New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: chris fletcher bass

Mike Rimbaud Captures the State of the City

No other songwriter has captured the current climate in New York better than Mike Rimbaud. One powerful influence on Rimbaud’s work, lyrically speaking, is Phil Ochs, (check out the absolutely vindictive version of The Ringing of Revolution from Rimbaud’s 2012 album You Can’t Judge a Song by Its Cover). Rimbaud’s latest album Night Rainbow – streaming at his site – is an eclectic, characteristically tuneful, savagely lyrical, cleverly amusing mix of songs that span from straight-up four-on-the-floor rock, to new wave, garage rock, psychedelia and reggae. Rimbaud has listened deeply and widely; his thinly veiled references to other songs, especially from the Rolling Stones, are cruelly spot-on. Rimbaud plays all the guitars as well as banjo, backed by tersely tuneful bassist Chris Fletcher and excellent drummer Kevin Tooley, with occasional keyboards from Marc Billon.

Image by image, Rimbaud portrays a city and a world on the brink, reeling from natural disasters, terminally distracted by the vapidity of status-grubbing and social media, the luxury of the corporate elite juxtaposed against crushing poverty and despair. Ultimately, this album is a call to action and revolution – and also one of the best  of 2013 by a Broadway mile.

The classic cut here is Jackhammer Jones. Over wickedly catchy, psychedelic minor key rock spiced with searing wah solos and guitar sitar – with a nod to the Lovin’ Spoonful – Rimbaud paints an allusive picture of a city being destroyed from within by gentrification:

Turn off your phone, what can you hear, baby?
Call it noise or call me a liar
Ears can bleed and eyes can weep
When you read between the lines

The jauntily swinging title track pictures an unlikely rainbow over the Empire State Building at night – hey, this is the global warming era, stranger things have happened. On Big Bad Bully, as he does on many of the other cuts here, Rimbaud takes aim at a target and riffs surrealistically on it, in this rounding up the Wall Street bulls who “treat everyone like cattle.”

Slow Down to Get Ahead layers clattery percussion over a reggae bassline and builds from there, an anthem for anyone tempted to unplug from the rat race. Rimbaud returns to that idea toward the end of the album with Time Burglar, a rapidfire stream of dissociative, sardonic imagery: “Swing over the Williamsburg Babylon, catching flies in one hand…relax with some hillbilly music, a song from another ice age.”

Sandy Must Be Crazy, a hurricane memoir, builds from dub reggae to roaring Stonesy rock. On one level, Rimbaud’s images capture an unfortunately indelible New York moment, on the other he’s also captured the more disturbing context that rose to the surface in the wake of the storm.

The sarcastically bubbling Teacher’s Got a Bad Mouth takes a counterintuitive look at schoolroom insanity, from the point of view of a teacher struggling to focus the attention of a class lobotomized by Facebook. Rimbaud revisits that theme a little later with the nonchalantly brooding, Indian-flavored Learning More About Less.

Robin Hood in Reverse is a stompingly snide Springsteen-style singalong: “Money talks, money is speech, this is a protest song and talk is cheap,” Rimbaud intones breathily. The metaphorically-charged Dark Money Can’t Buy Her Kisses grows from mysterious psych-pop to a brooding 70s soul sway. The album ends with a long, scruffy cover of the Beatles’ Baby, You’re Rich Man, bringing it full circle. Britain in 1977 had the Clash: New York in 2013 has Mike Rimbaud. That’s a start. Now bring on the revolution.

Judging Mike Rimbaud’s Covers Album

After seven albums of original material – and his excellent, most recent release, Coney Island Wave (chronicled here yesterday), literate rocker Mike Rimbaud decided to do an album of covers. Which can be tricky. In order to cover a song that’s worth covering to begin with, you either have to do it better than the original – no easy task – or completely reinvent it. Which is exactly what Rimbaud did with Can’t Judge a Song By Its Cover. To call this record ambitious is something of an understatement: tackling mostly well-known, iconic songs, Rimbaud makes it seem easy as he nails them, one by one. If you’re willing to buy the argument that there’s such thing as a classic album of covers, this is it.

It gets off to a false start. The opening track, Almost Hear You Sigh, has a tired, 70s blues-pop feel. Who might have been responsible for it the first time around? Dire Straits, maybe? As it turns out, this is a Rolling Stones song, from long after that band ceased to be relevant. Then the fun begins with an electric bluegrass version of Springsteen’s Atlantic City – Rimbaud’s casual, practically blithe delivery only underscores the grim fatalism in the hitman’s tale. The album’s centerpiece is Idiot Wind, which has arguably the greatest rock lyric ever written, as much of a requiem for the optimism of the 60s as for Dylan’s marriage. Rimbaud reinvents it by turning it into straight-up electric rock and playing it almost doublespeed (the original clocks in at around nine minutes, this one at five). Once again, the nuance in Rimbaud’s vocals, from icy rage to a contemptuous rasp, is intuitive, and packs a wallop: it’s not quite as intense as the venomous Mary Lee’s Corvette version, but it’s pretty close, and the band (Chris Fletcher on bass and Kevin Tooley on drums along with Rimbaud’s guitars and keys) keeps up with him.

