New York Music Daily

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Tag: amy allison

Purist, Potently Lyrical Janglerock, Americana, Powerpop and Soul From the Bastards of Fine Arts

For the past several months, the Bastards of Fine Arts have been working up a formidable body of catchy, anthemic, purist rock songs via a mostly-monthly residency at 11th Street Bar. The project took shape as a challenge of sorts, songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Matt Keating and his lead guitarist co-conspirator Steve Mayone hell-bent on writing a new song every week. Their project caught on with social media and went viral. Fast forward to 2018, they’ve got a full band now (Jason Mercer on bass and Greg Wieczorek on drums) and a catalog as vast as a band who’ve been around for five times as long. Which means they can mine it for the real gems.

Playing as a duo at the American Folk Art Museum in May of last year, they were at the point where they were working every style they knew (and they know a lot!). Sam Cooke ballad? Check. Lou Reed (a guy Keating is unsurpassed at imitating)? Doublecheck. Honkytonk anthem, Wallflowers janglerock, wistful Americana waltz? Triplecheck.

A year later at an early 11th Street gig, they’d pulled the band together and had built up a set that transcended its origins. They opened with their catchiest number, the gorgeously bittersweet I’ll Take the Fall, Keating both self-effacing and witheringly cynical at the same time. Another even more vindictive number traced the story of an ex that the song’s narrator spies out on a date with some dude. On the way out of the bar, she drops her coat; the dude picks it up for her. Keating’s narrator would have left it there.

Because part of the project is “what style CAN’T we do,” there are plenty of jokes to go around, some more inside than others. Switching to piano, Keating turned a Mayone ballad into a gospel tune; Mayone added some sardonic metal licks to a Keating soul number. They worked a bossa groove, Mercer spiraling all over the fretboard during a more recent number, Walk in the Park, a rare instance of a song of theirs which doesn’t seem to have a cynical undercurrent.

In a very subtle Elvis Costello vein, they vamped along on a bouncy soul-blues tune for a good three minutes, at least, without changing chords once. At the end of the set, they brought up Keating’s daughter Greta, who flashed some incisive chops on Strat as well as a similarly edgy lyricism and soaring vocals. Most children of great musicians don’t go into music for obvious reasons; Greta Keating, like Amy Allison and Jakob Dylan, is every bit as formidable as her dad was when he was in his early twenties. Here’s hoping she sticks with it. The Bastards of Fine Arts are back at 11th Street Bar on Dec 18 at 9 PM.

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Persistent Disquiet, a Roulette Show and New Material From Individualistic Keyboardist Kelly Moran

Although multi-keyboardist Kelly Moran’s albums are all solo recordings, they frequently have a psychedelic, gamelanesque quality to go along with a relentless unease. That’s because Moran multitracks herself, and prepares her piano strings for all sorts of strange muted and clock-chime effects. Her most recent album Bloodroot – streaming at Bandcamp – celebrates different species of plants, some of them garden variety, some much less so.

The eleven tracks are purposeful to the nth degree, seldom much longer than two minutes apiece. Although she’s playing brand-new material with projections at her show on Sept 7 at 8 PM at Roulette, if you’re lucky you’ll get to hear some of this deliciously brooding material as well. Advance tix, available at the front desk on show nights, are $18.

The first track on the album, Iris, is a miniature, a chiming theme with pregnant pauses. The muting of the strings adds an enigmatic click beneath Moran’s belltone phrasing. Celandine – a close relative to the buttercup – is represented by steady, elegantly circling broken chords that Moran shifts eerily toward the shadows as she adds dissonances. From there she segues into the ornate rivulets of Freesia – it’s not clear how much electronic processing there is on the track, or if Moran has cleverly overdubbed a toy piano into the mix.

In Hyacinth, she bows the strings inside the piano for a shimmering autoharp effect and icy, doppler-like waves. Liatris – a flower akin to smaller-scale tall phlox –  is portrayed with music box-like voicings, anchored by terse, graceful piano harmonies. Moran segues from there directly into the album’s title track, a spare, moody, Satie-esque theme. A flickering prepared piano track approximating the sound of castanets echoes the melody – t’s the strongest and most disconcerting number here.

Moran is done with the calla lily in less than a minute and a half of what could be a mashup of Webern, Mompou and Margaret Leng Tan (for a completely different take on the flower, check out the bittersweet Amy Allison song)

Sea lavender – a favorite of the composer, maybe? – gets two tracks. Statice – a common synonym – is a plaintive anthem with spiky, muted carillon-esque textures. Limonium – the flower’s taxonomical name – could be a duet between horror film composer Clint Mansell and toy pianist Phyllis Chen.

