New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: americana pop

Americana Icon Kasey Chambers at the Top of Her Charismatic Game in the West Village Last Night

“I’m so happy to be here. I’m so happy that I got into your country,” Kasey Chambers smirked,  drawing chuckles throughout the crowd at City Winery last night. The Australian Lucinda Williams shook off the effects of an attack of laryngitis that she said had left her literally speechless a couple of days before, tickled the audience all night with her sharp sense of humor, and left them breathless with her distinctive brand of Americana that’s as purist as it is individualistic.

“What I like most about what I do is that I get to take your music back to Australia – I don’t tell them it’s yours, I tell them it’s mine. And then I sell it back to you,” she grinned. While country and blues are not indigenous to the Australian outback, she literally grew up singing that around the campfire. By the time this evening was over, she’d related a few zany stories about living off the land there, as her lead guitarist father Bill Chambers did with his wife and young daughter for the first ten years of her life. The younger Chambers included that detail along with a whole lot more  in the wryly torrential lyrics of a Woody Guthrie-influenced talking blues that capsulized her career from those earliest days to her discovery of Twisted Sister in her middle-school years, to her surprise 2000 hit The Captain. That catapulted her to genuine stardom on her home turf ,and earned her a devoted cult following here.

She closed her set with that plaintively swaying, angst-ridden folk-pop number and got a standing ovation for it. Before then, she mixed up old favorites with a handful of bluegrass and oldtime blues-flavored tracks from her lavish new double album Dragonfly. Her band slayed all night. Dad drove home daughter’s catchy choruses with his red-flame blues and slide licks on Telecaster as well as lapsteel on a few numbers, while she switched between acoustic guitar, dobro and then banjo on a couple songs.

Guitarist Brandon Dodd and drummer Josh Dufficy took centerstage midway through the show with a lickety-split romp through a feral oldtime blues of their own, the bandleader beaming at how she’d discovered their duo project Grizzlee Train playing a random backyard beach bar and decided on the spot that she wanted them in her band. Alongside them, bassist James Haselwood added bluesy bends and nimble melodic runs, both on Fender and then bass uke, essentially serving as a third lead guitarist

The high point of the night might have been Ain’t No Little Girl, the centerpiece of the new album, with its ferocious, blues-fueled crescendos and bitterly accusatory lyrics. Or, it might have been a mutedly rapt version of A Million Tears, from Chambers’ debut album. Or for that matter, it could have been the title track to her second album, Barricades and Brickwalls, an indomitably female take on pursuit and conquest. Her youngest son, age nine, contributed both cajon and a little harmonica to that one. All night long, Chambers belted at full force in her signature twang, coming across as just as badass as she was fifteen years ago,when she sold out the old Bottom Line. She was six months pregnant with her first child at the time.

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Rachael Kilgour’s New Album Transcends Trauma

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

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

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

Aie aie aie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting a Rare Gem by Jen Starsinic

Talk about working up a sweat: Jen Starsinic recorded her debut album, The Flood & the Fire (streaming at her music page) in hundred-degree Boston heat, with neither air conditioning nor fan, in the summer of 2013. The Nashville-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is hardly unknown – she toured extensively with David Mayfield, and is a staple on the folk festival circuit – but she deserves a wider audience. Vocally, she brings to mind the unselfconscious, plaintive depth and nuance of a young Erica Smith. Likewise, her songs run the gamut of Americana both old and new, from newgrass, to oldschool honkytonk, to more psychedelic pastoral sounds.

The album’s opening track, Time to Lose, an upbeat blend of newgrass and ethereal Americana pop, has a disarmingly down-to-earth bitttersweetness: ”Bones regrow but our heart doesn’t heal,” Starsinic explains, with just a millisecond of hesitation that packs a wallop. Ultimately, her message is  that there’s no shame in doing a second take if the first one doesn’t come out the way you want it. Likewise, the fiddle-fueled indian summer ballad Stay, a gentle nudge at a restless spirit who might just be happier in a relationship than in her “long years chasing boys around the block.”

