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Tag: americana

Karen & the Sorrows Celebrate Their Excellent, Eclectic New Americana Album at Littlefield This Week

Over the last few years, Karen & the Sorrows have individualistically skirted the fringes of the New York Americana scene. Not all their songs are sad, and frontwoman Karen Pitttelman has no fear of mashing up different styles. Their debut album was a creepy New England gothic suite. Their second ome was a country-tinged janglerock record. Their latest album. Guaranteed Broken Heart – streaming at Bandcamp – is even more eclectic, featuring some of New York’s most electrifying musicians. Pittelman’s vocals are more dynamic and diverse than ever as well. She and the band are playing the album release show on Oct 18 at around 10:30 PM at Littlefield. Nimble, pensive acoustic guitarist/songwriter Genessa James‘ Onliest open the night at 8:30, followed by the exhilarating, fearlessly political, historically inspired Ebony Hillbillies, NYC’s only oldtime African-American string band. Cover is $10.

The title track opens the album: it’s a briskly brooding southwestern gothic shuffle with some cool tradeoffs between lead guitar and pedal steel. Cole Quest Rotante’s lingering dobro spices the loping second track, There You Are, blending with the pedal steel, mandolin and Rima Fand’s plaintive fiddle.

The band go back to darkly shuffling desert rock with the organ-driven Jonah and the Whale, Girls on Grass guitar goddess Barbara Endes winding it up with a deliciously slithery solo. Why Won’t You Come Back to Me has an even more haunting, spare, 19th century African-American gospel feel: “Oh my little angel, send me back to hell,” is the closing mantra.

Bowed bass, mandolin and banjo mingle with Fand’s mournful fiddle in the similarly rustic Appalachian gothic ballad Your New Life Now. Drummer Charles Burst gives the sad, lingering ballad Far Away a muted country backbeat: “Some people you can love up close, some from afar/The trick is knowing which they are,” Pittelman observes.

Third Time’s the Charm is an upbeat, pedal steel-fueled honkytonk number: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” sets up the chorus. Then they bring it down with the mournful Queen of Denial.

When People Show You Who They Are is a subdued, downcast, hypnotic folk-pop tune in Americana disguise. The group mash up electric Neil Young with tinges of oldschool soul in It Ain’t Me, then quietly shuffle through the melancholy Something True, with tantalizingly brief mandolin and fiddle solos. They close the album with a love ballad, You’re My Country Music. It’s inspiring to see a genuine New York original taking her sound and her songwriting to the next level.

Jenifer Jackson Returns to Her Catchy, Poignant Psychedelic Pop Roots

Of all the songwriters who built their careers in the incredibly fertile crucible of the Lower East Side New York scene in the late 90s and early zeros, Jenifer Jackson is one of the most prolific and arguably the best. Over the years, she’s moved from Beatlesque psychedelia to stark, brooding pastoral pop, bossa nova and harrowing, majestic art-rock. She’s also been a poineer of the DIY house concert tour circuit Her move to Austin in the early part of the decade springboarded a deep dive into Americana. Her latest album Paths – streaming at Bandcamp – is a return to the catchy, anthemic, eclectic psychedelic pop she made a name with early in her career. Jackson has a pair of New York gigs coming up next month. She’s at the Owl on Nov 3 at 8, then the next night, Nov 4 at the same time she’s at the big room at the Rockwood.

On the new record, her voice is more nuanced than ever; her lyrics are characteristically crystallized, imagistic and loaded with subext. There’s a restrained angst in her delivery as she soars up to the chorus on the elegantly waltzing opening track, Things I Meant to Tell You, Jim Hoke’s flute and Chris Carmichael’s one-man string quartet adding a stark baroque touch. As usual, Jackson lets the images of returning to a dusty room after a trip speak for themselves. It packs a gentle wallop.

There’s a delicate web of acoustic guitar fingerpicking beneath the orchestration in the tender early-dawn scenario First Bird. Then the band – which includes Brad Jones on guitars, bass and keys, Pat Sansone on guitar and mellotron and Josh Hunt on drums – picks up the pace with Back Home, a big, electric, organ-driven backbeat rocker. “The silence almost made me lose my mind,” Jackson confides: the tradeoff between organ and twelve-string guitar in the break is absolutely luscious.

