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No New Abnormal

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Purist, Eclectic Psychedelic Tunesmithing and Subtle Humor on Lorraine Leckie’s New Album

Lorraine Leckie has been one of the few musicians to survive the devastation of the incredibly fertile rock scene that flourished in New York as late as the mid-zeros. It was a top-down assault on artistic communities. Encouraged by tax breaks, opportunitistic developers took the wrecking ball to working-class housing everywhere, and it wasn’t long before the giant sucking sound of an artistic brain- drain out of town ensued. Yet even under those dire circumstances, Leckie’s following grew, and the gigs got better and better, probably because she was one of the few still representing a gritty, punk-influenced Lower East Side sound.

But thta’s hardly the only sound she’s mined since then: her albums range from delicate, rainy-day acoustic songs, to icy, gothic Mitteleuropean art-rock and snarling Americana. Her latest album, Razor Wing Butterfly – streaming at Bandcamp – is her most psychedelic release to date.

Leckie’s skeletal, fingerpicked Telecaster explodes into a roar on the chorus in the opening track, Only Darkness, a parallel tale of a couple of noir archetypes seemingly doomed to their own separate worlds. Lead guitarist Hugh Pool channels dirty, evil, Crazy Horse Neil Young, violinist Pavel Cingl adding elegant washes and accents over the chugging rhythm section of Charles DeChants and drummer Keith Robinson

They follow the strutting, Stonesy Under the Vampire Moon with It Ain’t the Blues, which Pool introduces with a creepy approximation of a music box. There’s clever irony in the title because this is a blues – a vindictive, rampaging one.

Bristling with richly textured guitar multitracks, Genius in the Crowd is a shout-out to Leckie’s psychedelic rock pal Anton Newcomb of Brian Jonestown Massacre, her tender lyric contrasting with the guitar fury – and an interlude that’s too funny to give away.

Crickets, a stark, open-tuned acoustic ballad, has Britfolk tinges: it could be a John Renbourn or June Tabor song from the 60s spiced with spare electronic keys. The album’s funniest track is Mars Bar Baby, a tourists-eye view of one of New York’s most legendary dive bars. Again, the joke is too good to give away: if you know the old swing tune Moon Over Brooklyn, you’ll get it.

The Other Woman Is the Wind was inspired by a conversation Leckie had with a biker at the Sturgis motorcycle festival, a slow, swaying, Molly Hatchet-ish account of a guy addicted to the thrill of the raod.

Leckie follows with the album’s two best cuts, each of them a protest song. She wrote America Weeping in a rehearsal room with the band in the wake of the fateful 2016 Presidential election. It’s both a requiem for Leonard Cohen (a huge influence, who had died the night before) and an anguished cauldron of guitars. The title track perfectly captures the fury in the streets this summer, a growling yet hopeful anthem, Cingl contributing a tantalizingly brief, slashing coda.

Leckie switches to piano, slightly out of tune and awash in reverb, to wind up the album counterintuitively with the pensive vignette Why Oh Why. This album is probably the best introduction to Leckie’s music that exists so far. And for anyone who’s followed her regular Manhattan weekend residencies over the years, friom Banjo Jim’s, to Zirzamin and afterward, Leckie’s already substantial back catalog is dwarfed by the vast amount of material she’s written but hasn’t yet recorded: it’s reason to look forward to whatever this defiantly multistylistic tunesmith decides to put out next.

Lorraine Leckie and Pavel Cingl Release Their Enigmatic, Witchy New Album at the Mercury on the 29th

Among rock songwriters, few are as capable as Lorraine Leckie in writing across a vast array of different styles. New Yorkers know her best as the leader of a whipcrack-sharp psychedelic Americana rock band that she fondly calls Her Demons. Yet as straightforward as her work with that group is, her other projects can be much harder to pin down. Her latest album, The Raven Smiled – a collaboration with similarly eclectic Czech violin star Pavel Cingl, streaming at Bandcamp – is her most enigmatic, her most beguiling and arguably her best. She and Cingl are joined by those Demons – lead guitarist and recent Blues Hall of Fame inductee Hugh Pool, bassist Charles DeChants and drummer Paul Triff – at the album release show on September 29 at 8 PM at the Mercury. Cover is $10, and you get a free copy of the cd with paid admission.

The influences on this album, through a glass darkly, seem to be PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, although the music here bears more reflection than resemblance to either artist’s work. As you would expect from the instrumentation – Leckie’s Telecaster or piano paired with Cingl’s violin – the sound is a lot closer to the folk noir of Leckie’s spare 2010 album Martini Eyes. However, Cingl’s judicious production frequently adds misty atmospherics and more ornate textures, in the same vein as Leckie’s haunting 2013 album with Anthony Haden-Guest, Rudely Interrupted.

