New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: clare muldaur

Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur: Just As Relevant As They Were Fifty Years Ago

Jim Kweskin‘s Jug Band sounded like they were as old as the songs they played. But that was the point.

They were hippies reprising the ribald, raucous sounds of folk music that went back as far as a century before them, sometimes to the consternation of the establishment. Over half a century after the peak of his band’s late 60s popularity, Kweskin and his bandmate Geoff Muldaur (father to Clare Muldaur of the brilliant art-rock band Clare & the Reasons) have a new album, Penny’s Farm – streaming at Spotify – and a release show tonight, Oct 4 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub. Cover is steep, $30, but you could be witness to history. Who ever thought that Kweskin’s Jug Band, or any facsimile thereof, would ever take the stage again, let alone in their old Village stomping ground?

This isn’t the original Kweskin band lineup from all those years ago. Instead, the album features top-tier Americana talent including steel guitarist and dobro sorceress Cindy Cashdollar, blues fiddler Suzy Thompson, and singer Juli Crockett of the Evangenitals. The voices of both Kweskin and Muldaur have weathered over the years, but that’s to be expected, and if anything, enhances the songs’ rustic appeal. The music here has a spare, front-porch feel; in case you were wondering, there is no jug in this band.

Diamond Joe, the album’s opening cut, pairs Thompson’s fiddle with Kweskin’s wry vocal, Cashdollar’s dobro filling in the spaces elegantly. Likewise, the band gives The Boll Weevil a low-key, sly feel, signifying like crazy through this thinly veiled slave lament. And the Celtic-tinged title track, Down on Penny’s Farm resonates just as much as it did a hundred years ago, a grim tale of foreclosure and destitution.

The guitars in the swaying country blues Sweet to Mama are panned left and right to give the song an unexpectedly rich, lush feel, which the band reprises in the balmy 19th century reminiscence My Mary. And the interplay between the bandleaders’ fingerpicking in Fishin’ Blues is just plain gorgeous.

Early zeros New York Americana fans will remember the ballad Louis Collins (also known as Angels Laid Him Away) from the morose Jack Grace version. The band picks up the pace with the swinging ragtime-flavored Just a Little While to Stay Here, which they replicate a little later with the jaunty Downtown Blues, which Thompson caps off with a lusciously shivery solo.

Musically speaking, the album’s high point is The Cuckoo, reinvented as a somber, Richard Thompson-esque dirge awash in tersely purposeful guitar interweave. Kweskin continues to play his cards close to his vest throughout the surreal guitar cascades of the murder ballad 99 Year Blues; then the band waltzes with a vivid weariness through Tennessee Blues. The album winds up with a live take of the murder ballad Frankie, a reminder of how magically the band can recreate this stuff onstage. There’s also a vintage children’s song as well as a bizarre number in fractured Spanglish. Authenticity is a dubious concept these days, but this further cements the whole band’s claim to a vast, centuries-old heritage.

Clare & the Reasons Take It To the Next Level

Fronted by husband-wife duo Clare and Olivier Manchon, Brooklyn chamber pop band Clare & the Reasons have a new album out, KR-51, taking its name from a German autobahn. Like their previous three albums, the songs on this one feature a swirly, hypnotic blend of icy electronic keyboards and lush orchestration. Imagine Kate Bush at her most straightforward, or a more psychedelic version of the Universal Thump, and you’re on the right track. Clare’s chirpy high soprano is more expressive, more varied and more somber here: it sounds like she’s been listening to a lot of Marissa Nadler. Likewise, the music has a lot more gravitas than their more quirky previous releases: there’s none of the grating whimsy that would occasionally rear its self-indulgent head where least desired. There’s nothing here quite up to the level of Murder, They Want Murder – the gorgeously mysterious noir pop vignette from their 2009 Arrow album – but this one is solid all the way through. There literally isn’t a bad song here.

The opening track, The Lake sets a deceptively poppy tone, a vividly lyrical portrait of clinical depression matched by the coldness of the music, capped by an echoey synth hook that wouldn’t be out of place in a song by, say, Missing Persons. Similarly, Make Them Laugh is surreal but has a disquieting edge: steel pan and banjo add liveliness over the cloudy banks of strings and loopy broken chords on the synths. They follow that with the trippy, minimalist new wave tune Bass Face, punctuated by staccato blasts from Bob Hart’s guitar.

This Too Shall Pass blends goth angst with a steampunk vibe: it’s the closest thing to Marissa Nadler here, a long, hypnotically orchestratd vamp growing stormier by degrees, subsiding and then rising again. One of the coolest things about this album is that the song structures never follow a predictable verse/chorus pattern, and this is a prime example. Woodwinds bubble incongruously over a creepy modal electric piano riff on The Mauerpark – it sounds like a mashup of vintage Moody Blues and late-period ELO. Biting, offcenter Robert Fripp-style guitar, fuzz bass and hammering keys drive the next track, PS, an equally strange but compelling blend of mid-70s King Crimson art-rock and buzzy early Wire-style new wave. Then they go back to the artsy trip-hop of much of their previous work on the pulsing, hypnotic Step In the Gold.

The best song on the album is Colder, a brooding anthem that eventually hits a towering, majestic angst: “When will it get better, when will it better?” is the mantra, Clare’s voice rising to a rare, gritty, imploring tone. After that, Last Picture Sbow is somewhat of a letdown, nicking a popular Radiohead riff. They follow that with the shapeshifting Westward, which begins fluttery and minimalist and then shifts back and forth from a catchy noir pop melody, orchestration and guitars joining the mix and then receding: it’s a triumph of imaginative tunesmithing. The last song is Magpie, a rather stark, distantly Beatlesque, artsy folk-pop song. If you managed to catch one of their recent Bowery Ballroom shows, you most likely got to hear a lot of this in a more stripped-down format. The album is out now on their Frog Stand Records label.