Travelled Together, a bittersweet breakup ballad, has wintry, vintage 60s orchestration and Laurel Canyon psychedelic pop ambience: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Judy Henske catalog. Sultry Memory is a summery psychedelic soul ballad with shimmering vibraphone: it has the enigmatic lushness of Jackson’s classic 2007 Outskirts of a Giant Town and the lush Philly soul of Got To Have You, two standout numbers from Jackson’s vast output over the years.

Hey, Good is a wistful, hopeful, sprightly tune with ukulele and just a hint of brass: it could be a charming lost acoustic McCartney miniature from the White Album. Jackson brings back the electricity and the backbeat in Written in Stone: imagine the Byrds backing the Mamas & the Papas.

Jackson likes to put a good old-fashioned hard country tune on every album, and What Good’s a Memory is a picture-perfect vintage 60s tune, right down to the saloon piano and pedal steel. She wraps up the record with a country gospel-flavored piano ballad, Hail and Farewell. In a time where the brain drain out of New York stalled or even destroyed so many music careers, it’s testament to Jackson’s sheer talent (not to mention persistence) that she’s been able to stay on a creative tear that just won’t quit.

[If you’re looking for today’s Halloween installment, take a trip back to October 21 of last year for an underrated, darky psychedelic 2013 release – amazingly still available as a free download – by a New York band who should have gone a lot further than they did]

Purist Americana Rock Tunesmith Michaela Anne Brings Her Catchy Songs Back to Her Old Stomping Ground

Singer and bandleader Michaela Anne has built a devoted following with her blend of vintage honkytonk and twangy rock. Her catchy, smartly produced new album, Desert Dove – streaming at Bandcamp -, is much more rock than Americana-oriented, with keyboards, a string section and unexpected tinges of 80s new wave. Imagine Margo Price without the jamband interludes, or Tift Merritt with more elaborate arrangements. Michaela Anne and her band are playing the album release show on Oct 16 at 7 PM at the Mercury; adv tix at the counter, available M-F from about 5 til 7 PM, are $12.

The album’s first track, By Our Design is a determined, slightly bucolic powerpop song with sweeping strings: imagine Merrritt orchestrated by ELO’s Jeff Lynne. One Heart has windswept pedal steel and bluesy guitar…and cloying corporate urban pop overtones, too. It’s the only track here that should have been left among the outtakes.

I’m Not the Fire – as in “I’m not the fire, I’m just the smoke” – pulses along with a catchy backbeat and swirly organ. The brisk, deftly orchestrated, cynical roadtrip tale Child of the Wind is a dead ringer for a Jessie Kilguss song, while Tattered Torn and Blue (And Crazy) takes a turn toward Twin Peaks retro-Orbison noir pop.

The album’s title track is a steady, upbeat, anthemic, Mark Knopfler-esque tale about a ghostly archetype. Run Away With Me has a Tom Petty vibe; Michaela Anne takes until track eight before she hits the purist honkytonk with Two Fools, its mournful pedal steel and saloon piano.

If I Wanted Your Opinion is an unexpectedly fierce feminist anthem. Michaela Anne makes it clear that the last thing she wants is to be judged on her appearance:

I’m not a poster on the wall, not a porcelain doll
I think it’s funny how you think you run the show
You want to tell me how to sing, I’m not a puppet on a string
And if I wanted your opinion you would know

Somebody New is the new wave-iest tune here; the concluding cut is Be Easy, a simple, purposeful acoustic song, a word of comfort to a troubled friend. It’s cool to see a songwriter who honed her formidable chops playing an endless Dives of New York tour here reaching the point where she can play the tour circuit, where people will really appreciate her.

[If you’re looking for today’s Halloween piece, take a trip back in time on the mighty, ravenous condor wings of Merkabah, from exactly a year ago.]

Folk Noir Supergroup Bobtown Bring Up the Lights Just a Little

For about ten years, Bobtown have been the most bewitching three-part harmony folk noir supergroup in the world. Their three-woman frontline – percussionist/tenor guitarist Katherine Etzel, guitarist/banjo player Karen Dahlstrom and singer/percussionist Jen McDearman – are as eclectically skilled as songwriters as they are on the mic. Their new album Chasing the Sun is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing the album release show on  Oct 13 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $10.