The opening track, The Man That Walks in the Rain sets the stage, cryptic and mysterious, along the same lines as Dylan’s Man in the Long Black Coat. Leckie has made no secret that she is a devotee of the black arts, so it should come as no surprise that Climb Ya Like a Mountain would be a homage to Aleister Crowley (who, as Leckie tells it, was an avid mountain climber – and a surprisngly buffoonish persona for someone enamored with the dark side).

Leckie explores that light/dark dichotomy from the opposite angle with Dangerous Friends, its triumphant continental party narrative set against a hazy backdrop channeled via one of the unorthodox guitar tunings that she employs so often here. By contrast, the baroque-tinged piano ballad Story of Your Life has a lustrous, minimalist sheen, a homage to Prague, a city whose history and beauty clearly resonate strongly with Leckie.

Awake is even more minimalistic, Cingl’s lullaby violin gently building the somnambulistic ambience. By contrast, That Ain’t Nice is a launching pad for Leckie’s dissociative, noisy guitar explorations in tandem with Cingl’s blizzard of glissandos. Witches Heart tersely mashes up early PJ Harvey, witchy mid-70s Marianne Faithfull Britfolk and 80s goth, enhanced by the eerie close harmonies of backup singer Lisa Zwier. “My little doll, you were born under a broken star, I am sorry,” Leckie intones with a cool inscrutability as the album’s most distantly ominous track, Medicine Man, gets underway. The title cut, an enigmatic piano vignette, closes the album on a decidedly unresolved note. As with the rest of the songs here, there’s charm, but also menace, the defining characteristic of this allusively intriguing collection.

A Scorching New Rock Record and an Album Release Show at the Mercury by Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons

Lorraine Leckie is one of New York’s most eclectic and prolific songwriters. Her previous album Rudely Interrupted, a collaboration with legendary/notorious social critic Anthony Haden-Guest, was an elegant blend of chamber pop. The one before that, Martini Eyes, was an acoustic album. In the meantime, Leckie has been dividing her time onstage between the chamber pop and the ferocious electric rock of Her Demons, the name she’s bestowed on her group with lead guitar monster Hugh Pool, bassist Charles Dechants and drummer Paul Triff. And they’ve got a new album – one of the final projects to be recorded at the legendary Excello Recording, at least in the studio’s original Williamsburg space – titled Rebel Devil Devil Rebel. Leckie and the band are playing the album release show on Nov 13, appropriately enough, at 8 PM at the Mercury. Leckie’s longtime tourmate Kelley Swindall, who alternates between oldschool talking blues, murder ballads and pensive acoustic Americana, opens the night with her band at 7; advance tix are $10.

The creepy video for the album’s first single, Watch Your Step (that’s actress Celina Leroy in the role of the doomed girl) is over at No Depression. Leckie digs in with her vocals for a surprising amount of grit behind Pool’s snarling, resonant lines. The title track, a joyous shout-out to New Orleans and its temptations, is even more bristling, Pool channeling Hendrix when he’s not veering between Stones roar and classic Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Likewise, Always Got a Song blends Texas shuffle blues, 60s psych and vintage CBGB-era gutter rock.

Leckie wrote the uneasy Laurel Canyon ripper Paint the Towns Red while marching against the Iraq war during the peak of the past decade’s protests. Come A Dancin’, which shifts between Nashville gothic and psychedelic menace,  has quite the backstory: Leckie had a dream about a film titled Blood and Sand, starring Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth. The following day, she went to the video store and, on a lark, asked the clerk if such a movie existed. Not only did the film actually exist – Leckie, who’d had no idea that there was any such thing, rented it and discovered that it’s about a woman who seduces men with her guitar!

The ominously lingering Beware, with its distant early Alice Cooper vibe, was inspired by friends lost to drug overdoses. Leckie switches from guitar to piano on the lithely dancing, string-infused Blink Blink, which she was inspired to write by her late dog Killjoy: “‘The dog would go sit in the yard for hours and stare like she was saying goodbye to the world,” Leckie explains. And the delicate Fly Away Little Sparrow is a dedication to her late brother, a suicide.

By contrast, Rainbow has a jaunty, glam-infused feel, like Warren Zevon on mushrooms. There’s also a much harder-rocking, eerily psychedelic take of the serial killer tale The Everywhere Man, which originally appeared on the Rudely Interrupted album. It’s another triumph for Leckie and her bleak yet resiliently individualistic vision. The new album’s not out yet but will be at all the usual spots in the next couple of weeks along with the rest of her darkly intense catalog.