In between the two rests Aster, uneasily – it’s the closest thing to the otherworldly belltones of Mompou here, punctuated by plenty of pauses. Moran closes the album with a salute to the Heliconia, a bright red-and-yellow tropical flower and distant relative of the banana. It gets a surprisingly dark, epic portrayal, the closest thing to grand guignol on this beguiling, rather troubled album. It’ll be fascinating to see what kind of distant menace Moran can conjure up in Brooklyn this weekend. 

Amanda Shires Brings Her Thoughtful, Vivid Nocturnes to SoHo

Amanda Shires was already an established presence on the Americana circuit before she met Jason Isbell. No doubt that connection has given her career an extra boost, but she’s been a first-rate fiddler and a distinctive songwriter since the early zeros. Her latest album, My Piece of Land – streamng at NPR– is Shires’ shout-out to her Texas roots and the red dirt music that she grew up with. The songs are sparse, most of them on the slow and pensive side, building a dusky, mysterious ambience with lingering electric and acoustic guitars, washes of steel, acoustic bass and brushed drums. The production is similarly purist and organic, with just enough natural reverb to max out the saturnine backdrop behind Shires’ gently articulated vocals. She’s playing the album release show tomorrow night, Sept 13 at 9 PM at City Winery. The venue doesn’t sell tickets: your best deal is to tell the door person that you’re going to the bar, which will set you back $18. And there’s plenty of space to stand if you don’t want to drink. Otherwise, you can take a table for more money.

The album opens with the spare, brisk shuffle The Way It Dimmed, Shires’ voice cautious and pensive:

Closer was never close enough
Closing time we watched the lights and sun come up
You begged me to stay and I slipped away
I remember the the fire and the way it dimmed
As a fire will sometimes do

The uneasily swaying Slippin’ looks back to early 70s Laurel Canyon Americana pop, with a similarly brooding, nocturnal ambience, Shires’ narrator considering how long it’s going to be for her honkytonking man to be seduced by “the curve of her shoulder, the length of the bar.”

Shires channels Amy Allison cleverness and Tift Merritt tenderness in Harmless, a disarmingly gentle cheater’s tale:

There’s some I can’t remember
A talented bartender
Way out in the cheap seats
The stars stare unblinking
The ones that know anything
Won’t be revealing

Shires finally rosins up her bow for Pale Fire, a spacious, deep-sky nod to the Vladimir Nabokov novel. The playfully twinkling Nursery Rhyme follows a loping western swing groove. Then Shires opens the eerie blues My Love (The Storm) with a couple of creepy scrapes on her fingerboard: her all-too-brief solo over burning electric guitar and organ midway through is the high point of the album.

The big rocker here, When You’re Gone is an improbably successful mashup of Abbey Road Beatles and late 90s Sheryl Crow at her most intense. Mineral Wells is a pensive look back to the scenery of Shires’ childhood:” “The only tree with leaves in Lubbock, with roots in Mineral Wells.” She takes a detour into moody, echoey, Fender Rhodes-driven southern soul with I Know What It’s Like: “With everyone standing around, I buckled and hit the ground,” Shires recalls. She closes the album with another brooding 6/8 ballad, You Are My Home, rising to a brushfire crescendo of stark fiddle and searing slide guitar. In its purposeful, meticulously assembled way, this is one of the most solidly captivating albums of the year.

Amy Allison Brings Her Poignant, Distinctive Voice and Songcraft to the East Village Folk Festival

For the past six months, Amy Allison has held down a monthly Saturday night residency at Dixon Place with pianist Lee Feldman. It’s an amazing collaboration. The daughter of jazz piano icon Mose Allison, she made her mark in the 90s as the best songwriter to come out of what was known then as alt-country. Revered by her peers – Elvis Costello appears on one of her albums, and Emmylou Harris’ most recent release contains an Amy Allison cover – she maintains a devoted cult following here.

Feldman, an briliant and similarly poignant songwriter in his own right, has an intuitive grasp of Allison’s songs. He interprets them line by line, shifting from rapt, starlit neoromantic glimmer, to earthy gospel, to wry Floyd Cramer C&W, sometimes in the space of a few bars (for what it’s worth, he also has a thing for Bach, and jazz, and film and tv themes, and wrote one of the few childrens’ musicals worth seeing). He and Allison share an irrepressible, sometimes devastating sense of humor: when those two decide to ham it up for a bar or two, the result is killer. On June 19 at 7 PM, Allison is venturing beyond her usual turf to play the East Village Music Folk Festival at Theatre 80 St. Marks; $10.50 tix are available.

