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Tag: amy allison

Another Brilliant, Disconcerting Album from Lee Feldman

Now that the world has made its way out of post-Saturnalia mode, this is as good a time as any to catch up on some of the albums that should have been covered here last year but weren’t. Case in point: Lee Feldman’s absolutely brilliant, chilling Album No. 4: Trying To Put The Things Together That Never Been Together Before. Feldman is a terrifically eclectic pianist, equally at home with Bach or jazz as with the elegant art-rock songs he’s been writing since the 90s. His animated musical Starboy is a classic, a charmingly witty piece of vintage 80s style performance art. His late-2011 collaboration with cellist Noah Hoffeld, Sacred Time, was a richly tuneful detour into traditional Jewish instrumental themes that the duo transformed into what could be termed indie classical music (or something that John Zorn would put out on Tzadik). This is a return to original songcraft, and it stands with the best Feldman has ever done, which is saying a lot. The whole thing is streaming at his Bandcamp page along with several of his other albums, going all the way back to 1996’s Living It All Wrong.

This one’s a continuation of the themes Feldman explored on his 2007 album I’ve Forgotten Everything, an understatedly haunting portrait of alienation and disorientation brought on perhaps by age, perhaps by other factors, possibly in combination. Here as well as there, Feldman writes in the voice of a naif, echoed in his clear, bright, deceptively simple vocals and melodic hooks. Where I’ve Forgotten Everything mined an austere art-rock vibe, this one’s a much more ornate, stylistically diverse chamber-pop effort with terse horn charts and a string section.

The album peaks immediately with a surreal, Middle Eastern tinged art-rock waltz spiced with Carol Lipnik’s creepy, swooping vocals. Whoooah, this ride is going way too fast, gotta stop the machine and get off! The abruptness with which the narrator puts an end to some pretty spectacular fireworks is telling, and sets the stage for the rest of the story. It is not a happy one, and in a Faulknerian sense, this tale told by an idiot capsulizes our own present danger.

The second track is a red herring and a throwaway. Feldman picks up where he left off with That’s The Way the World Used to Work, an allusive ontogeny-recapitulates-philogeny theme set to lush, woodwind-enhanced chamber pop. River, a latin-tinged bounce, downplays the lyrics’ loaded symbolism. The hippie eco-pop of Trees Are People Too could be a children’s song, a vibe that flips 180 degrees on The Magician, a wistful ballad: Pete Galub’s distantly majestic lead guitar lowlights the mantra “I’m an outsider.”

I Remember The Night captures a family meeting at a particularly serious moment, in the Twilight Zone. An elegant piano waltz, Do You Want to Dance mingles gospel piano with a lyric that descends from carefree to absolutely miserable in seconds flat. The most psychedelic of all the tracks is the ninth one (the title is absurdly long, for a reason), a blend of trip-hop, Terry Riley and Beat Crazy-era Joe Jackson that seems to chronicle fragments from what’s essentially been a wasted life.

On the lullaby that follows, the narrator explains to the infant that “when you are ready to run, it’s me you’ll be running from.” The album’s creepiest track is Empty Room, the drums (guessing that’s the Universal Thump’s Adam D Gold behind the kit) shifting around its echoey, arrythmic ambience, a portrait of isolation and defeat.  In typical Feldman fashion, that reaches a peak with the blithe madness of Hamfest: over a casually comfortable Rhodes piano groove, the narrator (lapsing in and out of outer-borough accent) announces how “I play the trumpet just like Emperor Hirohito/I try to play the books I read but I never play repeato.” The Party’s Over has the same kind of disconcerting, disassociative blitheness: “The ship is sinking and the fish are friendly, and I’ve been thinking that I don’t like fish,” the protagonist reflects. The album ends with Thanks and its characteristically simple yet crushing sadness. In just a few words and a few major chords, Feldman delivers a wallop. The star-studded band behind Feldman, besides Lipnik, Galub and Gold, includes Hoffeld on cello, Nadia Sirota on viola, Doug Wieselman on reeds, keyboardists Greta Gertler, Dan Bryk and Glenn Patscha, trombonist Clark Gayton, bassist Byron Isaacs and singer Amy Allison among others.

Karen & the Sorrows Take Country Music to Creepy New Places

Brooklyn band Karen & the Sorrows’ new ep Ocean-Born Mary isn’t your average country album. It’s a four-song suite based on a ghost story first introduced to the group by pedal steel player Elana Redfield. Mary seems to have been born onboard a pirate ship. As the story goes, her appearance so touched the ship’s captain that he backed off a sinister plan to slaughter the entire crew. And was so taken by this baby that eighteen years later, he tracked her down in rural New Hampshire and married her! But karma got the best of him. Turns out she liked him a little too much and came up with a plan to put an end to his lengthy absences at sea: she killed him by sealing him behind a wall, a la A Cask of Amontillado! Reputedly the house still stands and is haunted by the ghost of both the captain and his wife.