As the band admit, this album is somewhat less relentlessly dark than their haunting back catalog. They open the new record with Daughters of the Dust, a moody, midtempo, metaphorically charged newgrass tune: “In our land of bone and rust, unsteady and shifting, will we ever find a place for us?” the three women ask.

“I hear the whispesrs, will she sink or swim?” Etzel muses as Kryptonite gets underway; then lead guitarist Alan Lee Backer’s twangy riffage kicks in, a defiantly swaying, anthenic toast to “Feed the hungry ghosts of all our glory days.”

The starkly fingerpicked intro to Come On Home is there to fake you out: it’s a Tex-Mex flavored romp. Special guest Serena Jost‘s cello adds haunting textures to the album’s lone cover, a dirgey, elegaic take of Tom Petty’s American Girl: who knew that this song was about suicide?

“The darkest heart and evil hand blind our children’s eyes, as every witness takes the stand to show the devil in disguise,” the group harmonize in Hazel, a melancholy, banjo-driven portrait echoing the theme of the Petty song. The subtly vindictive breakup ballad Let You Go is a throwback to the group’s early years, when they were reinventing old 19th century field hollers.

Etzel takes the lead for In My Bones, a blithely creepy, cynical country-pop tune about cheating the reaper, with an irresistibly funny round of vocals midway through. “I’m right to question everyrthing, I’m right about to scream,” McDearman intones in This Is My Heart, a wounded waltz. Then the band pick up the pace with the determined, optimistic Devil Down: it’s Bobtown’s take on what Tom Waits did with Keep the Devil Down in the Hole.

The best song on the album is Dahlstrom’s gospel-flavored No Man’s Land. It’s an anthem for the Metoo era, a soaring, defiant, venomous broadside, and it could be the best song of the year:

...No man has me at his command
No man can claim me for his own
I am no man’s land
No man’s book can tell my story
No man’s judge can understand
No man’s eyes can see my glory
I am no man’s land

As consistently excellent as the band’s recorded output is, nothing beats the way these three distinctive voices blend onstage

Iconic Songwriter Amy Rigby Revisits a Lost New York in Her New Memoir Girl to City

What’s more Halloweenish than the destruction of New York artistic communities in the blitzkrieg of gentrification, and the rush to throw up speculator property to displace working-class housing? Songwriter Amy Rigby got her start as a college student, in a $300-a-month Alphabet City apartment she shared with her brother. Rigby’s new memoir is a look back at a time and place that’s not going to come back until after the real estate bubble finally bursts. And that could be awhile, maybe even not until we repeal the tax exemption that enables it. Holdovers of New York, unite!

Amy Rigby‘s new memoir Girl to City validates the argument that great lyricists are also strong prose writers. But beyond a stunning level of detail, that generalization is where the similarity between Rigby’s often outrageously hilarious, witheringly insightful songwriting and this plainspoken book ends. Instead, it’s a sobering and understatedly poignant portrait of an era in New York gone forever.

Rigby is humble to a fault. If there’s anything missing from this book, that would be more insight into her songwriting process. She’s a polymath tunesmith, equally informed by and eruditely successful with styles as diverse as Americana, honkytonk, purist pop and these days, psychedelia. As a lyricist, she’s a first-ballot hall-of-famer: it wouldn’t be overhype to rank her with Elvis Costello, Steve Kilbey, Hannah Fairchild and the most memorably aphoristic Nashville songwriters of the 40s and 50s. Rigby takes some pleasure in revealing how she wrote one of her most gorgeously plaintive songs, Summer of My Wasted Youth, in her head on her way home on the L train. Otherwise, we’re going to have to wait for a sequel for more than a few stories behind some of the best songs of the past thirty-plus years.

Beyond that, this is a rich and often heartbreaking narrative. The only daughter in a large, upper middle class Pittsburgh Catholic family, young Amelia McMahon (nicknamed Amy, after the 50s Dean Martin pop hit), grew up in the 1960s as a tomboy and evemtual diehard Elton John fan. Spared the ordeal of Catholic high school, she developed a highly refined fashion sense – she was East Village chic long before East Village chic existed – and although she doesn’t go into many details about what seems to have been a repressive upbringing, it’s obvious that she couldn’t wait to escape to New York.