This month’s installment of Allison’s Lower East Side residency was a lot of fun. The house is usually packed when she plays: this time out, with thunderclouds looming in from across the Hudson and media hysteria about a deluge that never came, it was a more intimate gathering. Her distinctive, disarmingly direct yet minutely nuanced voice was in top shape, part pilowy velvet, part twang. Even by Allison’s standards, the set was an especially choice one, a mix of favorites, rarities and a couple of unexpected covers. The two opened with the gently swaying, characteristically bittersweet Beautiful Night, Feldman adding Beethovenesque upper-register lustre. They followed with a mutedly tender, understatedly longing take of Anywhere You Are Is Where I Am.

“You turned my silver heart into stainless steel,” she intoned in Silver Stone, a rare gem dating from her earliest C&W days. Another obscurity, Blueberry Pie, echoed hokum blues and 19th century folk with its droll dessert metaphors. Blue Plate Special, a vivid, Jarmusch-style early 80s Memphis tableau, drew on vintage soul music and also the time she’d spent living there, and made a good segue.

Bette Davis, a new one, has become a big hit with the crowd, and will resonate with anybody who ends the night glued to Turner Classics. Allison put down her guitar as Feldman channeled her dad’s erudite blues in a cover of his Vietnam War-era classic Everybody’s Crying Mercy – as relevant now as it was then. She told the crowd that both Ella Fitzgerald and Shirley Temple had done Goodnight My Love; this version turned out to be closer to Blossom Dearie.

Another new number, Angel Face, was classic Allison, a catchy, poignantly optimistic number, but as usual Allison had something up her sleeve; meanwhile, Feldman mashed up gospel and Schubert. The best song of the night was also its most ornate, a lushly gorgeous take of the gently ominous Come Sweet Evening. She closed with the richly plaintive Goodbye Lovers Lane, a song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Roy Wood/Move catalog, and encored with Dream World, which crystallizes her worldview better than the more famous sad-girl song that first put her on the map. Allison has been writing up a storm of good songs over the past year or so; Sunday’s East Village show could be a launching pad for a whole bunch of them.

Texas Art-Rock Jamband and Neil Young Collaborators Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real in Williamsburg Tonight

If the idea of blowing off work or school today to wait for hours in the suddenly scorching sun for this evening’s free MOMA Summergarden event – where the new Neil Young album is being premiered over the PA at 6 out behind the museum – doesn’t appeal to you, there’s a relatively inexpensive alternative tonight at Brooklyn Bowl where Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, who back Young on the record, are playing their own stuff at around 9. Cover is a reasonable $15. That a band that packs stadiums coast to coast hasn’t sold out this comparatively smaller venue testifies to something really troubling as far as live music in New York is concerned.

The group’s latest album Something Real is streaming at Spotify. The opening track, Surprise, is exactly that, kicking off with a wry Pink Floyd quote and then hitting a bluesy metal sway over an altered version of the hook from Sabbath’s Paranoid .Then they make a doublespeed Blue Oyster Cult boogie of sorts out of it. The title track is a straight-up boogie: “I got tired of trying to please everybody…you’re just a name in a picture frame,” the bandleader rails, then bassist Corey McCormick, percussionist Tato Melgar and drummer Anthony LoGerfo take it down for a searing, blues-infused solo. These guys don’t coast on their bloodlines: Lukas and Micah Nelson play like they really listened to their dad…at his loudest.

Set Me Down on a Cloud has a pretty straight-up, growling Neil-style country-rock sway. Don’t Want to Fly has a similar groove, a dark stoner blues gem that David Gilmour would probably love to have written. Ugly Color is an unlikely successful, epic mashup of Santana slink, Another Brick in the Wall art-pop and BoDeans highway rock. Speaking of the BoDeans, the ballad Georgia is a tensely low-key ringer for something from that band circa 1995.

This brother outfit goes back to boogie blues with the strutting I’ll Make Love to You Any Ol’ Time. Then they blast through Everything Is Fake in a swirling hailstorm of tremolo-picking. The album winds up with an amped-up cover of Scott McKenzie’s famous 1967 janglepop hit San Francisco, Neil Young cameo included. It’s sad how so few children of noteworthy rock musicians have lived up to their parents’ greatness – on the other hand, it’s heartwarming to see these guys join the ranks of Amy Allison (daughter of Mose), the Wallflowers’ Jakob Dylan and Sean Lennon. And these guys rock a lot harder than all of them.

