New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: blues

One of New York’s Most Riveting, Entertaining Guitarists Makes a Triumphant Return to the Stage in Bed-Stuy

What James Jamerson was to Motown, Binky Griptite was to the Dap-Tone stable of artists. Jamerson was a bass player, arguably the main architect of the groove that transformed pop music in the 60s. Griptite was lead guitarist to Sharon Jones and most of the rest of New York’s best retro soul acts of the zeros and teens. After that, he maintained a cult following through an endless series of small-venue gigs around town, which ended with the lockdown. This brilliant sideman is also a bandleader, and he’s bringing his Binky Griptite Orchestra – a rotating cast of similarly sharp oldschool soul, blues and funk talent – to Bar Lunatico on July 5 at 9 PM.

This blog has been in the house at many of his gigs, most recently a searing set with gonzo gospel-funk personality Rev. Vince Anderson’s band a few months before the lockdown. The last time anyone here caught him leading a band was over the course of a week in the winter of 2017, when he played a sizzling, frequently psychedelic show at Union Pool and then a much more low-key, slinky set at Threes Brewing in Greenpoint. Both shows featured the amazing, similarly soul-inspired Moist Paula Henderson on smoky, serpentine baritone sax.

Onstage, Griptite is a cool, suave force of nature. The most adrenalizing moments of the Union Pool show were when he slowed down for some eerily crescendoing Chicago blues, an expansive platform for him to show off both subtlety and speed. You could hear the influence of B.B. King, but ultimately Griptite is his own animal. From carbonated James Brown-style bounces to lengthier jams, he chose his spots to get wild.

The Greenpoint gig was 180 degrees the opposite. This one was all about sultry ambience to warm up a cold evening, heavier on the ballads and slower on the tempos, with a lot of input from Henderson. Whichever mood you catch this guy in, it’s always worth seeing. And this intimate venue is a good one for him. Open the door at Lunatico and the first thing you notice is how good it smells (they serve crostinis and such).

Commemorating a Feral Blues Legend on Limited Edition Vinyl

There’s incredible irony in that legendary Mississippi hill country bluesman T-Model Ford, who lived more than half his life before digital recording existed, would getting a release on vinyl now. The new retrospective I Was Born in a Swamp – which isn’t online yet – is out on limited edition, appropriately red-colored vinyl. Ford, who died in his nineties in 2013, would no doubt approve.

The opening track on each side is an interview. Ford was a bright guy, and a shady character who did nothing to dispel the many eyebrow-raising but likely apocryphal stories which were probably concocted to sell cds and fuel his legend as the great 1990s wildman of the Mississippi juke joint circuit. On the A-side, he addresses his date of birth. His driver’s license says one thing, his passport says another. Whichever the case, he is certain he was born on June 24: when, he probably took to the grave with him. The reminiscence on the B-side has more reliable historical information.

The first number is Someone’s Knocking At My Door, essentially a thinly disguised version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning. What’s unusual about this album is that Ford, who typically only recorded with guitar and drums, is either playing acoustic, or backed by a full band featuring  members of Gravel Road, Moreland & Arbuckle, the Soledad Brothers and Outrageous Cherry. who contribute organ, bass and sunbaked, psychedelic lead guitar. It’s a far cry from Ford’s usual unhinged, ramshackle style, but it’s also far from slick.

Another unusual feature is the length of the songs. Onstage, he would stretch out, but in the studio he typically kept things short. The eight-minute take of Big Legged Woman here has piano and squalling slide guitar – and chord changes, something Ford didn’t have much use for. An atypical, rather subdued take of Chicken Head Man sounds like a very late-career number, with an unexpected lineup of acoustic guitars, blues harp and drums.

Likewise, the epic, practically eleven-minute version of Hip Shaking Woman, where Ford nicks a whole verse from Muddy Waters. Ford knocks back a little whiskey before a brief take of Little Walter’s My Babe, then the band plug in again for the final cut, Same Old Train: second take, same as the first, more or less.

In the fall of 2000, the publisher of a now long-defunct New York music e-zine brought a couple of friends to see Ford at the Mercury Lounge. He wasn’t even headlining: the guy at the top of the bill was R.L. Burnside. Sitting in the back of the club before the show, Ford was gregarious and in good spirits, but when he hit the stage, he and his drummer channeled something shamanic, and otherworldly, and just as sinister. It was one of the most explosive bills the venue ever staged. New York Music Daily’s historical archive contains a surprisingly high-quality field recording of both artists’ sets.

