hitting Joe’s Pub this Saturday night, March 14 at 9:30 PM. General admission is $15.

The new album is a real jolt of adrenaline, fueled by the contrast between Vana’s searing, resonant, rock-flavored leads and fills and Overton’s classic honkytonk and bluegrass lines on an arsenal of instruments including banjo, fiddle and steel guitar. This time out, Struthers’s voice relies more on a potent, unleashed low register that often channels unease and anger, which kicks in immediately on the opening cut, The Same Road, rising to a searing wail on the chorus with Vana’s distorted chords.

“Home’s a place you’re supposed to feel at ease…the Frigidaire is looking like a tomb,” Struthers broods on the oldschool honkytonk shuffle Dreamin’. She revisits that theme later on the album’s most oldtimey track, Other Side, hoping she could someday feel at home in her hometown. By contrast, When I Wake builds out of a hypnotically vamping intro to a gently syncopated, artfully arranged midtempo stroll.

“You don’t miss water if you only drink wine,” Struthers reminds on Mistake, a shuffling, electrified banjo tune. Lovin’ You is pretty straight-up backbeat Americana pop, like something off the second Wallflowers album – you know, the one with the big hits – with blue-flame slide guitar welded on for extra edge. Likewise, I Ain’t Holdin’ Back, with its southern-fried blues drive. And if you switched out Overton’s raw, biting fiddle for another guitar on the rapidfire southern boogie blues shuffle I Don’t Care, you’d have a Molly Hatchet song.

“The truth is I didn’t see the wire til I saw the bird,” Struthers laments on The Wire, a catchy, indignant backbeat anthem, part roaring, Stonesy Steve Earle Americana rock, part Lou Reed, with a characteristically aphoristic lyric. Let Go has the feel of a punchier version of that song, punctuated by Vana’s screaming multitracked leads.

The South is a gently hazy but emphatic tribute to country living – as someone born in Virginia but who grew up in New Jersey, Struthers doesn’t take fresh air and piney woods for granted. The album also includes a bluegrass-infused, mostly-instrumental version of the song along with a “radio edit” of I Don’t Care.

Maynard & the Musties Put Out a Cool New Album of Wry, Surreal Country Songs

Songwriter Joe Maynard is one of New York’s urban country pioneers. He got his start here back around the turn of the century, fronting a funny band called the Illbillies, then went in a more trad direction, at least musically, with the Millerite Redeemers, who morphed into Maynard & the Musties. When not playing music, Maynard’s gig is dealing in rare books, which explains the band name. Although his songs can be LMFAO funny, they’re just as likely to be poignant or even haunting, sometimes with a defiant political edge. And unlike so many of the recent transplants here who call themselves country but are as country as Blake Shelton, Maynard originally hails from Nashville. That might have something to do with how oldschool his mix of honkytonk anthems, cry-in-your-beer ballads and brooding Nashville gothic tales can be. And as much as the band can channel a vintage C&W sound, they can also really rock out when they want. They’re headlining an excellent Americana triplebill on March 11 at the Way Station, with brassy, female-fronted rockabilly band Rocket J & the 88s opening at 9, followed by Dr. Bluegrass and the Illbillies (no relation to Maynard’s old band) at 10 and then Maynard himself at 11.

Their latest album, Fall On In – streaming at Bandcamp – was produced by Americana maven and ex-Lakeside Lounge honcho Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who also contributes some of his signature guitar. This band went through a million drummers: none of them worked out until they found Pierre Scoffini, who’s absolutely brilliant, and Ambel obviously had a lot of fun capturing his offbeat cymbal swooshes and counterintuitive snare hits.

Lead player Mike Randall doesn’t waste any time throwing off some restlessly growling six-string lines on the opening track, the swamp-rock flavored Evil Flower. The C&W shuffle Smart Ass, spiced with Jonathan Gregg’s rippling pedal steel, offers a sardonic look at the value of higher education. The fiery Americana rock tune Chinese Jail is Maynard – who’s never sung more vigorously than he does here, over a backdrop of slowly phased Exile on Main Street guitars – at his surrealistic, twisted best.