Purist Americana in Park Slope with Mamie Minch and Laura Cantrell

Mamie Minch and Laura Cantrell have a lot in common. While each has a devoted following in her own Americana niche – Minch is a blues maven and Cantrell is steeped in vintage country music – they’re fans of each other’s styles and each other’s work. What’s the likelihood of seeing the two charismatic, often mesmerizing performers on the same stage? It happened last night at Union Hall in Park Slope, where Cantrell played the first night of her weekly May residency there. She’ll be playing at around 9 on Tuesdays for the rest of the month, with a rotating selection of special guests opening at around 8. Cover is $10. Shows like this one are why we live in New York, folks.

The room was pretty full by the time Minch hit the stage, solo with her trusty late 30s resonator guitar. She quickly reminded what a connoisseur she is when it comes to songs, and tunings – she used a new one on practically every song – and licks. For a first-class country blues player, she’s very economical, true to her influences. Her version of Mattie Delaney’s Big Road Blues alternated deliciously between a dancing, walking beat and a resonant, spiky shuffle. A little later she reinvented Bessie Smith’s Sing Sing Blues – the unrepentant tale of an abused woman who killed her man – as a chillingly rustic, practically otherworlldly feminist anthem. She also reinvented a handful of her own songs, moving effortlessly from her resonant alto voice to unexpectedly  higher registers on Border Radio, an upbeat, swinging hillbilly ballad dedicaated to the Carter Family; Razorburn Blues, a rapidfire litany of the things women endure for guys who don’t appreciate them; and Fortifiied Wine Widow, a morose Roaring 20s-style lament for a guy who couldn’t stay away from the patent medicine. She’d return later to join Cantrell and her band for a soulful, nuanced duet on Ivory Joe Hunter’s I Almost Lost My Mind, trading off on solos with a similarly nimble, purist guitarist, Boo Reiners. And it was fun to hear the two frontwomen ponder influences, and song origins, out loud between songs, a revealing look at two world-class musicologists in their element

Minch engaged the crowd with plenty of sardonic background for her songs, no surprise since she’s known for being a cutup onstage. But Cantrell can also be LMAO funny when she wants to be, and she was in an even more talkative mood than she usually is. Her funniest story involved the old Civil War song When the Roses Bloom Again – which she and her group played using the melody by Wilco – and a version sung by Barry Gibb. That’s right, a Bee Gee on the Grand Old Opry. The youtube clip is every bit as priceless as Cantrell said it was.

In her family, song collecting is a tradition going back to her great-aunt Ethel, who got credit for a possible edit/update on that song, as well as the murder ballad Poor Ellen Smith, which Cantrell and her sensational four-piece acoustic band with fiddle, Reiners on lead acoustic guitar and banjo and Jeremy Chatzky on bass –  did as a pretty straight-up bluegrass tune.

The set was a mix of fan favorites and expected numbers, like a couple of Amy Allison songs: a joyous take of Can’t Wait and an aptly somber, sober version of The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter as the encore. Cantrell also soared through a lively take of Jenifer Jackson‘s What You Said, then brought the lights down with a stark take of the brooding, ornate breakup ballad No Way There From Here, the title track to Cantrell’s most recent and characteristically brilliant album. She paid tribute to 1940s country hitmaker Molly O’Day with the pensive Mountain Fern and then to her most obvious influence with a robust version of Kitty Wells Dresses. From the jaunty swing of All the Same to You to the Neko Case-style simplicity of Maybe Sparrow, Cantrell worked every corner of her magical, crystalline voice from whispery lows to spectacular highs.

She was a transcendent singer fifteen years ago and she’s even better now, if such a thing can be possible. Arguably the best song of the night was Churches Off the Interstate, an early song from her debut album Not the Tremblin’ Kind, which won her a national following after she’d won over this city. On album, it’s a brisk, buttersweet shuffle. This all-acoustic version was more spare, and bucolic, and haunting: Cantrell seemed to want to clarify that it’s about hope rather than any kind of expectation of a happy ending. In the context of being a concert favorite by someone who used to play it all over what’s now a sometimes unrecognizable East Village, it was heartbreaking. Cantrell’s back here this coming May 12, preceded by a screening of films selected by archivist Russell Scholl. And the next cuople of weeks after, the band will be rejoined by another brilliant guitarist, Jon Graboff. Yeah, Graboff and Reiners on the same stage, that should be something.

