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Tag: best songwriter nyc

Rachelle Garniez Releases Her Most Intriguing, Inscrutable Album

Sometimes the best albums take the longest to get to know. Which isn’t any surprise: if you can figure out exactly what an album is all about the first time around, maybe it isn’t worth hearing again. Rachelle Garniez has been making good and frequently transcendent ones since the late 90s. Her new one Sad Dead Alive Happy, just out this past January, is the fifth by the virtuoso accordionist/pianist/chanteuse, who’s fluent on guitar and bass as well. Over the years, she’s covered more ground more expertly, unpredictably and entertainingly than pretty much any other songwriter alive: noir blues, lushly orchestrated piano anthems, oldtime country, oompah punk, salsa, tango, psychedelia, torch songs and ragtime, to name a few genres. Her lyrics work multiple levels of meaning for a style that sounds completely spontaneous but probably isn’t: songs as intelligent as hers are typically very carefully thought out. This new album is her most opaque and inscrutable: musically, it’s an unexpected turn deep into gospel and soul music.

As usual, keyboards are front and center here, along with Garniez’ nuanced, occasionally dramatic multi-octave vocals. She pulls out all the stops on the opening track, the album’s funniest, a surreal homage (in the rough sense of the word, anyway) to Jean-Claude Van Damme, who’s apparently been hawking antidepressants on tv. It could be sincere, or it could be the album’s cruellest, most sarcastic and punkest song. Garniez’ grand guignol operatics on the outro sound more like Queen than anything else: it’s so beautifully blissful it’s hard to believe. God’s Little Acre is overtly sarcastic and even more upbeat, an unrepentant anthem for hedonists who might not want to reconnect with old conquests via Facebook. Lunasa begins echoey and hypnotic and morphs into an Irish ballad: “Tonight is the last night of the summer of love, the last night of summer, my love,” Garniez sings sweetly, but as usual, there’s an undercurrent of menace that finally emerges after a charming tack piano interlude. Nothing is exactly as it seems here.

If you’ve always wondered how Matt Munisteri would play an arena-rock guitar solo, you’ll find out on Parallel Universe, which melds 80s stadium rock into a slow gospel ballad – and surprisingly, it works. Metaphorically, it’s about rediscovering an earlier self: how that might be achieved is open to interpretation. A couple of tracks here have a previous life as well. The jaunty, clever swing tune Just Because You Can first appeared on Catherine Russell’s This Heart of Mine in 2010; Garniez’ own version is more straight-ahead. And the refusenik soul anthem My House of Peace was first released as a vinyl single by Jack White (who also plays drums on the song) on his Third Man Records label in 2009.

The album’s final track, Land of the Living brings the gospel to a crescendo both lyrically and musically: it’s an Aimee Mann drug dirge that trades that artist’s harrowing edge for a streetwise optimism. “When you fly, do you like to get a running start?” whispers Garniez as the song slowly kicks in; by the end, it’s two women hanging out, smoking on a stoop somewhere in Manhattan, one gently nudging the other toward a more robust future. You could call this gospel for nonbelievers – paradoxical as that sounds, it’s the kind of theme Garniez thrives on. Check back at the end of the year and see if this gets the nod for best album of 2012: it just might. In the meantime, it’s streaming in its entirety at myspace.

Rachelle Garniez At Barbes: Under the Weather But On Her Game

Listen up fellow music bloggers – Rachelle Garniez always makes good copy. Last night at Barbes wasn’t even one of her best shows, and it was still pretty classic. Through oompah punk, indomitable gospel-rock (My House of Peace, her 2009 single produced by Jack White and released on his Third Man label), oldtimey swing and a hilarious pseudo-homage to Jean-Claude Van Damme, she improvved her intros, jamming her way into every song, playing accordion – and piano on a few songs mid-set – backed only by her longtime bassist Dave Hofstra. She made an unexpected segue into Take the A Train, speaking for everyone who’s ever ridden that train to the end: it’s the reeeeeeaaaaaaal slow way to get to the Rockaways. Garniez is New York to the core and usually makes that obvious, very subtly: tonight was not one of those nights. More about that a little later. She opened the set with torrents of accordion and the torrents of images in Tourmaline, a characteristically inscrutable, lyrically rich cut from her 2008 album Melusine Years. “Of all the green-haired girls I’ve seen to date, you blow them all away,” is the turnaround. Then she romped through the oldtimey swing of Kid in the Candy Store, another image-loaded story about a guy who’s reached overdose point with something most of us can’t get enough of.