Frontwoman/guitarist Karen Pittelman’s high voice reminds a bit of Amy Allison and Dolly Parton in places – she’s got a coy, fetching edge at the top of her register and she uses effectively when she needs to drive a phrase home. The rhythm section of Tami Johnson and bassist AJ Lewis keeps it simple and oldschool, as does Redfield, whose judicious, tersely incisive playing is a good match for these allusive, attractive but distantly menacing songs. The first one is titled Persephone, and starts with a bass drone until it picks up with a backbeat and the pedal steel; Redfield’s jagged electric guitar gives away her punk rock background. “Calling, calling, calling from the underground,” is the refrain: this is a restless ghost. That one segues into Caged Bird, a swaying soul ballad in 6/8 time with some surprisingly biting guitar: “If you don’t come back to me why should I ever set you free,” the ghost asks. The best, and most ominous track here is A Plague on Your Houses, a brisk but brooding minor-key shuffle. The album ends with All the Oceans, which starts out slowly and then works its way up to a singalong chorus that’s just a little too blithe to be for real: this is a vengeful ghost! For those who might say that this isn’t oldschool, hard country, let’s not forget that like every other style of music, country keeps evolving, and Karen & the Sorrows are taking it to a place it’s never been before, a good and creepy one. Karen & the Sorrows play the album release show at Rock Shop in Gowanus tonight, the 28th at around 9.

Thanks for the Memories, Lakeside Lounge

Lakeside Lounge has been sold and will be closing at the end of April. After just over fifteen years in business, the bar that defined oldschool East Village cool will be replaced by a gentrifier whiskey joint, no doubt with $19 artisanal cocktails and hedge fund nebbishes trying to pick up on sorostitutes when their boyfriends are puking in the bathroom – or out of it.

Lakeside opened in 1996 [thanks for the correction, everybody] in the space just north of the former Life Cafe on Ave. B north of 10th Street in the single-story building between tenements that had previously housed a Jamaican fried chicken takeout restaurant. It was an instant hit. Owners Jim Marshall (a.k.a. The Hound, an astute and encyclopedic blues and soul-ologist with a great blog) and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (of the Del-Lords, and eventually lead guitarist in Steve Earle’s band) had a game plan: create a space that nurtures artists rather than exploiting them as so many venues do. And they stuck to that plan. Before long, Lakeside had become a mecca for good music. For several years, there was literally a good band here just about every night with the exception of the few holidays when the bar was closed. Artists far too popular for the back room would play here just for the fun of it: Earle, Rudy Ray Moore, Graham Parker, John Sinclair, the Sadies, Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby all had gigs here, some of them more than once. Dee Dee Ramone hung out here and eventually did a book signing on the little stage in the back, with people lined up around the block. Steve Wynn had a weekly residency here for a bit (which was amazing). The place helped launch the careers of countless Americana-ish acts including Laura Cantrell, Amy Allison, Mary Lee’s Corvette, Megan Reilly, Tom Clark & the High Action Boys, Tammy Faye Starlite and Spanking Charlene and sustained countless others through good times and bad. And as much as most of the bands played some kind of twangy rock, booking here was actually very eclectic: chanteuses Erica Smith and Jenifer Jackson, indie pop mastermind Ward White, punk rockers Ff and several surf bands from Laika & the Cosmonauts to the Sea Devils all played here.

As the toxic waves of gentrification pushed deeper into the East Village, Lakeside never changed. You could still get a $3 Pabst, or a very stiff well drink for twice that. Their half-price happy hour lasted til 8 PM. The jukebox was expensive (two plays for a buck) but was loaded with obscure R&B, blues and country treasures from the 40s through the 60s. Countless bands used their black-and-white photo booth for album cover shots. Their bar staff had personalities: rather than constantly texting or checking their Facebook pages, they’d talk to you. And they’d become your friends if you hung out and got to know them. Some were sweet, some had a mean streak, but it seemed that there was a rule that to work at Lakeside, you had to be smart, and you had to be cool.

But times changed. To a generation of pampered, status-grubbing white invaders from the suburbs, Lakeside made no sense. The place wasn’t kitschy because its owners were genuinely committed to it, and to the musicians who played there. It had no status appeal because it was cheap, dingy and roughhewn, and Ambel refused to book trendy bands. Had they renovated, put in sconces and ash-blonde paneling, laid some tile on the concrete floor, kicked out the bands and brought in “celebrity DJ’s” and started serving $19 artisanal cocktails, they might have survived. But that would have been suicide. It wouldn’t have been Lakeside anymore.

There won’t be any closing party, but the bands on the club calendar will be playing their scheduled shows. Ambel plays the final show at 9 on the 30th. Before then, stop in and say goodbye to a quintessential New York treasure.

