New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: bruce springsteen

Classic Influences and Catchy Rock Tunesmithing From the Fast Romantics

Toronto powerpop band the Fast Romantics’ new album Pick It Up – streaming at youtube – is their most keyboard-driven record yet. They draw on classic rock songcraft from the 60s through the 80s and have a sense of humor. This one isn’t as funny or melodically ambitious as their 2017 American Love album: it’s closer to what the New Pornographers have been up to most recently, along with influences from the Beatles to gospel.

The album opens with the title cut, a  slow gospel piano ballad and an enigmatic look at the potential pitfalls of artistic creativity. We’re Only People has George Harrison-style slide guitar over steady Penny Lane-ish piano: “How did you find me in my hideout, how did you get me to come down?” frontman Matthew Angus wants to know.

Keyboardist Lisa Lorenz’s fuzzy 80s textures buzz beneath more of that swooping slide guitar in Made For You, a techier update on the Born to Run-era Springsteen the band love so much. The keys get starrier and also more symphonic in Hallelujah What’s It to Ya, which is more subtly irreverent than the title would imply.

The Rules is a wry Let It Be Beatlesque piano ballad, a sardonic look back at the price of nonconformity, with an unexpectedly defiant coda. “Watch me blow it all on sellout serendipity,” Angus muses in Top of the Mountain, a stoner trip-hop number that brings to mind early 90s Pulp. 

The band follow Iso Radio, a creepily nocturnal, vaguely apocalyptic piano theme, with the album’s final track, Do No Wrong: “i made a mess so I’m clearing my history,” Angus relates over a catchy backdrop that’s part Motown, part new wave.

A Visionary, Politically Fearless New Album and a Gowanus Show by the Felice Brothers

The Felice Brothers’ new album Undress – streaming at Bandcamp – could be the great record Springsteen should have made between Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town but didn’t. This one’s a lot more Americana-flavored, when it’s not evoking the Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet along with Willie Nile and Phil Ochs. It’s gloomy, surreal, seriously woke stuff, but with towering crescendos that peak out in ecstatic soul and country-flavored choruses. Frontman Ian Felice’s aw-shucks delivery masks ferocious anti-fascist insight: this band gets the big picture. Future generations, if there are any, may judge this a classic. Until Alexa’s in every room and every bar, sifting through your words and your expressions for any hint of nonconformity, you can sing along with these guys. You can also sing along with them at the Bell House, where they’re playing at 9 PM on May 10. General admission is $20.

On the surface, the coyly blithe title track offers a cynical “no matter what frat, we all shit” quasi-cameraderie. “Under the mushroom cloud: The Pentagon, undress!” Ian commands. Later on, the President, Vice President and one of many of the current administration’s Press Secretaries are ordered to do so as well. We’ll get you bastards to be transparent one way or the other!

Built around a wary, austere guitar hook, Holy Weight Champ is a coldly defiant parable, its protagonist throwing various loaded symbols at a nameless creditor. It’s sweet revenge against the banksters…or is it?  Special Announcement, with its sardonic ragtime piano, is even funnier, a litany of what a guy needs to do once he has the money to buy the Presidency. But populism can be a hard sell:

The people want glory and the people won’t wait
They want to eat the enemy’s hearts and brains
And lick the plate

Death permeates many of these songs, especially the waltzes. Moody accordion and piano linger in Nail It on the First Try; likewise, another, more Stonesy and similarly gloomy waltz, Poor Bind Birds has a tantalizingly gorgeous organ solo that fades out at the end, way too soon. Maybe that’s symbolic as well. And the most country-flavored number in three-four time, The Kid, traces the grim story of an outsider in cold, destitute upstate “ghost town New York” who never had a chance.

With its insistent, brassy pulse, Salvation Army Girl is a subtle dig at fauxhemians. TV Mama, driven by Jesske Hume’s snappy bass and spiced with soaring pedal steel, is a gentle but snide look at celebrity worship. Hometown Hero, which could be about a returning war veteran, a prisoner out on parole, or both, could be the most forlorn Fourth of July song ever written.