Garniez asked the crowd if anybody knew who the answer to the mystery of who built the food pyramid – in her world, it’s topped by a crystalline controlled substance that turned out to be sugar. Later on she gently pondered whether there’s anything left that’s not googlable. Other performers might bash you over the head with the implications; Garniez just posed the question, made everybody laugh and then swung her way through God’s Little Acre (from her just-released album Sad-Alive-Dead-Happy), an unapologetic reminiscence of playing the field (and not-so-fond recollection of a face from those days trying to reconnect on Facebook). Much of Garniez’ recent work – Melusine Years in particular – has an elegaic quality, much of that for the edgy New York of the 80s where she grew up. That quietly and matter-of-factly reached critical mass on a slowly unwinding version of People Like You, a blithely sarcastic pop tune from Melusine Years, here an anthem that began with memories of drinking pink Champale, sleeping on the beach and then going for a swim at night out in the Rockaways. She mentioned she tried doing that several years later, in the early zeros, only to be stopped by the cops, a moment that left her temporarily speechless. As the song went on, she finally dropped her guard – something she hardly ever does – and lashed into the posers who’ve move to New York from suburbs far and wide, have taken over her old turf and believe their own bullshit about how special they are. It’s a song that could be an anthem for the Occupy movement. She closed the show with a request, Silly Me, from her 2000 Crazy Blood album: “I never thought that I’d live to see this century,” she mused as the chorus swelled, “Now we’re here, we’ve got the chance to do it better.” Garniez is back at Barbes on January 5 at 8 playing new songs from the new record.

Jennifer O’Connor Is Back with Her Best Album

Is Jennifer O’Connor’s new album I Want What You Want her big comeback? Not really. She’s always been good. She burst into prominence in the late zeros, a purist rock tunesmith with understatedly strong guitar chops and a down-to-earth vocal style that won her all kinds of acclaim from the cognoscenti. By 2009, she’d parted ways with her record label (how many times have we heard that, huh?). Broke and burnt out from constant touring, she contemplated giving up music altogether when she wasn’t impresario-ing the occasional songwriter salon at Rock Shop in Brooklyn, or building her own label, Kiam Records. And occasionally, she’d write a song. This album is the result, offering guarded hope against a dreadful alternative which is usually left unspoken, to powerful effect. The raw, gently resolute intensity of O’Connor’s voice is the perfect vehicle for the portraits of emotional depletion here – a lot of these songs are absolutely devastating. Consider this album a more rock-oriented, teens counterpart to Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

What hope there is here takes awhile to emerge. “So many other ways – we can change,” O’Connor offers, on the simple guitar-and-voice vignette that opens the album, before plunging into the abyss with the hypnotic post-Velvets stomp of Already Gone. It’s a haunting portrait of how a scene that once seemed so promising will vanish before your eyes, leaving nothing to replace it, and as usual O’Connor doesn’t waste a note (bassist Michael Brodlieb’s hook on the way out of the chorus is absolutely, simply spot-on). Clinical depression moves in to take centerstage on the catchy but elegiac 7/12/09:

Every minute you’re alone
In every place you’ve ever known
With every song you set the tone
For loneliness

She moves back toward a middle-period Jesus & Mary Chain ambience, and brings up the energy level, with You Come Around, an exasperated kiss-off  to someone who basically shows up exactly when expected, because, as O’Connor puts it, that’s what they do. It’s their nature – and people like are usually psychic vampires, and she wants nothing more to do with this one. She follows it with the understatedly aching, wistful country song Hidden Hill, a cruelly vivid wintertime tableau with “Nashville guitar” from Tim Foljahn.

The trajectory goes up from there, from the stately Swan Song (For Bella), with Kirsten McCord on cello; the brisk, new wave beat of Running Start; the catchy, mantra-like folk-rocker How I Will Get By; and the lushly gorgeous Good Intentions, Mascott’s Kendall Meade’s precise keys mingling with Versus’ Richard Balayut’s soaring, anthemic guitar leads. Change Your Life is a dirge, a funeral procession for a previous existence – but also an opening theme for a new one. O’Connor finally flexes her guitar muscles on the roaring, noisy No One Knows Anything, then switches to electric piano for the final two tracks, a bouncy reprise of the opening track (with crystalline backing vocals from Amy Bezunartea), and finally Your Guitar, a quietly triumphant account of a rocker who’s decided to walk away from it all, sick of the “unbearable trends, the means and the ends, neither of which you can defend.” The whole album is streaming at soundcloud; the limited edition cd version of the album also includes high-quality downloads of all the songs from bandcamp.