A Couple of Crazed Vinyl Curios From the 80s

One of the 80s bands whose concerts were most widely chronicled by field recordings was the Gun Club. Which makes sense: when they were at the top of their game, they were one of the era’s most unpredictably explosive live acts. Frontman Jeffrey Lee Pierce went to the great whiskey bar in the sky in 1996, but the group remain a foundational influence on the scores of gutter blues bands who’ve followed in their wake.

What’s new is that there’s a Gun Club reissue, two choice tracks just out as a 45 RPM vinyl single ,from the band’s 1984 album Miami. With its with its layers of trebly Telecaster, the stomping Fire of Love – a Jody Reynolds cover – still sizzles. The flip side, Bad Indian is even treblier and closer to straight-up garage rock.

For Gun Club diehards, there’s also a new vinyl album, Soulsuckers on Parade which hasn’t hit the web yet. In this off-the-cuff, live-in-the-studio 1984 session, Pierce is backed by most of the Blasters – guitarist Dave Alvin, pianist Gene Taylor and drummer Bill Bateman, plus Green on Red bassist Jack Waterson. This stuff has been circulating in the cassette underground and then on the web for close to forty years.

Side A is the haphazard seventeen-minute jam Walking Down the Street Doing My Thing, which comes across as a Stooges ripoff, right down to Pierce’s X-rated trash-talking, the “take it down you-all” and the tinkling piano. It’s impossible to think that Pierce hadn’t heard the Metallic KO album and thought to himself, “I can do this too.” The Violent Femmes’ first album and the Doors are also obvious reference points.

The B-side has two blues tunes, the second being two takes of Willie Nelson’s Not Supposed to Be That Way. For someone who was as sloshed as Alvin has admitted to being here, he fires off some memorably unhinged Chicago blues riffage in each of them. It’s a tantalizing hint of the talent that could have made him one of the greatest lead guitarists of his era if he’d stuck with it instead of going the singer-songwriter route. Pierce, who sounds wall-hugging drunk, has the nerve to harsh on his bandmates for emulating a Detroit sound. There are also a couple of throwaway rock covers here as well.

Potently Aware, Darkly Bluesy French Caribbean Rock From Delgres

Delgres are the missing link between Caribbean kreyol music and the darker side of American blues, with occasional flickers of Saharan psychedelic rock. They have a ferociously populist, historically-inspired sensibility, a passion for vintage guitar sonics and a thing for tight, three-minute songs. They take their name from Louis Delgrès, a late 18th century Guadeloupian freedom fighter murdered by invading French imperialists. The trio’s latest album 4:00 AM is streaming at Spotify.

They open with the title track, a bitter workingman’s lament motoring briskly along on a blues riff that sounds straight out of Mali. The second track, Aleas (Hazards) has an offbeat reggae groove, drummer Baptiste Brondy adding ominously industrial tinges as sousaphone player Rafgee turns into a one-man brass section, adding trumpet and trombone. Singing in kreyol and firing off reverbtoned bursts on his dobro, frontman/guitarist Pascal Danae relates the grimly allusive tale of a child left behind by a refugee parent.

The fourth track, Assez Assez (Enough Is Enough) is an aptly imploring, smoldering trip-hop anthem about the global refugee crisis. Se Mo La (These Words) has a brooding, funky pulse, Danae relating the hauntingly allusive story of a parent trying to come to comfort a child who’s been subjected to racist invective at school.

The band go back to a trip-hop beat for Lundi Mardi Mercredi, a gritty workday scenario spiced with woozy, keening Dr. Dre synthesizer (remember the 90s? These guys do). They take a stark detour into spiky, rustic acoustic fingerpicked blues in Ban Mwen On Chanson (Give Me a Song), a refugee narrative driven by Brondy’s sinister whiplash beats.

Danae switches to English, and a suspiciously carnivalesque cabaret bounce, in Just Vote For Me – this candidate seems to protest just a little too much. Ke Aw (Your Heart) has an unexpectedly lush, Britfolk-tinged web of minor-key twelve-string acoustic guitar textures, a stunned, reserved tale of a mom who’s lost a child.