The brisk, ragtimey, shambling Jack Reminiscing is a great story about a local drunk, with a surprise ending that brings reality in through the back door in a split second. The best and most lyrically torrential song on the album is Days of the Years. imagine a dead-serious Marcellus Hall, or Biggie Smalls reincarnated as a highway rock guy:

Watching birds on a drowsy sea
Sitting in the dark of a family tree
Funeral flowers and paperwork
Drowning my dreams in mountain streams
Standing tall in a cap and gown
In a house that is since torn down
It’s summer in the Catskills now
Leisure classes in the mountain passes
The jaws of life and the jaws of death
In secrets in a dying breath
In a black four-door sedan
Down the road to the end of the world
These are the days of the years of my life

The album’s mighty coda is Socrates, a coldly withering anthem which beams the old philosopher down into the here and now and recasts him as a populist songwriter. Once again, as it does throughout the album, the out-of-tune, echoey piano adds a sarcastic old-west edge, in this case against wall-of-sound Sandinista-era Clash guitar orchestration:

When they tie me to the stake
What a great event I’ll make
All of the ratings will soar
High as the war
The pile on the stick
All my books and manuscripts
All of my letters and I will darken the sky
But the sisters of charity committed them to memory
And all of the children will sing my seeds on the wind

We need records like this in times like these. It’ll be on the best albums of 2019 page assuming we get that far.

A Gorgeously Bittersweet Farewell to Manhattan from Art-Rock Maven Spottiswoode

The Manhattan that Jonathan Spottiswoode came up in back in the 1990s was far from perfect. The seeds of the city’s death by real estate speculation had already been sown. But there were a lot more places where an often witheringly lyrical, lavishly orchestrated rock band could play then than there are now. Spottiswoode & His Enemies may have sold out the release show for their latest magnum opus, Lost in the City, at Joe’s Pub on the 30th, but twenty-one years ago they could have done the same at a much bigger venue. So it’s fitting that the album – streaming at Bandcamp – is an elegaic salute to a vanished, urbane metropolis, and that Spottiswoode has since relocated to his London birthplace. At least we’ll always have the memories – and this epic.

While Spottiswoode is no stranger to largescale creations, this is arguably his most lavish release. He’s always had a knack for latin sounds, and he dives more deeply into the Spanish Caribbean here than ever before. The opening track is Hoboken. It’s dead ringer for a brooding Pink Floyd ballad: Spottiswoode’s voice has weathered to resemble Roger Waters more and more over the yearas, and Tony Lauria’s gospel-tinged piano completes the picture. The migthy Springsteenian bridge is spot-on, right down to Laura’s Roy Bittan impersonation. “I tried it like all the rest, not what I dreamed I guess, but I did ok,” Spottiswoode muses.

With its bluesy minor-key swing spiced with horn harmonies from saxophonist Candace DeBartolo and trumpeter Kevin Cordt, the title track could also be peak-era Springsteen. With Lauria’s erudite, Fever-ish solo at the center, it’s a long-lost cousin to 10th Avenue Freeze-Out. The nimble pulse of bassist John Young and drummer Tim Vaill propel the funny, filthy, syncopated latin soul anthem Love Saxophone, a look back to a period ten years further back, and several Manhattan blocks north and east. 

Antoine Silverman’s acerbic, Romany-flavored violin kicks off The Walk of Shame, a hauntingly orchestrated vignette of the dark side of the bright lights: “The night was so delicoius/Now a puddle is a mirror for Narcissus.” Then Cordt and trombonist Sara Jacovino work a punchy conversation in Because I Made You, a return to swinging oldschool soul.

The way Spottiswoode sets up the narrative in the distantly ominous, wistful clave-soul elegy Goodbye Jim McBride is too good to give away. The starkly bluesy, doomed, reverberating ambience of It’s on Me wouldn’t be out of place on Dylan’s Time Out of Mind album. Next, the band hit a slow, Lynchian swing groove with Batman & Robin, a disconsolate picture of a divorced dad out with his kids on the weekend.

Riley McMahon’s hailstone reverb guitar mingles with Lauria’s stern salsa piano and organ in Now Didn’t I? McMahon and the bandleader bulid spaghetti western menace over a 5/4 beat in Tears of Joy: as Lauria’s electric piano twinkles eerily overhead, it could be Botanica. Then the band hit a blazing soul-blues sway with Dirty Spoon.