A talent for visual art got her admitted early into Parsons, where she earned a degree she never ended up falling back on – then again, fashion illustration was basically obsolete by the time she graduated. Meanwhile, she haunted CBGB at its peak. Even then, her taste in music was eclectic and adventurous, from punk, to gothic rock, disco, and eventually pioneering feminist bands the Slits and Raincoats.

Auspiciously, she teamed up with a bunch of college friends to open the legendary Tribeca music venue Tier 3 – where she made her New York musical debut, as the drummer of the minimalistically undescribable Stare Kits. “It seemed unthinkable even a decade later that the streets of downtown could ever have been so empty at night, or that a Manhattan club could have such haphazard beginnings. But that was part of the beauty, although you wouldn’t have thought to call it beautiful, “Rigby recalls. Understatement of the decade.

Rigby reveals that she came to embrace Americana when she realized that country music was just as  alienated as punk. Now playing guitar (and percussion, and a little accordion), it wasn’t long before she and her younger brother Michael McMahon (who’s led the hilarious, theatrical Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. for almost twenty years now) founded one of the first New York urban country outfits, the Last Roundup. Maybe it was that group’s newfound embrace of country music – a genuine appreciation, rather than the kitschy contempt for it that would characterize the Williamsburg Americana contingent twenty years later – that shaped their individualistic sound. Even then, Rigby was flexing her songwriting chops.

What’s even more improbable than being able to situate a punk club in Tribeca is that it was once possible to (barely) make ends meet as a working musician in Manhattan, playing original music. Like those trust fund kids in the East Village now, somebody had to be subsidized, rigtht?

As Rigby tells it, no. Cruelly, inevitably, money is always elusive. When she isn’t gigging, she temps and temps, for a succession of bosses from across the boss spectrum. The plotline of her classic, cynical bargain-shopper anthem, As Is, has never been more resonant in light of her experiences here. She seems to have given up everything but her career to keep her daughter clothed and fed.

Misadventures with small record labels, well-intentioned but clueless enablers and wannabe enablers from the corporate world, with both the Last Roundup and Rigby’s successor band, the fetchingly ramshackle, all-female Shams, are predictably amusing. Her details of simple survival are every bit as bittersweet.

Time after time, she falls for emotionally unavailable older men. She mentions “dad’s putdowns,” in passing: this legendary beauty doesn’t even seem to think of herself as all that goodlooking. A marriage to drummer Will Rigby results in a talented daughter (future bassist Hazel Rigby). and doesn’t last. The author goes easy on him, maybe because she’s already excoriated him, if namelessly, in song. 20 Questions, anyone?.

Yet, out of that divorce, and the borderline-condemnable three-bedroom $700-a-month Williamsburg apartment at the corner of Bedford and Grand, she built a solo career that would earn her a well-deserved media blitz and critical raves for her solo debut, Diary of a Mod Housewife. That’s pretty much where the story ends, and a sequel hopefully picks up.

What’s most depressing about Rigby’s narrative is that it could never happen in current-day New York. She started totally DIY – she’d never played an instrument onstage before joining Stare Kits – and made her way up through a succession of small venues, then larger ones and all of a sudden she was playing the Beacon Theatre and touring. No such ladder of success exists here anymore: in fact, it’s working the other way around. All the rock acts that used to play Bowery Ballroom are now being squeezed into its smaller sister venue, the Mercury (a joint that Rigby used to sell out with regularity twenty years ago)

What’s left of the Americana and rock scenes, so vital in Rigby’s early years, now rotate through a handful of small Brooklyn clubs, playing to the same two dozen people week after week. With larger venues (and even some of the smaller ones) assiduously datamining so they can book only the most active Instagram self-promoters, the idea of thinking outside the box and promoting artists whose strengths are not Instagram followers but lyrics and tunes is almost laughable. All this is not to say that the typical club owner in, say, 1985, wasn’t plenty lazy and greedy. It’s just that laziness and greed, at the expense of genuine art, have been institutionalized by social media.

Throughout the book, this charismatic, acerbic, laser-witted performer comes across as anything but a diva. Maybe the Catholic childhood, the authoritarian parents and series of doomed relationships cast a pall that she’s still trying to get out from under. More than anything, this tale deserves a triumphant coda: since Diary of a Mod Housewife, Rigby has put out a series of consistently brilliant albums, toured relentlessly if not overwhelmingly lucratively and married another legendary rock storyteller, Wreckless Eric.