After a brief, defiantly revolutionary singalong, the band launch into L’Ecole, a roughhewn stomp: it’s their Subterranean Homesick Blues. They stick with a scrambling, Mississippi hill country-style drive in the vindictive escape anthem Lese Mwen Ale (Let Me Go):

Yes, I’ve been working for 10 years now
But you know I never earn anything
Because they took my papers
And they erased my name

They close the album with the hauntingly drifting slave narrative La Penn (The Pain), the narrator cautioning his buddy to be careful how he gets revenge for the death of his wife, presumably aboard a slave ship. Morgane Quéré’s harp adds an extra layer of disquiet over Rafgee’s slinky sousaphone bassline.

In their liner notes, the band express considerable gratitude for the good fortune to record this in Brussels just a month “before everything changed.” What they don’t mention is that everything is going to change back – for good. We’re not there yet, but the lockdown is in its death throes. Back in 2018, Delgres played a blistering, politically fearless set at Lincoln Center, which at the moment is off-limits to anyone who’s unwilling to be subjected to their invasive New Abnormal ticketing spyware. Let’s look forward to the day Delgres can rock the house somewhere else.

Abigail Dowd Stares Down the Flood and Wins

From Johnny Cash, to Led Zeppelin, to Karla Rose, musicians have never stopped finding new uses for flood metaphors. Americana songwriter Abigail Dowd is the latest in that venerable line. For Dowd, it’s personal: her Colorado home was flooded six times in 2018, springboarding the songs on her hauntingly intense latest album Beautiful Day, streaming at Soundcloud. As a tale of resilience and triumph over adversity, it has special resonance in the year of the needle of death.

Dowd has a ruggedly individualistic persona and a thing for southern gothic; her previous album Not What I Seem got a rave review here last year. Not everything is as it seems in the allusive, wary title track, Dowd’s spiky fingerpicking leading to a doublespeed charge fueled by Alex McKinney’s dobro and Scott Sawyer’s spare electric guitar lines over the low-key shuffle rhythm of bassist Jason Duff and drummer Austin McCall. Here and there, Joe MacPhail’s Rhodes electric piano pops up, a subtle suspenseful enhancement.

Diamond is a strutting Lou Reed tune in Americana disguise, spiced with MacPhail’s smoky organ: “Sometimes I feel like a miner left behind in the dark” is the key line. Dowd’s delivery in general is more flinty on this album, especially in One Moment at a Time, a moody carpe-diem theme built around a briskly flurrying acoustic guitar riff.

The instrumental St. Vrain – the name of the creek that rose up and almost took Dowd’s home with it – has a gorgeously haunting, baroque-tinged web of guitars and is over way, way too soon: Dowd could have kept this going three times as long and it wouldn’t be boring.

Sawyer’s ominous washes of chords raise the intensity in River, a resolute Appalachian gothic anthem. Dowd stays with the brooding minor-key atmosphere in Apple Trees, a chillingly metaphorical tale of plans suddenly derailed.

The Underground Railroad escape anthem Judgment Day captures the exhaustion of life on the run and the perils at every turn. “I just want to be alone,” the haunted freedom fighter in Don’t Want to Talk About It asserts: sometimes you have to become a monster to defeat them.

Dowd’s defiant narrator throws off the shackles of original sin in the briskly stomping After the Fall, right up to a surprise ending. The she brings down the lights in the haunting, organ-fueled, enigmatic Rise Above: at what point do we have to walk through hell to get any further?

The flood metaphors reach fever pitch in Run, a global warming-era Appalachian gothic tale run amok. Dowd winds up the album with Grandmother Moon, a shamanic, oldtime blues-infused tableau. Dowd is on a creative tear right now: there must be something in that Rocky Mountain water.

Twisted Things Come in Threes Today

Been a little while since there have been any singles on this page. But little by little, more and more artists are gearing up for a return to freedom. There’s optimism, apocalypse and fury in today’s trio of songs.

“I’m living in a ghost town, I’m doing things my way, I’m not dead yet, ” four-piece New York band Devora’s frontwoman asserts over skronky minimalist punk rock straight out of the late 80s in their latest single, Not Dead Yet.

Chicago guitar legend Dave Specter and blues harp player Billy Branch build a slow, venomously simmering groove in The Ballad of George Floyd: “Eight minutes of torture, begged for mercy, then he was killed.” Specter has been on a roll with good protest songs, ever since his venomous anti-Trump broadside, How Low Can One Man Go.

Marianne Dissard, who’s been putting out single after hauntingly eclectic single from a planned covers album, has just released the one of her disturbing picks so far, a ghastly remake of Adriano Celentano’s creepily dadaesque 1972 Prisencolinensinainciusol, with a pastiche of samples of lockdown posturing by Boris Johnson, two Trumps, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Reccep Erdogan, and Xi Jinping. Together they give Dissard a long, long rope to hang them with.