A mashup of late 60s folk-rock Kinks and Springsteen E Street shuffle, Still Small Voice Inside could be the album’s most poignant, relevant number:

Hello, good evening
Did you accomplish what you planned?
Don’t you know the feeling
Too much supply no demand
Yeah it’s a drag, at least you tried
Now listen to the still small voice inside

Young’s big bass bends anchor McMahon’s lingering guitar and blues harp in Cry Baby. Wistful strings and Lauria’s elegant piano mingle in Sunset, a vivid, Ray Davies-esque vignette, followed by the wryly Waitsian swing blues Going Home for Christmas.

The album’s musical high point could be the swaying 6/8 noir soul instrumental East Village Melody, Cordt and then DeBartolo channeling wee-hours melancholy over the band’s glistening, distantly ominous backdrop. Spottiswoode’s gritty vocals soar in You’ll See, an unexpectedly optimistic Weimar waltz. The album winds up with I Don’t Regret, its lush strings and Leonard Cohen inflections: it’s an old rake’s colorful, defiant defense of a “sordid life.” The sounds on this album are old but timeless: it will age well, just like the guy who wrote it.

Sam Bardfeld Puts on His Richard Nixon Mask Just in Time for Halloween

What could be more appropriate for Halloween month than a fearsome violinist who sometimes leads a band called Up Jumped the Devil? Or whose latest album, The Great Enthusiasms – streaming at Bandcamp – comprises songs with titles taken from Richard Nixon quotes? Sam Bardfeld lifted most of those from Nixon’s resignation speech; it’s not likely that Trump, if in fact he ends up giving one, will be nearly as quotable. “Though Dick was a paranoid, hateful crook, there’s intelligence and complexity in him that one cannot imagine existing inside our current president. During this current dark stain in our country’s history, let’s continue to make weird, joyous art,’ Bardfeld encourages. He’s playing the album release show on Oct 5 at Cornelia Street Cafe, with sets at 8 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum.

Most people know Bardfeld from his work with Springsteen, but his best material is his own. Bardfeld calls this trio project with the fantastic, lyrical pianist Kris Davis and drummer Michael Sarin his “weird Americana” album. Noir jazz is more like it.

How sarcastic is the opening track, Fails While Daring Greatly? The title is a Teddy Roosevelt quote that Nixon used when resigning, the song a distantly Romany swing-tinged number. Davis strolls uneasily while the bandleader swoops, shivers and scrapes with his signature, subtle, sardonic humor.

Resignation Rag is a surreal second-line march: Davis’ peevish insistence and Monkish loops are very funny, not just because they’re so far from her usual style. Bardfeld throws in a taunt or two as he takes the trio further and further outside to solo Davis contemplation, and a little twisted faux-barrelhouse.

A steady, uneasy violin solo opens Winner Image, Davis joining with cautious, starry chordlets, a troubled lullaby of sorts that grows more menacing as Bardfeld spins and slides and Davis takes a grimly gleaming stroll. Then they make a slow, enigmatic sway out of the Springsteen/Patti Smith hit Because the Night, which is barely recognizable, more Monk than late 70s CBGB powerpop. Davis’ eerie deep-sky solo is arguably the album’s high point, in contrast with the LMAO ending.

Listening to the album as sequenced, the title track is where it hits you that this is the great violin album that Monk never made, Davis the steady stalker as Bardfeld leaps and dances through funhouse mirror blues. Sarin’s subtle flickers and accents complete the carnivalesque tableau.

The trio do the Band’s King Harvest (Has Surely Come) as less dadrock than quasi-gospel, Bardfeld’s animated lines paired with Davis’ terse, gospel-infused groove. Bardfeld strums uneasy chords behind the funereal piano/drum atmospherics as The 37th Time I Have Spoken gets underway, interspersed with moments of sarcastic loopiness, frantic scurrying, and a burbling free interlude. One of the top ten jazz albums of the year so far, no question.