The rest of the album is more carefree. Marley’s Is This Love gets new life via a brisk new wave/powerpop arrangement in the same vein as Blondie’s One Way or Another, with a killer Link Wray-flavored surf rock solo. Mike’s Wave is the Tom Jobim bossa nova hit done with just enough bite to elevate it above lounge music, while the Beatles’ No Reply gets a Stonesy, noir garage rock groove. The original version of Phil Ochs’ Ringing of Revolution has brilliant lyrics but a pretty generic early 60s folkie melody: Rimbaud rescues it by plugging it in and giving it a bluesy menace fueled by ominous chromatic harp, raising the intensity, the fat cats squirming in their easy chairs as the murderous mob grows closer and closer. Which makes the payoff at the end all the more satisfying, where the citizens’ “memories [are] dimmed of the decades of execution.” It’s timeless: Ochs could have been referring to the Soviet Union under Stalin, or Texas under Bush. The last song on the album is titled Take 5000: it’s an update on the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s classic Take 5, the bestselling jazz single of all time. Rimbaud makes tango nuevo out of it, blending electric piano and wah guitar for a fun, eerie ride capped off with another excellent surf guitar solo. Along with Rimbaud’s most recent album of originals, this deserves to be counted as one of the best rock records of recent months.

Rimbaud’s also featured on the upcoming Occupy This Album benefit record for the Occupy movement along with socially aware artists from Jackson Browne, to Immortal Technique, to New York art-rockers My Pet Dragon and roots reggae star Taj Weekes & Adowa.

And there’s more: Rimbaud also has a pretty hilarious new single out, a cover of the Beatles’ Baby You’re a Rich Man done with a tongue-in-cheek, reverb-drenched Exile on Main Street glimmer.

Mike Rimbaud’s Coney Island Wave Is a Riptide

Any conversation about great lyrical songwriters since the punk era needs to include Elvis Costello and Graham Parker…and Mike Rimbaud. Rimbaud is younger than they are; stylistically, he’s closer to Parker, both in terms of surreal, aphoristic, dark lyrics and excellent guitarslinging. In fact, Rimbaud’s the best guitarist of all three, equally interesting whether he’s working an oldschool soul vamp, playing twangy noir surf licks, angry punk rock or glimmering, nocturnal Stonesy lines. His most recent album of originals, Coney Island Wave is one of the great New York rock records. It’s both a celebration of this city as well as an often savagely spot-on look at the state of the world, 2012, set to catchy, usually upbeat tunes that run the gamut from vintage new wave, to creepy garage rock, to oldschool soul. It’s the rare album where the melodies are as good as the lyrics, which are just plain kick-ass pretty much all the way through, Rimbaud handling all the guitars, keys and occasional harmonica and backed by a no-nonsense rhythm section of Chris Fletcher on bass, Andrea Pennisi on percussion and Kevin Tooley on drums.

The first track is Burning the Night Out Early, set in a vivid late night Coney Island of the mind where “it’s getting early”- that kind of night. If you’ve experienced one of those there, this will resonate mightily. Rimbaud follows  it with Dance with a Mermaid, a noir garage rock song packed with loaded metaphors, the mermaid dancing on the Titanic since the ocean’s full of oil and global warming has brought the mix to a boil, so to speak.

With its clever Like a Rolling Stone allusions, Don’t You Love This City keeps the sarcasm at boiling point. The next track, Everybody Needs a Daddy sounds suspiciously sarcastic as well, especially with the Simpsons and Darth Vader references – could it be a jab at the Bloomberg nanny-state patriarchy?

Got to Sell Yourself is just plain great, an anthem for anyone who’d like to take the world’s oldest profession to the next level: “You’re a failure when nobody’s buying, you’re something else when you’re sold out; you’re a loser ’cause you only own yourself,” Rimbaud snarls over the song’s casually biting, insistent hook. Here Comes the Subway Sun could be a tribute to the joys of tripping on the train; Mamma Say Something Nice follows in a brooding blue-eyed soul vein, like something Parker might have done in the late 70s.

The album really heats up at this point. Puppet Man, with its soul organ groove, is packed with more politically-charged sarcasm. “Like Pinocchio, go to Tokyo,” is one recurrent motif: a Fukushima reference, maybe? The album’s funniest, and probably most timely track is Put Your Facebook on the Shelf:

Don’t let it get in your head
Slavery’s not dead…
Your password’s not a secret
Eyes wander on the page
Your tongue hangs out like a hungry dog
How many friends can you count on?

Rimbaud rasps over a catchy groove that’s part Elvis C., part Bob Marley.

Saving to Go Bankrupt – an anthem for the Occupy movement, with some very insightful and useful background from Rimbaud here – offers both a succinct condemnation of the one percenters’ bankrupt system as well as hope for the future: “Wake up from your American dream!” Rimbaud follows that one with Tears for the Rich and Famous, a searing, guitar-fueled condemnation of celebrity shallowness capped by a sweet, vengefully swinging guitar solo. The last track, Unicorn, is the most retro 80s of all the songs here – with its goth tinges and synthesizer, it sounds like an outtake from a previous session that might have been tacked on here to end the album on a more upbeat note. Rimbaud also has a killer new album just out, Can’t Judge a Song by Its Cover, which imaginatively reinvents an impressively diverse mix of classics and standards by Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Dave Brubeck, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Tom Jobim, the Beatles and others. That’s up next here. Rimbaud is also featured on the upcoming Occupy This Album anthology, a benefit record for the Occupy Movement featuring some obvious suspects along with several refreshingly not-so-obvious ones including Immortal Technique,Willie Nelson and Toots & the Maytals plus New York talents My Pet Dragon, Taj Weekes & Adowa and Stephan Said.