Saluting Some Great Women Blues Pioneers

These days, the irrepressible playlisters who put together the Rough Guide compilations have turned to the public domain. With digital music having flatlined as a consumer product a long time ago, one way a record label can survive is to reissue hundred-year-old blues songs that don’t require licensing or royalties. And these Rough Guide oldtime blues playlists are good! Each has lots of music, the greats alongside lesser-known talents. One of the best is the Rough Guide to Blues Women, a twenty-five track mix of guitar, piano and larger-group recordings, mostly from the 1920s, released in 2016 and streaming at Spotify.

There isn’t a lot of obvious material on this one. Among the iconic figures here, Ma Rainey is represented by a proto-dixieland version of Stack O’Lee Blues. Likewise, Bessie Smith’s Careless Love has chattering brass and piano. The Memphis Minnie track here is the lesser-known, upbeat shuffle Frisco Town. Sippie Wallace has a big band behind her in the speakeasy tale Parlor Social DeLuxe, while Victoria Spivey – the sweet-voiced Madonna of the 1920s – closes the album over some tasty stride piano with Hoodoo Man Blues.

For those looking for instrumental flash, check out the neat two-guitar intertwine in Ruth Willis’ Man of My Own, Lottie Kimbrough’s gorgeously chiming Rolling Log Blues, and Mattie Delaney’s elegantly pouncing fretwork in Down the Big Road Blues.

The blues can get pretty grim. Leola Manning’s Arcade Building Moan gruesomely recalls a lethal fire, and Greshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas’ contribute the alllusively grisly Pick Poor Robin Clean.

There’s risque material here too, notably Lucille Bogan’s barrelhouse tune Shave ‘Em Dry. Ida Cox’s Moaning Groaning Blues is somewhat subtler. And Hattie Hart fronts the Memphis Jug Band throughout a jauntily shuffling take of Cocaine Habit Blues, a.k.a. Take a Whiff on Me.

Pearl Dickson’s Little Rock Blues is built around a fleet-fingered, cascading riff, Louisa Johnson channels a brittle unease over thumping piano in By the Moon and Stars, otherwise known as I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down. Hattie Hudson’s surreal, imagistic Black Hand Blues makes a good segue.

There are a handful of ringers on this album. Louis Armstrong is one, with Bertha “Chippie” Hill fronting a piano-trumpet-vocal trio on a steady version of Trouble in Mind. Likewise, Blind Willie McTell backs his wife Kate in what seems an impromptu homemade version of the Prohibition-era relic God Don’t Like It. The version of Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do here is by Fats Waller, with Sara Martin on the mic. And Irene Scruggs sings over Blind Blake’s sparkling picking on Itching Heel Blues.

A Smart, Defiant, Diverse Debut Album From Americana Tunesmith Cristina Vane

Cristina Vane shifts between a simmering intensity and a low-key, brooding vocal delivery. She’s a strong guitarist with command of a whole bunch of blues styles and writes sharply lyrical, darkly aphoristic songs. Her narratives are cached in allusive, grim rural imagery more than fire-and-brimstone gospel. Her brilliant debut album Nowhere Sounds Lovely – streaming at Bandcamp – covers a lot of ground, stylistically and otherwise.

She opens the record with Blueberry Hill – an original, not the Fats Domino classic, although the first verse of this intricately interwoven, Appalachian-flavored acoustic slide guitar blues is set in New Orleans. The devil tells her to get out, so she heads to New Mexico – and that isn’t any more welcoming:

We got spiders in the bathrooms and there’s snakes in the halls
We got our women in white dresses gonna walk through walls
And this house is haunted, not as much as me
But I could shake these demons, they’re good company

Travelin’ Blues has an easygoing Piedmont-style feel, Tommy Hannum’s dobro lingering over Vane’s nimble fingerpicking, bassist Dow Tomlin and drummer Cactus Moser giving it a, loping groove. By contrast, the stark banjo tune Prayer For the Blind has a midwest gothic fatalism, an endless cycle where “Time passes on old wounds as if they were brand new.”

Badlands is not the famous song by that 70s rock guy who became a hopeless lockdowner apologist, but a searing, allusively grim slide guitar-driven blues original. It could be a sinister account of antedeluvian rural hell…or a thinly disguised pro-freedom anthem. The big guitar payoff at the end is spot-on.