The Long Ryders Celebrate Americana Rock Legend Sid Griffin’s Birthday in Jersey City

“After this obligatory encore, I’ll be at the merch table where you can ask me anything about the Bangles and the Dream Syndicate,” Long Ryders founder and guitarist Sid Griffin told the packed house at WFMU’s Monty Hall in Jersey City last night.

He was joking, of course. But who ever imagined that the Long Ryders – or the Dream Syndicate – would be back in action, touring and still making great records, almost forty years after they started? The difference for this band is that the individual members seem to be more involved as songwriters this time around. “The world’s smallest Kickstarter,” as Griffin called it, crowdfunded the Long Ryders’ often astonishingly fresh, vital, relevant new album, Psychedelic Country Soul, which figured heavily in the set.

Griffin was celebrating his 64th birthday, and was regaled from the stage by his bandmates: guitarist Stephen McCarthy played the Beatles’ When I’m 64 into the PA from the tinny speaker on his phone, and the crowd revealed their music geekdom by not only knowing the words but also the instrumental break after the first chorus. Griffin held up his end: he still has his voice and his lead guitar chops, trading long, crackling honkytonk solos with McCarthy early in the set.

“I had a dream that Trump was dead,” McCarthy ad-libbed, updating the new wave-flavored I Had a Dream for the end of a new decade. The band had most recently played this particular venue the night of the fateful 2016 Presidential election, and had plenty of vitriol for the possibly soon-to-be-impeached tweeting twat in the Oval Office. That wasn’t limited to banter with the crowd: Griffin reminded how prophetic the broodingly jangling anti-Reaganite protest song Stitch in Time, from the band’s 1986 Two Fisted Tales album, had turned out to be. And bassist Tom Stevens switched to Telecaster for the plaintively jangling Bells of August, the song Griffin described as the best on the new album, a familiar story centered around a family’s beloved son finally returning home…in a body bag.

It’s been said many times that the Long Ryders invented Americana as we know it today, but despite their vast influence in that area, they were always a lot more eclectic. This time out, they broke out covers by the late Greg Trooper, Mel Tillis – the big crowd-pleaser Sweet Sweet Mental Revenge – and what sounded like the Flamin’ Groovies. Of the band’s classic 80s material, both Final Wild Son and the last song of the night, a delirious singalong of Looking for Lewis and Clark, came across as chicken-fried Highway 61 Dylan.

Stevens’ other standout among the new material was a garage-psych flavored tune, What the Eagle Sees. And Griffin put some muscle behind his punkish stage antics with a slashing, embittered new one, Molly Somebody, which for whatever reason sounded a lot like the Dream Syndicate. And that makes sense – if you know any of the baseball-hatted old guys who went to this show, or knew them when they were baseball-hatted young guys, everybody who liked the Dream Syndicate was also into the Long Ryders, and True West. And the other great 80s guitar bands, including the Del-Lords: their frontman and lead guitarist, Eric Ambel, had played the evening’s opening set.

The Long Ryders tour continues tonight, Sept 19 at 9 PM at the Lockx, 4417 Main St.  in Philadelphia? Cover is $30

Catchy, Deceptively Deep Americana Tunesmithing and a Lower East Side Show From Amy LaVere

Amy LaVere is a rarity, a bassist-frontwoman out on the Americana rock highway. She’s got a misty voice and writes moody, catchy songs with tinges of noir. She’s also Will Sexton’s wife. Her new album Painting Blue is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing the basement room at the Rockwood tonight, August 29 at 7 PM; cover is $10.

Sexton’s ominous baritone guitar twang lingers over Tim Regan’s spare, plaintve, jazz-tinged piano and brushy drums (that’s either George Sluppick, Shawn Zorn or longago Iggy Pop sideman Hunt Sales behind the kit) in the opening track, I Don’t Wanna Know. LaVere’s wounded, breathy vocals channel a distant, apocalyptic angst.

No Battle Hymn has brisk, arid 80s production:and a backbeat: if Neko Case had been making records back then, she might have sounded like this. Girlfriends – as in, “Don’t let your girlfriends tell you what you need” – is a catchy, Tex Mex-tinged admonition to a friend who might have actually found a good guy after all.