Funny, Socially Aware, Singalong Tunesmithing from North of the Border at the Mercury Tonight

Toronto band the Fast Romantics’ latest album American Love – streaming at Bandcamp – was conceived in the shock and horror after the 2016 Presidential Election. It’s a considerably generous gesture from the powerpopsters’ frontman Matthew Angus, a salute to all good things American rather than the cheap shot he could have taken so easily. The model for the songs is Born to Run-era Springsteen (with plenty of Cheap Trick and ELO thrown in), yet not in a cheesy, imitative way. There’s hope and urgency and a lot of humor, some of it allusive and some of it a lot more obvious, in its vast sonics, pounding beats and mighty choruses. It wouldn’t be hype to call it one of the funniest albums of the year. The band are playing the Mercury tonight, June 21 at 8; cover is $15.

The album opens with Everybody’s Trying to Steal Your Heart, a big stomping vintage Springsteenian anthem with stadium-sized singalong oh-ohs. For all the big-studio bluster, it’s an unexpectedly subtle look at a dilemma that everybody with an attractive mate has to deal with at some point.

“Although I couldn’t afford it, I bought a beat-up guitar, I worked til four in the morning in a broken-down bar,” Angus croons as Why We Fight, a tribute to the good things currently under siege from the Trumpites, gets underway. While there’s plenty of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm in American Love and keyboardist Lisa Lorenz’s epic synthesized string charts, it’s probably the only song ever written by a Canadian to reference the constitution of the United States – in a favorable way.

“I’ve smoked all kinds of flowers, now I’ve got superpowers,” Angus announces in Get Loved, a hilariously sideways look at a dude whose chemical overindulgences have had a similar impact on his libido. Ready for the Night is even funnier, a meta look at the process of songwriting, set to a mix of uneasy Orbison noir pop and bouncy new wave.

Radio Waves opens with a joke that’s too good to give away and stays just as amusing, an artsy late 70s ELO powerpop tale told from the point of view of a radio wave who “can feel you from a million miles away.” Julia spins a famous 60s riff through a fuzz guitar pedal, then the band stays in that decade, more or less throughout Alberta, a sardonically cheery, swaying lost-love tale with a surprise ending.

Kids Without a Country is an anthem for a new generation of Americans:

You were a refugee
I was a soldier’s son
But we couldn’t sleep together
So on the night of the storm we cut and run
Was just you and me and the weather

Runaway Girl is a harder-rocking, more enveloping take on the same idea, but with more oblique political subtext. Guitarist/keyboardist Kirty’s oxycontin vocals hover behind a wall of guitars and woozy synth in How Long Is This Gonna Last, which might or might not be about the election. The album closes with Heaven’s All Right and its Lynchian tremolo guitars. C’mon, Janey, wrap yourself round these blue velvet rims and strap your hands ‘cross my engines.

Sam Morrow Brings His Sardonically Purist Soul and Americana Rock to the Rockwood

At first listen, Sam Morrow’s latest album There Is No Map – streaming at Spotify – might fool you into thinking that it’s dadrock. But it’s not. Although Morrow works the same familiar soul, blues and country-inspired terrain that white hippies have made a cliche out of since the 70s, Morrow isn’t one of them. In fact, when he hits the second verse of the slow, waltzing soul ballad Green – more or less the centerpiece of the album – he makes fun of those cliches. ““If I sing in key, would you believe…the same old bullshit don’t make the grass green,” he drawls, so laid-back that he could be drunk. Which he actually isn’t, since Morrow doesn’t drink. He’s bringing that refreshingly sardonic humor and his tastefully crafted Americana tunes to the small room at the Rockwood on Sept 8 at 8 PM.

The album has a lot of flavors and most of them work. The opening number, Barely Holding On, is a loping Johnny Cash-style shuffle spiced with chicken-scratch C&W guitar and honkytonk piano. “Gimme freedom of speech, then call me an asshole when I speak my brain,” Morrow intones.

“You’re fooling yourself if you think people change,” Morrow suggests in the metaphorically bristling The Deaf Conductor – with its organ, piano and snarling multitracked guitars, it wouldn’t be out of place on the Wallflowers’ first album. Likewise, a little later, Morrow sends a subtle swipe upside the head of entitled white privilege in the Stonesy Train Robber.

“We’re all just fucking liars…we’re all just hookers in high heels,” he laments in the slow, spare, carefully crafted Wasted Time. By contrast, the blippy Rhode-driven swamp-soul strut Am I Wrong has a cool, echoey psychedelic interlude midway through. Devil’s in the Details works stark, spare, brooding Waits territory, while the album’s closing, title cut goes in a country-blues direction, fueled by some tasty dobro picking.