There’s redemptive solitude in the front-porch folk waltz Dreaming of Utah, Hannum’s pedal steel adding a touch of vintage Bob Wills western swing. Vane reaches for a matter-of-factly strutting Memphis soul feel in What Remains and goes back to blues with Heaven Bound Station, a steady stroll with some neat twin-guitar interplay.

She switches to banjo for Will I Ever Be Satisfied, a spare, lonesome-traveler type number. Vane imagines her ideal guy in Dreamboy, a stomping, insistent, similarly simmering blues: turns out she likes the strong silent type. Then she slows things down with the moody, slide guitar-driven Wishing Bone Blues, rising out of a hypnotic, summery resonance

The Driving Song captures a gloomy, desperate rural atmosphere where “The characters around me, border the absurd/It’s a comedy of horrors, and it just keeps getting worse.” Vane winds up the album the triumphant waltz Satisfied Soul, Nate Leath’s fiddle harmonizing with the keening pedal steel. If she hits the road in the free states this summer, she’s going to make a whole lot of fans.

An Edgy Playlist for a Spring Day…and a Great Upcoming Webcast

Spring is here and artists are starting to release more and more singles. Prediction: this year we’re going to see more and more music that was recorded in defiance of the lockdown. For your listening pleasure, here’s a self-guided playlist that’s just a small capsule of some of the very good things bubbling up from under the radar:

Molly Burman‘s Fool Me With Flattery has a noirish 60s rock edge with tropicalia tinges. Great jangly guitar!

Just when you think Paper Citizen‘s Scratching the Surface is totally no wave/skronky retro early 80s dystopia, the big catchy crunchy chorus kicks in. The lyrical message is allusive but spot on: let’s get off the screen before it gets us.

Shannon Clark & the Sugar‘s Let It Ride is not a cover of the Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit but a slow-burning minor key blues original. Remember the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks? This is probably on the jukebox there

Blood Lemon‘s Black-Capped Cry oozes through slow, doomy postmetal minimalism. They’re an Idaho band, and Idaho is a free state, so chances are they recorded this legally!

In elegant, stately Hebrew, singer Shifra Levy sings If I Found Grace over pianist/composer Yerachmiel’s neoromantic crescendos. It’s a Purim piano power ballad. Purim is sort of the Jewish Halloween: it’s not macabre, but all the cool kids dress up in costume and go to parties. Purim is over and Passover is looming, but give it a spin anyway

And speaking of awesome Jewish music, iconic klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals is playing a webcast live from Rockland, New York this March 13 at 7 PM. She chooses her spots for when she does these broadcasts, always gives you plenty of thrills and chills but just as much poignancy and an encyclopedic knowledge of the source material.

Chamomile and Whiskey’s Gloomy Americana Rock Narratives Echo in the Here and Now

Americana band Chamomile and Whiskey’s new album Red Clay Heart – streaming at Spotify – is their loudest and darkest yet. The jaunty Celtic-tinged themes and newgrass of their earlier material have been switched out for hard country and electric blues, desperate narratives for desperate times.

The album’s opening track, Way Back is a careening hillbilly boogie “That was way back when I used to give a shit…when I used to strive for greatness, when I used to think I should,” frontman/guitarist Ryan Lavin snarls, flipping off a tantalizing blues solo before the last verse. If nostalgia is the enemy of history, this song rings true.

With its litany of hellfire imagery, Dead Bird seems to be a Bible Belt gothic cautionary tale: “I drank the blood of the savior and he drank some of mine.” The dark electric blues of Will Scott is a good comparison.

The embittered, gloomily reflective Never Live Up follows the same pattern: the full electric band doesn’t kick in until a couple of skeletal acoustic verses. Lavin’s layer of twangy riffage mingle with fiddler Marie Borgman’s leaps and bounds in Triumph, an ironically titled, haphazardly catchy honkytonk shuffle.

They follow the 80s-tinged rock anthem All Right with the fire-and brimstone-shuffle Hard Time Honey, spiced with an unexpected Spanish guitar solo. Another Wake – a requiem for the Charlottesville massacre – is a famous John Lennon piano ballad recast as grim Americana, with a surprisingly empowering message.

The band go back to lo-fi hard honkytonk with the party anthem Best of the Worst, which would have been a good way to end an album which again and again returns to a personal pain that anyone who’s suffered under the past year’s lockdowns can relate to.