The Only One Who Can Break a Heart is a morose vintage C&W ballad worthy of Laura Cantrell: “I’m damned if I stay, I’m damned if I try to leave you where you belong,” Starsinic laments. Oh My Darling‘s Allison de Groot lends her banjo to the low-key, John Prine-esque surrealism of Six Foot Three, while Molly Tuttle, of the Tuttles with AJ Lee, flatpicks on the intricately bristling, trickily syncopated Ragdolls.

With its stark blend of Starsinic’s fiddle and Eric Law’s cello, the understated escape anthem It’s a Foreign Thing puts a lushly textural spin on an antique Appalachian style. Mining its canary imagery for all it’s worth, Birdie in a Cage is just as allusive, and absolutely chilling despite the tune’s bluegrass warmth. The reverb on Starsinic’s voice in the lingering, woundedly pensive waltz Move in Time with Me matches the tremolo on her guitar.

Dive a Little Deeper sets Starsinic’s charmingly aphoristic yet characteristically brooding oceanic metaphors to an oldschool bluegrass stroll: “You can wait like a fool all sticky with sand for the water to wash your limbs, or you can wait like a fool all night and all day instead of wading deeper in.’

Charlie Rose’s atmospheric pedal steel hangs in the back throughout the even more disquieting Wildfire and its calm tale of a forest fire gone out of control. The gently but purposefully swaying Since You’ve Come Around winds up the album on a quietly shattering note, Starsinic pondering where the good times went “When it was dangerous you and cynical me.” Such a strong debut effort portends even better things for Starsinic: she’s somebody to keep an eye on.

Revisiting a Folk Noir Classic by Hungrytown

It might seem absurd that folk noir duo Hungrytown’s latest album Further West – streaming at Bandcamp -made the Best Albums of 2015 page here, yet never got a full writeup. That’s because if they made it to town last year, they did that before the album came over the transom. Where it sat, and sat, and sat, and that’s a crime: it’s by far their most vivid and intense album, in fact one of the most darkly memorable releases of the past many months.

Since the early zeros, singer Rebecca Hall and her multi-instrumentalist husband Ken Anderson have been working the darker corners of the folk milieu. Their most recent album before this, 2011’s Any Forgotten Thing took an impressively erudite detour into period-perfect 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk. This release is a return to their elegant acoustic roots, more or less, although a couple of the most quietly lingering tracks also explore the band’s psychedelic side. The elegantly waltzing, understatedly menacing title cut sets the stage:

Rocks in my pocket
Blood on the stairs
Followed you down to the sea

And the story only gets better from there. Hall’s calm, collected narrator eventually intimates that she’s leaving the crime scene for parts further west simply because she’s got better things to do.

The album’s version of Hard Way to Learn – the chilling opening track on Hall’s excellent 2000 solo album Rebecca Hall Sings! – gets a slightly bulked-up remake, awash in lush, multitracked harmonies, propelled by Anderson’s steady banjo and Lissa Scheckenburger’s stark fiddle. In Sometime, Hall turns on her pillowiest, most understatedly wounded delivery, anchored by funereal organ, revisiting a theme of learning the hard way:

Rushing through my brightest hour but favoring the dark
Believing every undying word is justified in part

Hall doesn’t bother to change any of the lyrics to fit a woman’s voice for a stark take of the old British folk ballad, Don’t You Let Me Down, and the result is even more surreal than the original. And the bit about how “the bank man stole it all away” makes it even more relevant, here at the end of the real estate bubble era. The harrowingly catchy Day for Night takes that theme further into the present:

Losing streak, trying to sail, over dry land
Losing sleep, promise to pay, no money in hand
And the cold’s rolling in from the north…
So many ways, ways to go wrong, so we just go along
And the trucks run their engines all night
We’ll sleep in the glare of the streetlight

Hall and Anderson duet a-cappella and keep that hardscrabble ambience going with the bitter migrant work lament Pastures of Plenty. They pick up the pace with the Lynchian vintage C&W of Don’t Cross That Mountain, the bit of extra reverb on Hall’s voice matched by Anderson’s ominously echoey guitar. Then they revisit the indian summer psychedelia of their previous album with the hypnotic, uneasily starlit Highway Song:

Moon rolls down the highway
Playing hide and seek
Stop along the meadow
Tickling his cheek

Suzanne Mueller’s austere cello underpins the stately, heartbroken minor-key waltz Ramparts and Bridges. Anderson’s twinkling electric piano mingles with low-key fingerpicked guitar on Static, an enigmatic night drive that might or might not be a sequel to the title track: “I know how you feel to have lost every signal you once had,” Hall intones gently. The album ends up with the elegantly trad Eastward Forests, Westward Hills and then the spare, menacingly aphoristic Troubles in Between:

December, sorry, slept right through.
January, missed you too.
Sped past March, April and May
Sometimes it’s best to keep away

Not only is this one of the best albums of 2015, if’s one of the best of the decade, if anybody’s counting. Hungrytown’s next gig is actually sort of close to home, a free outdoor show tonight at 6:30 PM at Harborfront Park, 101A East Broadway in Port Jefferson, Long Island.

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.

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.

Linda Draper Plays One of the Year’s Most Memorable Shows, Then Hits Williamsburg on the 28th

Liz Tormes and Linda Draper made a calmy intense twinbill back in October, each folk noir tunesmith playing solo acoustic at the American Folk Art Museum. It was good enough to make this year’s Best New York Concerts page – obviously a list that reflects only a tiny sliver of the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of concerts that took place in this city this year, but a very fun evening all the same. Both performers can be hilarious, but this particular show was more about songcraft than devastating one-liners. Draper is at Pete’s on December 28 at 10 PM, followed by lush, sparklingly anthemic Americana parlor rock band the Hinges, who are sort of the Pacific Northwest version of Hem. Tormes is most likely done for the year, at least as shows are concerned, although she has a long-awaited new album in the works.

Tormes played first, setting a tone for the night immediately with her uneasily catchy major/minor changes and blend of Americana and purist 60s pop. Gently and methodically, she worked her way up from hypnotically lowlit. minimalist post-Velvets ambience to an understatedly sardonic waltz, alluding to those who might want the limelight more than they deserve. Dancing hints of 80s new wave lit up a simmeringly exasperated nocturne about being kept up by noisy Lower East Side neighbors, inspired by real events during Tormes’ long tenure in that neighborhood. Through the purposeful stroll of Don’t Love Back and a similarly bittersweet, middle-period Dylanesque backbeat anthem, Tormes tied all her influences together with her plush, matter-of-fact vocals, rising and sailing from time to time but mostly mining a richly allusive midrange, resolute if wounded in places. It was a set for survivors, optimistic in the face of everything that had come before.

Draper didn’t waste any time picking up the pace with the rousing anti-conformity entreaty Modern Day Decay, the title track to her new album due out early next year. She went toward classic Britfolk with the next number and its broodingly descending vocals over an insistently steely fingerpicked minor-key hook. Likewise, the insistent C&W-tinged sway of Take the Money and Run underscored its defiance, an escape anthem in search of fellow travelers. She kept the energy in the red with an especially amped take of Broken Eggshell, her lyrically torrential, crescendoing shout-out to gentle, everyday iconoclasms. As she tells it, eggshells are to be stepped on, not tiptoed around.

She worked an uneasy resolve as enigmatic open chords shifted back and forth with warmer major changes, then went into the snidely tongue-in-cheek stroll of Sleepwalkers, a considerably uneasier escape anthem: Draper is no fan of the meh-ness of the walking dead. Then she shifted gears and evoked the bittersweet jangle of Matt Keating – with whom she’s enjoyed a memorable collaboration in recent years – with a new song, With the new album due out soon, Draper is likely to air out even more auspicious new material at Pete’s.