With its gorgeous web of jangling, twanging guitar from Randall, Mo Botton, Gregg and Maynard himself, Road to Ruin paints an even more twisted urban picture, and has an absolutely hilarious line about sex with a woman of a certain age. Death is a departure into creepy circus rock, bassist Chet Hartin adding accordion over the vaudevillian pulse of Dikko Faust’s trombone. The gently swinging, wistful Broken Angel dates back to the Millerite Redeemers days.

The slow, uneasily misty Waiting on a Train brings to mind John Prine – a guy Maynard often evokes – at his most wryly allusive, fiddler Naa Koshie Mills adding stark, bagpipe-ish textures. Part honkytonk, part western swing, Boozy Memory is the album’s funniest track. The weirdest track is another older tune, The Beef Trade in Suede, reinvented here as a Tex-Mex number. The scariest one is Caroline and Danny, a tale of obsession and cheating gone horribly wrong. The album winds up with the joyously careening We Are The People!, which could be an Occupy anthem, and the morbid miniature Everyone’s Dead. Fans of the lyrical side of Americana from Alex Battles to Steve Earle ought to check this out.

Girls Guns and Glory Bravely Tackle a Bunch of Hank Williams Classics

Why on earth would you want to do a whole album of Hank Williams covers? What could you possibly add to those iconic songs that could be better than the originals? OK, maybe you could completely reinvent them like Bryin Dall and Derek Rush did on their absolutely chilling Deconstructing Hank, transposing everything into a minor key and adding a layer of sepulchral atmospherics on top.

Or you could rip the hell out of them like George Thorogood did back when he was actually good. Girls Guns and Glory bravely tackle the challenge of amping up the songs while hanging onto a retro sensibility on their new album of Hank covers, most of which is streaming online. And it’s a rousing and improbable success. The Boston band recorded it on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day at hometown venue the Lizard Lounge in tribute to the last two shows he never got to play (he died in the back of that white Cadillac on January 1, 1953). The four-piece group – frontman Ward Hayden on guitar, Chris Hersch on lead guitar and banjo, Paul Dilley on bass and piano and Josh Kiggans on drums – are currently on East Coast tour, and would almost assuredly be making at stop at Rodeo Bar if it was still open. This time around they’ll be at the big room at the Rockwood on Feb 26 at 8 PM – kind of sad to see how the Rodeo scene has been dispersed, hasn’t it?

Most of the songs are pretty obvious choices, and they’re more bittersweet than sad. Hersch is the star of the show here: he spices Moanin’ the Blues with a nimble Chuck Berry-style solo as Hayden alternates between a high lonesome wail and a more exuberant bar-band delivery. Likewise, Hersch’s keening slide work soars over fiddler Jason Anick’s spare, oldschool lines on Hey Good Lookin. And an unexpected rampage down the fretboard steals the show from Miss Tess and Della Mae‘s Celia Woodsmith, who add exuberant harmonies on an otherwise straight-ahead take of Move It on Over. They do the same a bit later, on My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.

The two Americana songstresses also lend their voices to a steady, wistful take of Your Cheatin’ Heart, then the band gives So Lonesome I Could Cry an almost stalking, swaying, suspenseful groove. Honkytonk Blues is yet another showcase for Hersch’s uncanny ability to impersonate a pedal steel.

Rockin’ Chair Money is an unexpected choice, and a good one: the hypnotic, jangly, resonant sway absolutely nails Hank’s understated desperation. Anick’s wild spiraling on I Saw the Light is arguably the album’s most exhilarating moment. There’s also a more-or-less obligatory version of Jambalaya; a liquored-up take of Dear John where everybody gamely takes a turn on vocals despite there being no mic in back with the drums; and a stark, vividly elegaic bonus version of Old Log Train with Lake Street Dive’s Mike Calabrese on bass.