Kami Thompson – A Surprise, Or What?


That’s what musicians derisively call the sons and daughters of famous rockers. Sean Lennon, anyone? How about Brian Wilson’s obese daughter? And wasn’t there a Howlin’ Wolf Jr.? Actually, there were probably a whole bunch of Howlin’ Wolf Jr.’s, but there was a particular one who took credit for being that man.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule that the children of great musicians can’t be great musicians themselves. But those are few and far between. Probably the best example is Amy Allison (daughter of Mose). Rosanne Cash has written some great songs and is also a fine singer; Jakob Dylan had a good run back in the 90s; Zak Starkey (son of Ringo) is a sensationally good drummer, and Whitney Houston (daughter of Cissy) once had a hell of a voice, regardless of how you feel about her material or her tortuously public plunge into the abyss.

So with her debut album Love Lies, Kami Thompson has set herself up for a fate even crueller than what happened to Lana Del Rey (remember her fifteen minutes?). The daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson – whom many consider to be the greatest songwriter and the greatest singer of the past forty years – she faces being held to a standard that’s just plain unfair, that few living musicians in any style of music could hope to live up to (though the same thing happened to her artsy janglerock brother Teddy, who’s been able to carve out an audience for himself). Beyond that, it’s hardly cynical to emphasize that if she didn’t have such celebrated bloodlines, there’s no way, at her age (probably close to thirty) that she’d be signed to a major label (Warner). Yet she not only doesn’t embarrass herself: she proves to be not only a solid tunesmith, but also a fine singer. Like her mom, her voice is unadorned, pure, and at its best, genuinely haunting. The way she’ll take a little leap at the end of a phrase, insistently or indignantly, and then let the note slip away like a ghost, reminds of a very young Erica Smith: she’s that good. Her songs are catchy and anthemic, and are surprisingly eclectic (part of the credit goes to producer Brad Albetta, whose signature, soaring, melodic bass and inventive arrangements have brightened several first-class artists’ albums, most notably another Britfolk-influenced songstress, Amanda Thorpe). As a guitarist, most of the learning curve is still in front of her (she doesn’t seem to be able to play upstrokes) and though she tries, her plainspoken lyrics are on the prosaic side.

Hardcore RT fans are going to want this album for the two solos he contributes here: a characteristically dark, gorgeous one at the end of the album’s best cut, the wary, forlornly janglerocking Little Boy Blue, and a much terser but equally sharp one at the end of Stormy, a big, crescendoing electric anthem that sounds like Bauhaus playing Britfolk. And there’s another solo on the catchy, backbeat-driven folk-pop tune Gotta Hold On that’s a good approximation. The rest of the album is diverse: 4000 Miles sets minor-key Britfolk to a reggae groove, and surprisingly, it works. Never Again is a Gillian Welch/Erica Smith style Americana ballad, while Tick Tock has all kinds of clever touches: hip-hop allusions, a tongue-in-cheek, bouncy bassline and a sarcastic chorus that nicks the chords from PiL’s This Is Not a Love Song. The album ends with Want You Back (the Beatles via Elliott Smith); Blood Wedding (pensive and plaintive, “I lost my youth to a broken heart,” a thread that runs through most of these songs); and then just the Beatles themselves (Don’t Bother Me, done as a high-quality, high-spirited demo). If this is the only album Kami Thompson ever does, it’s nothing to be ashamed of; let’s hope there’s more where this came from. Ladies and gentlemen, fire up your browsers.

More Free Stuff for Xmas

Do you know the Radio Free Song Club? Their specialty seems to be jangly 90s-style indie pop with frequent incursions into country music. Their home page has lots of free downloads – just right-click on the song title. There are some real gems here.

If you’re having a hard time waiting for a new Laura Cantrell album, you’re in luck: she’s got four great, relatively new songs here. The most enchanting voice in country music whisks gracefully through a wistful country waltz, Letters She Sent – just loaded with those images that Cantrell uses so well – which if you scroll down the page a little, is followed by Do You Know What I Mean. That one sets the same kind of vivid, plaintive scene, and it’s a very intimate, stripped-down performance.

There are also a couple of more upbeat tracks here, both of them co-writes with Amy Allison. Can’t Wait is a period-perfect early teens tune: she gets up early, he works late, and everybody’s exhausted. But love ultimately conquers fatigue. And Kitty Wells’ Dresses, a homage to the 50s country icon whose voice Cantrell’s most closely resembles, is an anthem for any woman with Grand Old Opry dreams and dollar-store realities.

There’s also a typical funny/pissed duet by Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby. And the best song on the whole page might be the one by Mary Lee Kortes, which is literally about loaded imagery.

If you go for the more innocuous side of 90s Hoboken pop – which is where most of these people seem to come from – you’ll probably like a lot of the other stuff too.