Jenifer Jackson Treats an Intimate New York Crowd to a Rare House Concert

Artists who for better or worse get pigeonholed as singer-songwriters usually don’t have much in the way of instrumental chops. And bands with sizzling instrumentation often don’t have much in the way of lyrics or vocal alchemy. But that’s what Jenifer Jackson brought to a hushed, rapt house concert in comfortable, congenial Upper West Side digs last night. Not that Jackson should be, or for that matter, is somebody who necessarily gets tagged as a singer-songwriter. It makes more sense to call her a magically protean bandleader, whether the band behind her is playing psychedelic rock, bossa jazz-tinged songcraft or newschool honkytonk – or oldschool honkytonk. She also happens to be one of the pioneers of the house concert circuit. This one was a typically eclectic duo performance with Kullen Fuchs, who didn’t bring what might be his best instrument, the vibraphone. But he did bring his guitar, accordion, trumpet, percussion and ukulele and showed off elegantly virtuoso chops on all of them. Is there any instrument this guy can’t play?

Since her cult classic 2000 debut, Slowly Bright, Jackson has been through a million incarnations and these days, rather than settling on Americana, Beatlesque bossa-pop, pastoral psychedelia or C&W, is likely to bust out all of those styles in concert and this was no exception. Her voice was plush and airy, and stronger than ever in the low registers, like Rosanne Cash with a wider sonic palette. These house concerts, she explained, have forced her to come out of her shell onstage, to be the raconteuse and generally hilarious presence that she is once she’s out of the spotlight. So there were a lot of explanations on where and how songs came together, Jackson reminding that nothing in her catalog is what it seems; there are always umpteen levels of meaning. So it was interesting to discover that the windswept, poignantly desolate anthem All Around was not a Gulf Coast tableau but a wintry New England beach scene inspired by a momentary break on Cape Cod during a recent tour, observing a giant predatory bird from just inches away.

The duo did that one on guitar and uke, Jackson artfully shifting the harmonies around: she never plays a song the same way twice. The ballad Heart with a Mind of Its Own, with Fuchs on accordion, became a blend of Kitty Wells C&W seasoned with Tex-Mex flavor – and an unexpected trumpet solo from Fuchs midway through. Likewise, Fuchs matched Jackson’s brooding vocals with his washes of accordion on the bolero-tinged southwestern gothic waltz A Picture of May. They reinvented an old favorite, the Beatlesque, ornate When You Looked At Me, arguably the best cut on Jackson’s full-length debut, as a big twin-guitar anthem. Later the two entertained the crowd with a droll country duet from Jackson’s forthcoming thirteenth (!) album. Guest violinist Claudia Chopek came up to add lush, dynamic textures and vivid solos on a handful of numbers, all the more impressive considering she’d never played with the group. Likewise, a guest flutist added aptly ethereal textures in tandem with Fuchs’ soaring horn on Whole Wide World, a tropical soul number.

As entertaining as the rest of the set was, arguably the best song of the night was a hypnotically dreamy, understatedly plaintive Americana waltz, After the Fall, from Jackson’s 2002 Birds album:

Love is an ocean
Love is a stone
Love is a wish that you make on your own
If all of these ghosts would just leave me alone
I know that I would be free

Can a song get any more universal than that?

Jackson’s current US tour continues; dates are here, with a return hometown show on Oct 21 at 8 PM at Hole in Wall, 2538 Guadalupe in Austin.

Cleopatra Degher Plays One of This Summer’s Most Enjoyably Catchy Shows at the Rockwood

Acoustic songstress Cleopatra Degher played one of the year’s funniest and most quietly devastating songs at her show at the Rockwood last month. It was a catchy, cheery little tune titled Rebecca Wood. See, Rebecca sometimes wonders what it would be like to be alone. But as Degher told it, she never is. “She gets to know all her friends on Facebook through all the pictures that they took.” The crowd didn’t start to chuckle until after the second chorus, but by then Degher had made her point.