Dark Country Crooner Mark Sinnis Puts Out His Most Haunting Album

Purists complain when their favorite style of music changes. Sometimes they have a point – drum machines and bling-bling hip-hop product placements in country music? Barf.

But consider: if a style doesn’t change, that means it’s dead. Mark Sinnis personifies the cutting edge in this era’s country music, aware of tradition and immersed in it yet taking it to genuinely exciting new places. While his new album It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter (streaming at Spotify) is his deepest immersion in hard honkytonk, he also sounds like no other artist in country music anywhere. It’s what you get from a guy who grew up on the classics – Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, most obviously – but as a musician, cut his teeth playing new wave and gothic rock. Doktor John of the Aquarian called his music”cemetery and western,” and the term stuck. It’s an apt way to describe Sinnis’s doomed vision and individualistic blend of classic C&W and Nashville gothic.

It’s a long album, well over an hour’s worth of music, almost unthinkable in today’s world. Themes of drinking to kill the pain, death and life beyond the grave recur throughout it. Sinnis’ resonant baritone, always a strength, has never been more soulful or expressive, or more highly nuanced. He was good fifteen years ago fronting ferocious dark rockers Ninth House – who’ve been through a million lineup changes, and are still more or less active – but he’s great now.

Lee Compton’s trumpet and Brian Aspinwall’s pedal steel team up to give the album’s Texas shuffle of a title track an ominous southwestern gothic touch. Sinnis sings Wine and Whiskey and the Devil Makes Three with George Jones inflections without making it blatantly derivative. Interestingly, Aspinwall’s mellow steel work gives a cover of the Ernest Tubb honkytonk hit Driving Nails in My Coffin an almost Hawaiian feel.

Six Feet from Eternity opens with the story of Mary Ann Slouson, who died at age thirty on August 25, 1854 – Sinnis’ birthday. A World with No Tomorrow, unlike what the title would suggest, is optimistic – with its slow Memphis soul groove, jaunty trumpet and unexpectedly biting garage rock guitar from virtuoso Smokey Chipotle (who colors the rest of the album with classic honkytonk licks straight out of 1962), it seems Sinnis got the visitation from his pal on the other side that he was hoping for.

Sitting at the Heartbreak Saloon has a Tex-Mex sway and the feel of a Conway Twitty hit fromthe 70s with better production values and a more boozy milieu. Sunday Mourning Train works a period-perfect grim 1968-style Johnny Cash chunk-ka-chunk shuffle. Cemeteries and Centuries broodinglyand hypnotically contemplates “Sobering realities,” as Sinnis puts it, “Like waiting for a train, one by one we go.” A lingering, slow cover of the George Jones classic He Stopped Loving Her Today revisits that ambience a little later on, fueled by Zach Ingram’s funeral parlor organ.

On a Cold Night in December sets a haunting overnight train narrative to a loping southwestern gothic beat. Open Road of Memories has a bittersweet, nocturnal bounce, a mid 60’s-style Nashville September song. Down Old Route Number Nine makes a dirge out of Merle Travis Sixteen Tons-style country blues, swaying along with Stephen Gara’s resolute banjo. And Sinnis puts an update on Johnny Cash spoken-word pieces from the 60s with The Angel of Death. The album winds up with another Cash soundalike, In Harmony, a catchy if utterly morbid coda that makes uneasy peace with the inevitability of the grave. There are also a couple of remakes of older Sinnis songs here: a surprisingly gentle take of the corrosive kiss-off anthem Mistaken for Love, and a lustrous version of the Ninth House classic Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me. You’ll see this here again in a few days on the Best Albums of 2014 page.