Veteran soul man Al Gamble’s organ percolates through the bouncy soul song You’re Not In Memphis, while Love I’ve Missed is more of a soul-pop tune. The album’s most haunting track is No Room For Baby, a starkly orchestrated portrait of dead-end blue-collar despair

Stick Horse is a lot more optimistic and quietly defiant, Rick Steff supplying a lilting accordion solo. Shipbuilding is a rare Elvis Costello cover that’s as good or even better than the original, a gentle and subtly scathing interpretation of the Falklands War-era ballad. The album’s title track makes a good segue, a Costello-ish take on early 60s pop beefed up with soaring strings:

Do you have the courage but not the fight
Smoke could be in the air
Flames around you everywhere
You wouldn’t care

Luscious Jangle and Clang and Catchy Americana Tunesmithing From the HawtHorns

Even if you’re a music snob, you have to admit that the level of craft on the HawtHorns’ new album Morning Sun – streaming at Spotify – is impressive. On one hand, their irresistibly catchy brand of Americana rock is as predictable as the disintegration of the polar icecaps. On the other, their lyrics are a cut above average, the musicianship is smart and purposeful, and the production is purist and surprisingly imaginative. They’re the kind of band that seem to be engineered to get crowdsourced onto personal Spotify playlists. Now, Spotify’s own playlisters won’t go near the HawtHorns’ album – because they’re not allowed to. Only corporate product, or older music still in the hands of the skeleton crew at what’s left of the corporate music labels, is permitted on official Spotify playlists. That’s the deal with the devil that Spotify made to get into the American market. But you can put the HawtHorns on your own playlists, and check them out live at the small room at the Rockwood on August 9 at 7 PM.

The album’s first track, Shaking, opens with a big splash of guitar. Frontwoman KP Hawthorn sings this bittersweet pick-up-the-pieces-and-go-on tune. The jangle and strum of her husband Johnny’s acoustic and electric guitars builds to one of their typically anthemic choruses:

We were shaking
When we should have been swaying
We were screaming
When we should have been singing

“The trail is overgrown, and the path was not her own,” KP sings of the “queen of the desperados” lurching down Rebel Road. Is there gonna be an organ on the second chorus? Bring it on! That’s the way this formula works.

The album’s charmingly waltzing title track has a tense blend of acoustic and Telecaster, and a lusciously icy guitar solo played through what sounds like a vintage analog chorus pedal. They put a charge into a bluegrass melody with Give Me a Sign, then the band put a little more grit on the bass and a loose-limbed swing into the syncopation of the vengeful breakup ballad Broken Wings.

The 405 is not the obscure Steve Wynn classic, but a folk-rock counterpart to the ersatz Californiana of John Mayall’s Blues From Laurel Canyon – look it up if you must. Johnny breaks out his vintage 80s chorus box for All I Know – and are those woozy textures filtering from a 35-year-old Juno synth, or just a clever digital imitation?

The nocturnal resonance of the slide guitar in tandem with echoey Rhodes piano in Come Back From the Stars is a tasty touch: this catchy cut wouldn’t be out of place on a Jessie Kilguss album. On one hand, Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore is all too true: tunesmithing is a dying art, and there’s less money in it than ever. On the other, the idea of striking gold with a catchy song was always a pipe dream: even Elvis Costello had to take a cheesy tv talk-show gig to pay the bills.

The group close the record with the slow, hazy sway of Steady Fire and then the cheery front-porch folk duet Lucky Charm. If this is what the future of cross-country roadtrip soundtracks is going to be like, things could be a lot worse.

Spot-On Oldschool C&W, Flashy Guitar Picking and a Williamsburg Gig From the Shootouts

Akron, Ohio band The Shootouts hit a bullseye with their spot-on, retro mix of honkytonk, hard country, Bakersfield twang and a little rockabilly. These guys really kill it with their flashy guitar chops and clever, aphoristic lyrics that sound straight out of Nashville or Bakersfield circa 1963. Their album Quick Draw – streaming at Soundcloud – is like being time-warped back to a bar playing the cool country radio station in either of those cities at that time. They’re at Skinny Dennis on August 10 at 10 PM.

The first track is Cleaning House, an aphoristic, period-perfect early 60s style rockabilly tune with choogling guitar and keening pedal steel from lead player Brian Poston over the loping groove of bassist Ryan McDermott and drummer Dylan Gomez. Frontman Ryan Humbert begins I’d Rather Be Lonely as a vivid, forlorn Don Gibson-style ballad, then drifts toward Flatlanders hillbilly hippie territory. Then the band pick it up with the ripsnorting, rapidfire If I Could, which sounds like Buck Owens’ Buckaroos covering an early 50s Ernest Tubb hit.