Nell Robinson Brings Her Historically Rich Antiwar Americana Songs to Joe’s Pub

Alabama Americana songwriter Hilary Perkins, a.k.a. Nell Robinson has an epic and historically relevant antiwar-themed new album out, The Rose of No-Man’s Land – streaming at Spotify – with an all-star cast of players and special guests. It’s a mix of classic and cult-favorite war-themed songs from the Americana songbook from across the ages, along with Robinson’s originals which draw on letters sent home from the wartime front from throughout her family history. As you would expect from such serious material, most of the music is on the slow side. What’s most interesting about it is that none of these songs are didactic or preachy: they let the war stories and veterans’ laments speak for themselves, reminding that pretty much everybody who goes to war and survives it comes home a pacifist. In concert, Perkins involves the audience a lot more actively than just in a singalong way, and she’s bringing that show to Joe’s Pub on Saturday night, Nov 22 at 7 PM with her band and special guest Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Tix are $25.

The album opens on an aptly somber note with a brief, slow instrumental take of Bill Monroe’s My Last Days on Earth, Jim Nunally’s steady acoustic guitar paired with Greg Leisz’s resonant dobro. Robinson’s direct, uncluttered, vibrato-infused vocals give the traditional song Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier an imploring edge. Kathy Baker reads the first of the letters – from the real Nell Robinson, Perkins’ grandmother, to her soldier on the front in World War I, offering some unexpected comic relief.

The rest of the band – David Piltch on bass and Zach Harmon on drums – come in on Luther Presley’s Waiting for the Boys to Come Home, Levon Henry adding a celebratory clarinet solo. But the optimism is short-lived, the band returning to gently sobering mode with the Civil War narrative Blue-Eyed Boston Boy and keeps that going with the old folk song One Morning in May

A bluegrass romp through Rodney Crowell’s Scots Irish takes the theme forward in time to the Vietnam era and then today with some sweet flatpicking from Nunally and mandolin from Leisz. They follow that with a blue-flame take of Johnny Cash’s Vietnam talking blues Drive On with similar energy and cynicism, Elliott taking over lead vocals. X’s John Doe duets with Perkins on her starkly wistful bluegrass original Happy to Go – a revealing look at the psychology of defending one’s country – as well as on an aching take of Mel Tillis’ Stateside, pushed along by Craig Eastman’s fiddle.

Guy Clark’s Heroes, a chilling narrative about a shellshocked Gulf War vet, gets a gorgeously hushed treatment. The Forgotten Soldier Boy, another slow number from the Bill Monroe repertoire, revisits the theme from a WWI point of view. A Nunally original, Poppies stays in that era, Piltch’s all-too-brief bass solo adding an aptly bittersweet edge. Perkins sings an a-cappella verse of the country gospel title track, then follows that with another purist bluegrass original, Wahatchee, a brutal battlefield ballad set during the American Revolution. The album seems to hedge its bets at the end, closing on a patriotic note with Gene Scheer’s American Anthem.

The rest of the letters are as affecting as the songs. Kris Kristofferson reads a bitter, pessimistic 1866 assessment of Civil War Reconstruction; Doe voices a funny 1944 vignette; Maxine Hong Kingston delivers a brooding 1932 recollection of the veterans’ march on Washington, DC; and Elliott reads Marcus Cumbie’s 2012 poem Grove Hill. Click here for the text and song lyrics. What does all this prove? For one, that veterans always get the shaft after their service is done, no matter how much ink gets spilled over their heroism. In 2014, the majority of Americana combat veterans, some of them poisoned by the radioactive waste in U.S. munitions, return home too disabled to work.

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.

Laura Cantrell Is Back With That Amazing Voice and More Brilliant Tunesmithing

The onetime “proprietress” of the wildly popular Radio Thrift Shop on WFMU and BBC Radio Scotland, Laura Cantrell’s career is marked by the same quietly resolute determination that distinguishes her vocals. She’s one of the most extraordinary voices in any kind of music over the last twenty years – she can say more with a single, bittersweet bent note than most singers can in a whole album – and she resists pigeonholing. Cantrell made a name for herself as the greatest of the alt-country singers, then took an abrupt detour into rock, then more or less returned to the roots of her native Nashville (although she’s quick to acknowledge that as a kid, she was a lot more new wave than country). Her new album No Way There from Here (which you can hear on Spotify) is her first collection of originals since 2008’s fetchingly retro-60s Trains and Boats and Planes, and ranks among the best things she’s ever done. The songs are split about 50/50 between more-or-less oldschool country and jangly rock. That “more or less” qualifier is because Cantrell likes to push the envelope: for example, in back of the jangly twelve-string guitars on the album’s wryly knowing opening number, All the Girls Are Complicated (a co-write with Amy Allison), there’s a bass clarinet. Not your typical Nashville instrumentation.