Aiofe O’Donovan Brings Her Cutting-Edge, Purist Americana Tunesmithing to the Upper West

Aiofe O’Donovan is cool. The Crooked Still singer/guitarist played one of the outdoor concerts at Madison Square Park a couple of months ago and wasn’t impressed by that burger joint there with the interminably long lines – and if you’d been standing downwind in the greasy smoke wafting from the kitchen, you wouldn’t have been either. “Is the food really that good?” she asked, skeptical. A lone guy sheepishly put his his hand. “OK, if you say so,” she grinned back.

O’Donovan makes her living on the road, whether playing bluegrass classics, singing in progressive jazz icon Dave Douglas’ group, with symphony orchestras, or doing her own stuff. September’s show was mostly original material, much of it taken from her debut solo album, Fossils, and it was consistently excellent. If you missed the show – and a lot of people did – she’s making a quick swing through town, in between Crooked Still reunion shows, for a free concert at 7:30 PM on Nov 13 at the Lincoln Center Atrium. It’s not clear who’s playing when, but she’s on the bill with a solid quartet of performers: explosive New Orleans trombonist/gospel shouter Glen David Andrews; Elle King, who is sort of an Americana counterpart to Cat Power; and charming guy/girl harmony duo the Spring Standards. These shows are a neighborhood institution and fill up fast, so the earlier you get there, the better: you can probably expect about a half an hour from each act.

O’Donovan, being a runner, likes to jump around a lot onstage, and reveled in the chance to do that at the park because, as she explained, she’d been playing on a boat where that hadn’t been an option. Backed by terse upright bass, drums and lead guitar, she mixed up ballads and more upbeat numbers. As you might expect from someone in a band whose name refers to moonshine, whiskey figures into a lot of her songs, from the swaying, John Prine-influenced opening number, Oh Mama, to a jaunty country blues punctuated by a bouncy bass solo a little later on.

They followed the broodingly shuffling Thursday’s Child, fueled by Austin Nevins’ lingering, red-sunset guitar leads with a slower but similarly simmering, late-summery tune. O’Donovan sang Briar Rose with a moodily insistence as ambulance sirens passed north of the park. It was cool to watch the group mash up trad styles with electric rock energy, without turning it into cliched 70s-style dadrock, then going deep into the Appalachian catalog. And through it all O’Donovan soared, and sailed, and brought edge and bite to the songs when they asked for them, as songs do. It’s not clear if O’Donovan will have a band with her at the Lincoln Center show or not, but either way she’s a lot of fun live.

Urban Country Legend Amy Allison Returns to Her Old East Village Stomping Ground This Sunday

It was fun to see Amy Allison make a return trip last month to what’s left of the East Village where she started. The iconic Americana songwriter played a mix of hits and unexpected new treats to an adoring crowd upstairs at 2A, where she’s on the bill again this Sunday Oct 19 at 10. Last time out was a duo show with brilliant guitarist Jon Graboff, her longtime bandmate back in the day who’ll be joining her along with bassist Richard Hammond this time out.

After she’d run through the coy Shakespearean country song Love’s Labors Lost – only Amy Allison could pull off a Shakespearean country song and make it not sound fake – she told the crowd that she’d wanted to change one of the verses to “My love for you is real/Her tits are fake,” in honor of the recently deceased Joan Rivers. But Allison forgot to do that. So she told that to the audience. Since her music is so nuanced and meticulous, just like her minutely jeweled vocals, she’ll own up to a mistake if it gets a laugh…or adds another level of meaning to the many others. She’s like that.

Emmylou Harris is going to cover Allison’s song Her Hair Was Red – a dedication to her grandmother – on her next album, so she played that wistful, nostalgic number, as well as the more rapt Everywhere You Are Is Where I Am. Graboff lit up the distantly Orbisonesque Don’t Go to Sleep with some richly jazzy phrasing, then echoed that later when the two teamed up for a broodingly ominous cover of Was, by her famous jazzcat dad Mose Allison. They romped through Blue Plate Special, a bittersweet portrait of her days living in Memphis, then Garden State Mall, her poignant tale of a girl who ends up with barely enough in her wallet to justify the expedition. Then they got more optimistic – sort of, anyway – with Pretty Things to Buy, which might have been inspired by her days working in retail at a boutique a few blocks south. In those days, New York musicians could actually pay rent without inherited money.