The San Diego-based songwriter spent much of her childhood in Sweden. She’s still relatively young (early 20s), a nimble and very eclectic guitarist, has a way with a catchy, anthemic tune and sings in a strong, determined mezzo-soprano, informed by all sorts of oldtimey folk and Appalachian music as well as more current sounds. Auspiciously, her set was mostly new material along with a few numbers from her most recent album Pacific (streaming at Bandcamp). She opened with I Saw the Sky, her fast fingers picking a flurry on the strings up to one of her signature anthemic choruses. She followed with Nothing to Worry About Now, a driving, sparkling mountain music-inspired number.

Her agile hammer-ons and dynamic shifts, up to doublespeed and back, propelled Burden of Tomorrow. Keep on Moving, inspired by the long winters she endured in Sweden, blended hints of a Grateful Dead classic into its optimistic crescendos, a springboard for Degher’s steely upper register. Nothing But a River was as stunningly and bittersweetly hopeful as it was anthemic, Degher reaching back for all the force she could muster on the chorus. It was almost as she was going to use sheer force of will to make sure this relationship would go somewhere instead of falling through right at the start.

By contrast, Shame had more of a shuffling oldtimey feel, but once again hit a towering peak on the chorus: Degher can deliver a lot more raw energy than most musicians who employ just guitar and vocals. She also did a stately waltz written by her dad, Darius Degher, as well as a high-voltage cover of Ring of Fire. She spends a lot of time on the road: let’s hope she makes it back to town sooner than later.

Intense, Evocative, Ruggedly Individualistic Acoustic Americana from Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear

Kansas City duo Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear sound like no other band on the planet. They’re both a trip back to a land to a time forgot, and completely in the here and now. And their music is amazing. Forget for a sec that they may be darlings of NPR and the corporate media because they’re a mom and her kid making music together. Ohhhh, how sweeeet, right? No. Ruth Ward is a badass guitarist, so is her son Madisen. And their allusively erudite songs can be catchy beyond belief, distilled in two hundred years of front-porch folk, and country blues, and oldschool C&W and soul music. But while their influences may be retro, what they’re doing with them is something brand new and genuinely exciting. They haven’t played New York since an absolutely riveting invite-only show in the meatpacking district back in May; by the time they hit Joe’s Pub on July 27 at 7:30 PM, they’ll be a couple of days removed from the Newport Folk Festival, and then they’re off to a marathon European tour. Cover for the Joe’s Pub gig is $15 and advance tix are still available as of today, believe it or not.

Their new album Skeleton Crew is streaming at Spotify. The steady, bouncy but enigmatic opening track, Live by the Water, sets the tone for the rest of the album. On the surface, it’s told from the point of view of an older guy who can’t get enough simple pleasures…but is also all too aware of what he doesn’t have. The devil’s in the details everywhere here.

The monster hit waiting to happen is the ragtime-tinged Silent Movies, mother and son’s strums building a lush bed of guitars in perfect unison. Mom echoes son’s vocals; throughout the album, it’s impossible to tell who’s playing the spare lead lines, the two are so committed to staying on track, not overdoing it, simply reflecting a mood, or the storyline. This is deep stuff.

Modern Day Mystery has a careful, moody minor-key sway. “I could never leave this place gracefully,” Madisen explains casually, and then draws the listener in from there. “When I leave this house, I couldn’t disappear if I tried.”

The two weave a spiderweb of guitars on the delicately waltzing Dead Daffodils, a creepy, Faulknerian southern gothic tableau. Then they go back toward ragtime with Whole Lotta Problems and its droll, aphoristic call-and-response. Fight On rises from intricate and enigmatic to lush and sweeping, with a 70s soul-jazz tinge. By contrast, Big Yellow Taxi – an original, not the Joni Mitchell hit – is an irrepressibly bouncy, bittersweet portrait of a homeless guy.

Daisy Jane is the most musically lighthearted number here, followed by the most chillingly allusive one, Undertaker and Juniper. By the Wards’ reckoning, even executioners fall in love…and suffer the consequences. Down in Mississippi features stark cello along with terse guitar multitracks, a troubled Jim Crow-era tableau echoed in the understatedly majestic, gospel-tinged Sorrows and Woes. Be the first on your block to be able to brag that you discovered this inimitable duo.