Not everything here is up to that level. There’s Girls, a mashup of secondhand Springsteen and secondhand Stones, and Hurts Like Hell, whose web of mandolin and clever wordplay sinks in a morass of overemoting. But Morrow’s on to something, and he’s funny, and can craft a nifty turn of phrase and a catchy hook with enough consistency to keep you from tuning out. Now if only the legions of Fleetwood Mac and Band imitators would only follow suit.

Ike Reilly Brings His Down-to-Earth, High-Energy Lyrical Rock to the Mercury

Ike Reilly is sort of the Midwestern Willie Nile. Their big four-on-the-floor rock anthems have a lot in common: catchy riffs, purist arrangements, first-class playing and heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics. Like Nile, Reilly looks back to Highway 61-era Dylan a lot, but also draws on the most dramatic side of Celtic balladry. He and his excellent band the Ike Reilly Assassination are in the midst of their summer tour, with a couple of Mercury Lounge gigs coming up. On July 16 they’re playing at 7 PM, and then at 10:30 PM on the 17th. General admission is $15.

Reilly’s latest album, Born on Fire, is streaming at Spotify. The opening, title track sets the stage with its meat-and-potatoes Irish rock tinges, hitting a jaunty, dancing 70s Springsteen groove fueled by Adam Krier’s piano and organ and the tersely intertwining, soul-infused guitars of Phil Karnats and Tommy O’Donnell. Job Like That (Lasalle and Grand) blends Blonde on Blonde sway with arena-soul bombast, a characteristic blend of sardonic humor and irrepressible blue-collar charm.

Underneath the Moon gives Reilly a ragtime-inflected launching pad for him to work a rakishly surrealist come-on with some unnamed girl. Do the Death Slide! is a goodnatured, riff-driven spoof of 60s soul dance numbers, infused with bluesy harmonica and sax. With its torrents of aphorisms and subtle political subtext, the folk-rock anthem Am I Still the One for You brings to mind Fred Gillen Jr. at his wordiest and most Dylanesque. Likewise, 2 Weeks of Work, 1 Night of Love builds a bleak teens New Depression milieu, with more of that honking blues harp:

Work clothes, party clothes, funeral suit
Got nowhere to, got nothing to wear them to
I think I’ll put on my father’s shirt
And think of the days I used to have work
I don’t need no mercy
From your heaven above…

Hanging Around is one of the album’s best tracks, making organ-driven garage-psych rock out of what’s essentially Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons, a snide tale of a rank-and-file guy trying to seduce a devil in disguise from human resources. Notes from Denver International Airport sets a harried, harrassed post-9/11, pre-flight narrative to bluesy Highway 61 rock, with a droll faux-gospel interlude.

The album’s garagiest number is Black Kat, springboarding a feral solo from one of the guitarists. Let’s Live Like We’re Dying kicks off with a darkly oldtimey New Orleans blues sway, then takes on a Thirteenth Floor Elevators slink and rises to a mighty gospel crescendo. Upper Mississippi River Valley Girl segues out of it, a vividly twisted Midwestern carnival tableau. The album’s most noir moment is another subtly political number, Good Looking Boy, bookended around a searing fuzztone guitar solo. The album winds up with wryly amusing character study Paradise Lane, with whiplash guitar from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. If a clever turn of phrase set to a catchy hook is your thing, go see this guy.

No Ricolas for John Mellencamp

One of the fringe benefits of going to Carnegie Hall is the baskets of Ricolas they have outside the exits to the various spaces there. If you’re, say, a budget-conscious college kid, you can make enough of a haul of those things to get through a couple days’ worth of a nasty cold. For John Mellencamp‘s show there tonight, there were no Ricolas in sight. Although the gravelly-voiced arena rocker could have used a handful.

Busy ushers were quick to tell ticketholders that “John doesn’t like cellphones,” and that flash photography during the show would be verboten. Looking up from the orchestra level, it seemed that barely half the seats in the hall were taken. But all those people, or most of them anyway, were down on the floor, on their feet. And though it happened to be 4/20, the smell on everybody’s breath, it seemed, was booze rather than weed.