She encored with Sad Girl, the title track to the album Elvis Costello picked as one of his favorites, a song she’s played over and over again. It’s sort of her signature song, and she still sings it like it’s the first time, aching and hopeful despite all evidence to the contrary. Which is why she’s such a treasure. Upstairs at 2A this Sunday night – c’mon, it’s Professional Night, all the amateurs will be asleep in their beds – is where it’s at.

Lachlan Bryan & the Wildes Bring Their Purist, Eclectic Americana All the Way from Australia

Much as the annual CMJ festival has been the butt of umpteen jokes for the last couple of decades – including a lengthy one from this blog – there always end up being a few gems amidst the detritus. And because CMJ is so scattered, and so many of the shows are so poorly attended, there’s usually no competition, and no cover charge, for the choicest acts. Lachlan Bryan is one of them. The Australian Americana bandleader/songwriter is about to tackle a marathon Dives of New York schedule with his excellent, purist band the Wildes, no doubt showcasing material from their new album Black Coffee (streaming at Bandcamp). They’re supposed to be at Bowery Electric tonight, even though theyr’e not on the club’s calendar. They’re at the small room at the Rockwood tomorrow Oct 16 at midnight, at the Path Cafe on the 17th at 10, at Goodbye Blue Monday on the 18th, also at 10 and then at Fifth Estate Bar in Park Slope on the 19th sometime after 9 (neither Bryan’s site nor the bar’s site have any info). Then the band are off to Richmond, where they will no doubt go over well.

One of the things that’s most immediately striking about Bryan is how down-to-earth and conversational his vocals are. They be some bo-ahs from Plain Failed, Noo Jers-ay who be doin’ this here Amereecana mus-eck, yes’m, ayund they talkin’ lahk they growed up in Alleybam even though they nevuh spent a lick o’tahm they-uh, nosuh. Bryan is not one of those bo-ahs. And he’s full of surprises. The album’s opening track, 309, sounds at first like it’s a pretty straight-up, electrified ripoff of a famous Dylan song, but it turns out to be a murder ballad. That’s a good idea of where this guy is going.

The second cut, Big Fish, mines a similar minor-key, bluesy feel, Bryan cynically contemplating a tug-of-war between the sexes where guys who don’t exactly take the moral high road – his protagonist included – lead unsuspecting women down the road to ruin. They follow that with You, Me & the Blues, a motoring post-Chuck Berry shuffle in the same vein as what Nick Lowe was doing with Rockpile thirty years ago. Then they go back to dark Americana with the paisley underground ballad Death Wish Country, spare dobro intertwining with lingering electric lead lines.

Dragging My Chain works as a mix of noir soul and blue-flame C&W, Memphis meets Nashville circa 1964. The album’s title track goes back to the neo-Dylan, but channeled through the wry prism of Jack Grace. The optimistic Change in the Wind brings to mind early 70s Kris Kristofferson, contrasting with the album’s most searing track, The CEO Must Die, a brutally insightful look at the psychology of going postal.
The album winds up with Kiss Me or Kill Me, a brooding oldschool country tune not unlike the Flatlanders, and then the pedal steel-driven ballad Forty Days and Nights. New Yorkers who want to see Americana done with soul, and purpose, and no wasted notes, ought to see this guy while he’s here.