And as much as Cantrell gets props for her voice, she’s a first-class songwriter. One of the best songs here is the biting country fiddle tune Beg and Borrow Days, a swipe at anyone who might have snarkily criticized her early in her career for championing material written by her friends in the Lakeside Lounge scene rather than coming up with her own material. The absolutely heartbroken, anthemic title track is another one, a big anthem with strings and piano and a mandolin that sometimes sounds like a balalaika, Cantrell ending it by morosely quoting the Tennessee Waltz.

Starry Skies paints a warmly vivid nocturnal tableau, with all kinds of neat touches from guitars, accordion and piano. Cantrell sings the steel guitar-driven ballad Glass Armour with a tender concern for a guy who’s gotten off his game and needs to get it back: we should all be so lucky as to have someone so caring in our corner. Barely Said a Thing is pensive mystery story, recounting a sseduction that might or might not go somewhere, set to an oldschool country tune with organ and more of that deliciously jangly twelve-string. Washday Blues is Cantrell at her aphoristic best, cleaning up a lifetime’s worth of disappointed metaphors against a backdrop of steel guitar and mandolin. The album ends with Someday Sparrow, evoking Neko Case with its mix of disheartened vulnerability and guarded optimism over a purist dobro-fueled C&W melody.

As intensely emotional as a lot of these songs are, Cantrell also has a fun side, and there’s lighthearted, upbeat stuff here too: the woozily optimistic after-the-party ballad Letter She Sent; the absolutely irresistible, briskly shuffing banjo tune Driving Down Your Street; the steadily strolling, bucolic When It Comes to You; and Allison’s breathless Can’t Wait. Cantrell is on UK tour right now; the remaining showdates are here.

Spuyten Duyvil Bring Their Original Oldtime Americana to the Rockwood

Hudson Valley Americana band Spuyten Duyvil (“spitting devil” in Dutch) play an exuberantly original take on classic Americana that draws on influences from the 70s on forward, from outlaw country to newgrass to folk-pop. All but two of the songs on their new album, Temptation, are originals. They’ve got a sense of humor, sizzling instrumental chops and catchy tunes. They’re playing the album release show on Oct 5 at 8 PM at the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $10 and includes a $5 credit toward band merch (i.e. this album, hint hint).

The album’s opening track, I’ll Fly Away gets an exuberant revival-camp workout, with a spiraling bluesy harmonica solo by James Meigs, winningly melismatic vocals from frontwoman Beth Jamie Kaufman and some high-voltage contrapuntal harmonies as it winds up on a high note. The album’s other cover, Red Molly‘s surreal, bitingly aphoristic Honey on My Grave pulses along on a catchy garage-rock riff, with a raw, bluesy Efrat Shapira violin solo, Rik Mercaldi’s lapsteel smoldering behind it. The first of the band’s tunes, Here & Hereafter draws a wry barroom scenario as it bounces along, a Lowell George-ish rock tune done oldtimey style.

The ballad The Window features a tasty interweave of guitar, bouzouki and banjo. One of the guys sings the scampering, shuffling title track: “Watching you walk’s like watching the last train leaving the station tonight: switchman sleeping, engineer’s been drinking, trust the lord, turn out the light.” They follow that with a couple of southern gothic-tinged numbers. Mercaldi’s lingering, jangly, guitar electric blues guitar drives Bitter, while the brooding banjo tune Old Abram reminds of New York’s excellent, creepy Bobtown, no surprise since that band’s Katherine Etzel sings the backing vocals, which may be the best on the whole album.

They pick up the pace with Scratch, a drolly vaudevillian oldtimey swing tune in the same vein as the Wiyos before that band went into psychedelic rock. Honey Whiskey reaches for a coyly amusing, Amy Allison-esque countrypolitan bittersweetness. The last track, Everything I Am, sounds suspiciously like it had a past life as would-be autotune pop song. You want eclectic?