If the accents in the crowd were any indication, the former Johnny Cougar is more popular on Long Island than he is in New Jersey. It was a blue-collar demographic whose lives had gone on long after the thrill of living was gone. And a smart piece of booking for the venue, considering that few if any of those in attendance had ever been there. “There isn’t a bad seat in the house,” was a familiar refrain in between selfies against a backdrop from a previous era of robber barons in Manhattan.

Mellencamp played that song solo acoustic, reinventing it as he did many of the other radio hits, an unexpected and rather impressive move considering that he and the band could have phoned them in and probably no one would have complained.  Is that song actually sarcastic, a clever dig at the white trash Mellencamp grew up with? Probably not, but the snide Reagan recession anthem Little Pink Houses definitely is…and just like Springsteen’s Born in the USA, went over everybody’s head, at least as far as this crowd was concerned.

Much as Mellencamp has been tagged as a poor person’s Bruce, he’s actually been through several phases. It would have been cool to see him revisit his Ain’t Even Done with the Night days as a powerpop guy, but he didn’t go there. But he left no doubt that he’s a formidable bluesman, with an impassioned take of Robert Johnson’s Stones in My Passway, lead guitarist Andy York playing with his usual counterintuitive verve with a slide on a hybrid electric National steel model. Mellencamp also roared and wailed his way through some newer, similarly bluesy, gospel-tinged fire-and-brimstone Midwestern gothic anthems.

And much as this was a nostalgia trip for the crowd, Mellencamp’s still putting out new material, mostly competent if formulaic highway rock that rises to a vamping two-chord chorus with a singalong tagline. You gotta admire the guy for what he does: he’s a consummate pro. And there were moments that reminded that when he puts his mind to it, he can write a damn good song. The roar of the band’s three guitars subsumed the annoying violin-and-accordion hook on the late 80s hit Paper in Fire, an unanticipated breath of fresh air. The minor-key Human Wheels, with the night’s one interesting bassline slithering out of the chorus, was another. Too bad their version of Rain on the Scarecrow, on record one of the most excoriating Reagan-era populist broadsides, was so rote: York waited til the very end to fire off that searing, aching hook that made the single so powerful.

By the end of the show, Mellencamp had also run through some faux Waits, some secondhand Stones, a halfhearted detour into Land of a Thousand Dances and a boisterously bluesy cover that the Del-Lords did better back in the 80s. That being said, he probably could have retired a decade ago, and here he is, still out there doing what he’s always done, and finding ways to keep it from getting stale. May we all be that inspired when we hit sixty.

Celtic Americana Trio the Henry Girls Play a Rare, Intimate Barbes Show

Where does one of the most interesting and unique bands in Ireland play when they come to New York? Barbes! The harmony-rich Henry Girls – multi-instrumentalist singing sisters Karen, Lorna, and Joleen McLaughlin – have an intimate 8 PM gig there on March 18, quite a change from the big concert halls they’ve been playing on their current US tour. Their latest album Louder Than Words is streaming at Soundcloud.

There’s no other band who sound like them. While much of their music is rooted in oldtimey Americana, they’re just as likely to bust out a brooding traditional Irish ballad. They mash up American, Irish and Scottish influences and have an unorthodox core of instrumentation anchored by Joleen’s concert harp, Lorna’s accordion and mandolin and Karen’s fiddle, ukulele, piano and banjo. On album, they’re backed by an acoustic rock rhythm section; it’s not clear from the group’s tour page if they’ll be by themselves or they’ll have the whole band with them.

The album’s opening track, James Monroe, is a swaying, angst-fueled minor-key ballad, spiced with a punchy chart by the Bog Neck Brass Band. Presumably it predates the guy with the Doctrine. Then the sisters take a leap forward a couple hundred years into the present with The Weather, a cheery, bouncy number that’s part oldtime hillbilly dance, part Brilll Building pop. Likewise, Maybe has a lushly yet rustically arranged current-day folk-pop feel – it wouldn’t be out of place on a Sweet Bitters album.

Driven by Ted Ponsonby’s rich web of acoustic guitars, the catchy, anthemic, backbeat-driven No Matter What You Say could be a Dixie Chicks tune, but with organic production values. The sisters’ spiky instrumentation and soaring harmonies add an extra surreal edge to a shuffling cover of Springsteen’s creepy roadside anthem Reason to Believe.