Shelley King Brings Her Southern Gospel, Soul and Country Fire to Manhattan

Shelley King is a big deal in Texas. The Arkansas-born, Austin-based bandleader has a sizzling new album, Building a Fire – streaming at Spotify – and a free show tonight at 9 PM at Hill Country. If they give her any amperage in the PA, there won’t be a tourist there who can drown her out. King’s music is retro in the best way possible, drawing on oldtime gospel, C&W and soul, and the band on the album is killer. A couple of Subdudes do much of the heavy lifting: John Magnie on accordion and organ and Steve Amedee on drums, with Marvin Dykhuis on guitars, dobro and mandolin, Sarah Brown on bass and cameos from fellow Austinites Warren Hood, Cindy Cashdollar and Carolyn Wonderland. King’s soulful midrange vocals are down-to-earth but full of bristling intensity and a little grit in places: the influence of the southern gospel church is everywhere. .

The album’s title track is a swaying, subtly blues-tinged, ominous noir soul song. King follows that with Grace, a stark, stripped-down oldtime gospel shuffle with nifty accordion and slow-burning slide guitar. King gets even more intense on the traditional gospel tune I Know I’ve Been Changed a little later on, over more of that blue-flame slide work.

The best song on the album is The Ones You Don’t See Coming, a gorgeous backbeat country tune, King working her oldschool metaphors for all they’re worth:

Hidden from the radar in the still of the night
Left total devastation in the morning light
Rain-wrapped tornado, invisible storm
Never saw it coming, no sirens to warn
Worst are the ones you don’t see coming…

Things You Do is a brisk, hard-hitting soul-blues number anchored by dirty, distorted Rhodes piano, while The Real Thing offers the flipside of that vibe, roto organ propelling the wamly swaying soul ballad. King learned Larry Campbell’s bittersweet gospel anthem When I Go Away from Levon Helm, offering it up here as a darkly soaring tribute to her old pal.

The rustically waltzing 1940s Eyes mines a wistful acoustic string band vein, then King and band pick up the pace with the punchy organ-soul groove Hard Times Are No Match for Sweet Dreams. King brings back a bucolic, pre-bluegrass feel on the album’s closing cut, Moonlight.

There are also a couple of 70s style country-pop ballads here:, Talking ‘Bout the Weather and Lost in You, both substituting purist acoustic production values for Nashville big-studio gloss (and some tasty glockenspiel on the second one). Miranda Lambert only wishes she had material this catchy.

A Wild, Psychedelic Manhattan Show and an Upcoming Brooklyn Gig from the Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys make elegant, meticulously crafted albums that blend elements of bluegrass, delta blues, funk, soul and artsy chamber pop. Their most recent one, Riverbed, is one of 2014’s most compelling and eclectic releases. But onstage, they transform into a ferocious jamband: as improvisational rock crews go, there is no other New York band who are better at it, and that includes Steve Wynn‘s volcanic Miracle 3. The Sometime Boys are playing two long sets at the Way Station on the border of Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene on Sept 26 at 10 PM, and it’s free.

Their long show at the end of this past month at Bar 9 in Hell’s Kitchen – much of which has been immortalized on youtube – had everything the band is known for: expansive, explosive solos, mighty peaks, whispery lows, stop-on-a-dime changes, a sense of humor and a handful of covers that spanned the genres just as their originals do. The band’s brain trust, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege were known for putting on the occasional and spectacularly good cover night in their previous band, the mighty System Noise: their series of sold-out David Bowie nights are legendary. So it was no surprise to see Mucho reinvent Aretha’s Chain of Fools with a surprisingly nuanced bitterness (and a long, dancingly delicious Leege guitar solo); to deliver a rousingly New Orleans-flavored take of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a menacingly gleeful grin; or to hear her actually enunciate the lyrics of the dadrock standard Burn Down the Mission, unlike the guy who set it to music and sang it. And midway through the show, they invited their similarly charismatic pal Mark Bailey (no relation to the Houston Astros backstop) up to deliver vigorous versions of tunes by Neil Young, Jack White and the Proclaimers.

But it was the originals that everybody had come out for, which took centerstage. The opening number, the bluegrass-tinged Buskin’, peaked out with a jaunty Rebecca Weiner Tompkins violin solo. Mucho got a droll, sarcastic audience singalong going on the bouncy, zydeco-inflected Pharaoh, the band taking it down to just vocals before Leege pulled the beast back on the rails. Bird House began with a menacing art-rock guitar intro before they took it into noir folk territory, to a long, relentless, Jerry Garcia-esque solo that Leege capped off with an ominous Pink Floyd quote.