California to Ohio has weirdly anachronistic, 1950s lyrical references set to easygoing teens Americana rock. The album’s instrumental title track has a tasty, rambunctiously twangy conversation between guitar and steel: among current bands, the Bakersfield Breakers come to mind.

They bring it down with the delicate, Buddy Holly-flavored acoustic tune Must Be Love, then take the angst and emotionsl desolation to redline with the hushed, lushly orchestrated If We Quit Now: these guys can be as haunting as they are funny.

Who Needs Rock n Roll speaks for a generation who’ve turned to Americana in the decades since the grunts of grunge and the autistic atonalities of indie rock took over the mainstream. The band stick with a western swing vibe with the grimly amusing Alimony, then shift to vintage honkytonk for the sad barstool ballad Lonely Never Lets Me Down.

Reckless Abandon, a brisk, twangy Bakersfield shuffle, is next. After that, Radio Jesus is a more subtle take on what what the Stones did with Faraway Eyes. The album’s closing cut is a downcast ballad, Losing Faith in Being Faithful. If a lot of these songs had been recorded as 45 RPM singles fifty-odd years ago, it’s a fair bet they would have sold a whole slew of them. You’re going to see this album on a whole lot of “best of” lists at the end of the year.

Eleni Mandell’s Best Album Offers Grim Insight Into Survival in the Prison-Industrial Complex

Eleni Mandell got the inspiration for her new album, Wake Up Again, behind bars. No, she wasn’t doing time. She was teaching songwriting as part of the Jail Guitar Doors program founded by the MC5’s Wayne Kramer. The record – streaming at Spotify – is surprisingly her most indie rock-flavored release to date, at least until about the halfway point. But it’s also her most relevant, and most lyrically powerful. These clear-eyed, sobering songs elegantly and often allusively chronicle the cycles of despair, and addiction, and hopelessness of being caught in the prison-industrial compex. As Mandell makes crystal clear, orange is anything but the new black. She’s currently on tour, with a New York stop on June 27 at 9:30 PM at the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $15

Milo Jones’ reverbtoned guitar weaves enigmatically, going nowhere in particular, throughout the album’s opening track, Circumstance, Mandell matter-of-factly traces the outline of a woman caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, knowing that her babies will grow up without her.

“Got my foot out the window it’s a long way down, if you know the secret password there’s another way around,” Mandell explains in Be Together. “Am I waiting for a punishment for all the time I wasted?” she asks. In a career packed with some of the most captivating vocals ever recorded, this is one of Mandell’s most shattering.

Just Herself is just as harrowing, a resolutely waltzing account of someone who’s just as much of an outsider on the inside as she was before she got thrown in jail. Evelyn, a throwback to Mandell’s days as queen of late 90s/early zeros noir, underscores the fact that a large percentage of people in the prison-industrial complex – and the majority of the women there – aren’t criminals. They’re addicts, and people who sold them substances, some of which have been legalized in the years since many of these prisoners were locked up.

“Don’t ask when it was better – she would say that was never,” Mandell intones in Box in a Box, a catchy, gritty account of what could be solitary confinement, or addiction, or both. A brisk, subtly torchy backbeat number, Oh Mother could be a sideways tribute from a prisoner to a mom who managedto stay out of trouble – or the child of a prisoner admiring her mother’s resilience.

The gloom lifts in the quirky, upbeat, country-tinged What’s Your Handle (Radio Waves), following a thinly veiled escape theme that resurfaces a bit later in Air, a similarly bubbling, Americana-tinged number. Empty Locket, a duet with Jones, recounts a wistful, one-sided long-distance phone coversation.

Slowly swaying over Kevin Fitzgerald’s brushy drums and Ryan Feves’ bass, the country lament Ghost of a Girl is the closest thing here to Mandell’s signature noir Americana. The album close with another country waltz, the surreal, enigmatic title track. In a way, it’s no surprise that Mandell, an icon of noir since the late 90s, would end up behind bars – songwriting-wise, anyway. The most basic rule in noir is that ultimately there are none – and the consequences can be lethal.