The Light in the Window, the most Celtic-flavored tune here, manages to be as ominous as it is wistfully elegaic, Karen’s fiddle rising over Liam Bradley’s clip-clop percussion. Home paints a broodingly detailed, sweepingly orchestrated tableau set amongst the down-and-out. The sisters’ gorgeous take of the old proto-swing tune So Long But Not Goodbye compares with the version by longtime Barbes band the Moonlighters.

It’s Not Easy sets a flamenco melody to a gentle country sway: it’s sort of this band’s Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. Producer Calum Malcolm plays churchy Hammond organ behind the sisters’ harmonies, and a gospel choir, on the album’s closing cut, Here Beside Me. If Americana or Irish sounds are your thing, get to Barbes early on the 18th.

Great Storytelling and Tunesmithing on Wormburner’s New Third Album

Wormburner draw a lot of comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. Like the Boss, they play anthemic, four-on-the-floor meat-and-potatoes rock  narratives with great lyrics (we’re talking the Nebraska and before-era Springsteen, ok?). And they’ve got an infinitely better singer in charismatic frontman Steve “Hank” Henry. They play respectable midsize venues and get good gigs, often as a supporting act for artists from the Springsteen era. They’ve got an especially intimate one coming up on Sept 26 at 8:30 PM at the Mercury, which will be the release show for their long-awaited third album, Pleasant Living in Planned Communities. $12 advance tix are very highly recommended since it’s a good bet that this show will sell out.

The album title is characteristically sarcastic. It’s a collection of character sketches among the down-and-out – again, the peak-era Springsteen comparison. The A-side of the first vinyl single from the album, released last year, was Today Might Be Our Day. At the time, this blog called it “on the Celtic side of anthemic 80s rock, U2 without the strident vocals and empty slogans. And it’s got a story, in this case a smalltime hood on the run from the law. Is that a swoopy synth solo or a guitar running through a wah? The band has both. The B-side, Parliaments on Sundays, is a wry janglerock anthem like the Figgs at their most tuneful, told from the point of view of a guy who likes his liquor but only smokes or does the other stuff if it ‘helps to dull the edge, and anything to keep you off the ledge.’” Those two are a good start, and it gets better from there.

Over drummer Jim Spengler’s percussive, stomping Clash City Rockers beat, Hopscotch Gunner has Henry relating a tale of airborne combat gone horribly awry, with his usual intensity, against a backdrop of burning guitar from Paul McDaniel and Alex Senese, bassist Terry Solomone taking flight on the chorus. Somewhere Else To Be nicks a very, very familiar New Order riff and hitches it to a shiny Stiff Little Fingers-style punk-pop drive; it’s the first appearance of Daniel, a lapsed Catholic and gay prostitute who will appear later on.

Drinks at the Plaza Hotel opens with a morosely crescendoing, goth-tinged theme that brings to mind Ninth House, two would-be scam artists gloating about how clueless their marks are…or are they? Made-for-TV Movie (an original, not the Twin Turbine classic about the Columbine massacre) contemplates bridge-and-tunnel alienation and anomie, over blazingly anthemic, insistent powerpop. The band starts out with a strut and builds to a stomp on Dolores, If You Please, an angst-fueled 21st century depression scenario.

The band evokes the Jam circa Setting Sons with Catherine, the searing tale of an Iraq War vet: the chorus is a clinic in how to take an anthem as far up as it can possibly go. The Sleep That Never Comes offers the point of view of an even more shellshocked veteran, this guy from the Vietnam era: the sarcastic faux-martial brass is a neat, Phil Ochs-like touch. The final veterans’ tale is Doxology:

That’s the thing about sin
First the clouds roll in
Then it’s like the world’s about to end
And somebody’s guessed
What you won’t confess
Least of all not then,

Henry explains. It’s sort of the album’s Jungleland, but a whole lot less romantic. There’s also a brief instrumental titled Billy’s Topless, which may or may not be a shout-out to a Flower District space that once housed a notorious titty bar but which is now a deli and reputedly better off as one. Memorable stories, brilliant tunesmithing, what more could you want? The album’s not out yet, hence no Spotify or Bandcamp link, but should hit the interwebs shortly.