Likewise, the funky A Life Worth Living – a song that brought to mind an even earlier Mucho/Leege project, Noxes Pond – echoed the Grateful Dead at their peak. They went into more straight-ahead funk for the defiantly lyrical Modern Age, a little later bringing down the lights for a broodingly waltzing version of the country-tinged lament Master Misery, from the band’s debut album Any Day Now.

The best of the covers was an extended, tranced-out jam on Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced: the way Leege, drummer Jay Cowit and keyboardist/mandolinist Gypsy George matched the album version’s kaleidoscopic, psychedelic fragments and rhythmic blips was as funny as it was impressively faithful to both the spirit and the essence of the original.

Cowit and Mucho matter-of-factly exchanged hostilities on a duet of the tongue-in-cheek newgrass romp Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies, Leege wrapping it up with yet another methodically intense solo. Much as Mucho worked all the magic in her vocal arsenal, from smoky, sultry lows to stratospheric highs, it was Leege who really got the crowd screaming. Counterintuitively, they wound up the set with The Great Escape, a quietly glimmering suicide ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on the Dead’s American Beauty (and is currently this blog’s pick for best song of 2014). That took the bar crowd by surprise, but by the second verse they were quiet and listening again. It was a gentle reminder that this band has the muscle to overpower the yakking crowds at the Way Station.

Drina Seay Sings Haunting and Happy Americana at 2A

Drina Seay is one of the best-kept secrets in the New York Americana scene. Revered by her peers, she earned a reputation as a go-to harmony singer and then all of a sudden was fronting a killer band with a more-or-less regular residency at Lakeside Lounge. With Lakeside gone and Rodeo Bar out of the music business, she’s been without a home base, but she’s kept at it. She and the band – Homeboy Steve Antonakos on lead guitar, Monica “L’il Mo” Passin on bass and Eric Seftel on drums – were at the top of their game upstairs at 2A this past weekend, playing a characteristically rich mix of noir 60s rock, luridly torchy ballads, some janglerock and a little oldschool C&W.

The high point of the show was the slowest song, Chase My Blues Away. It’s a real showstopper, and Seay pulled out all the stops, beginning with just her own solo vocal-and-guitar intro before the drums came in, slow and dirgey. This time the song was more about the blues than chasing them away, at least until Antonakos did that midway through with a thrashing,  jaggedly menacing solo.

Seay kept the darkly twangy songcraft going, through a relatively new, enigmatic breakup song, part southwestern gothic, party noir Vegas shuffle, lit up by Antonakos’ eerie tarantella leads. His steely minimalist fills paired off against Seay’s crystalline, wounded vocals on Waking Up Crying. Then he played blazing slide guitar on the menacingly bouncy kiss-off anthem All For You over Passin’s torchy Pink Panther-style walking bassline.

Seay told the crowd that she’d written the unselfconsciously gorgeous, lushly nocturnal, oldtimey-flavored I Couldn’t Have Dreamed You on her ukulele, so she capoed her guitar way up in order to play the sweetly coy central hook. The rest of the set was more upbeat: the Sugar Magnolia-tinged Watcha Gonna Do; a slinky, nocturnal, Creedence-ish swamp rock tune; and a couple of animated, garage rock-flavored Antonakos tunes. They closed by taking Delaney & Bonnie’s early 70s top 40 hit Never Ending Song of Love full circle, back to the country that those Brits only wish they knew well enough to really get it right the first time around. Seay’s next show is Sept 19 at 9 PM at the Way Station in Ft. Greene; Antonakos is at Espresso 77, 35-57 77th St. in Jackson Heights tonight with his 1920s style Greek gangsta blues band Dervisi.