New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: country music

Revisiting Classic, Purist Americana and Bluegrass From Martha Spencer

Martha Spencer sings in a high soprano voice with lonesome country vibrato, backed by an inspired, thoughtful blend of flatpicked guitar, banjo, fiddle and bass. That description could fit thousands and thousands of Americana songbirds, but Spencer sings and writes from the point of view of someone who grew up immersed in classic country and bluegrass music with her  family’s Virginia group, the Whitetop Mountain Band. Her 2018 debut album as a solo artist is still up at Bandcamp. The sound is totally 1950s, whether she’s doing oldschool C&W, bluegrass, a blues or a ballad. She winds a good yarn and has a sharp sense of humor.

She and the band – a shifting cast that include but are not limited to guitarists Frank Rische and Ersel Fletcher,, bassist Debbie Bramer, fiddler Billy Hurt, Jr and banjo player Alex Leach –  open the album with Blue Ridge Mountain Lullaby, a fond childhood reminiscence of falling asleep while the ‘rents are playing all the old songs. My Heart Says Yes is a simple, catchy mashup of bluegrass and indie rock: totally Hoboken, 1996. Spencer’s voice takes on extra bite, way up the scale in the rockabilly tune Hard Headed Woman, amped up with growling electric guitar and spiraling electric honkytonk piano.

Spencer blends Patsy Cline nuance and Dolly Parton plaintiveness in the aching, sad ballad The Last Leaves. After that the band pick up the pace in Let the Wild Stay Free, a smartly aphoristic bluegrass tune.

When Spencer bends her way up to those blue notes in Chickens Coming Home to Roost Tonight, it’s clear she means business, echoed by the understatedly slashing bluesy guitar solo.  She keeps that strong-willed point of view front and center in Rambling Woman: over spiky banjo and fiddle, she makes it clear she’s not ready to settle down.

Wishful Thinking comes across as an Appalachian flavored acoustic take on a peak era 40s/50s Kitty Wells-style ballad. After that, Spencer flips the script with Ruby, a spare, rustic Virginia reel. Then she and the band slow things down again with Cold Winter Lingers On, a classic C&W breakup duet spiced with pedal steel and countrypolitan guitar.

They bring up the energy again with the oldtime country gospel tune Jonah and follow that with the wry hillbilly boogie No Help Wanted.

Tree of Heaven is deceptively pretty: it turns out to be Spencer’s Don’t Fear the Reaper. She winds up the album with the brisk banjo tune Rambling Hobo. Fans of real, purist country and bluegrass – the genuine article, not the legions of indie rock boys trying to wrap their dainty fingers around acoustic instruments – will love this stuff.

Classic, Purist, Smartly Crafted Country Sounds From the Shootouts

The Shootouts are a throwback to the glory days of classic 1950s and 60s country music, with uncluttered 21st century production values. Their songwriting harks back to an era of clever storytelling, jokes with unspoken punchlines and unselfconscious poignancy. Their new album Bullseye is streaming at Soundcloud. These guys really know their retro sounds – it wouldn’t be overhype to mention them in the same sentence with Dale Watson. Their solos are short, concise and always leave you wanting more.

They open with I Don’t Think About You Anymore, which is sort of a heartbroken take on what the Statler Bros. did with Flowers on the Wall, built around a hammer-on rockabilly riff that everybody from Elvis and Johnny Cash on forward have made songs out of.

Brian Poston’s lead guitar twangs and looms ominously in Rattlesnake Whiskey, a spaghetti western shuffle about a moonshiner who gets high on his own supply. Frontman Ryan Humbert sends a shout-out to his mom in Another Mother – as in “you won’t get another mother” – with wistful fiddle and pedal steel in the background.

Bassist Ryan McDermott and drummer Dylan Gomez add an emphatic skinny Elvis strut to Hurt Heartbroke; Poston’s choogling lead out of that slip-key rockabilly piano break is over way too soon. The album’s title track is a western swing instrumental with a long, biting series of tradeoffs between lead guitar and steel. These guys really know their retro sounds

There’s more of that in Here Comes the Blues, an oldschool Bakersfield-style number with a sly couple of Merle Haggard quotes. Everything I Know is Buddy Holly updated for an era with better guitar amps, organ looming in the background and elegant harmony vocals from Emily Bates. Then the band put an energetic spin on Hank Williams in Waiting on You.

They weld a wry, aphoristic lyric to a loping Johnny Cash groove in Missing the Mark, with another lively conversation between guitar and steel on the way out. They go back to a hillbilly boogie bounce in I Still Care, with echoes of 60s George Jones.

The imagery gets really gloomy in the low-key, meticulously crafted heartbreak ballad Forgot to Forget (but dudes, you’re not playing in 3/4: this is too fast, it sounds like 12/8!). They end the album on a high note with the rapidfire party anthem Saturday Night Town. The Shootouts play the album release show on June 12 at 7:30 PM at the Auricle, 201 Cleveland Ave North in Canton, Ohio; cover is $15.

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.

Live Music Calendar For New York and Brooklyn For May and June 2021

We’re taking baby steps toward getting back to normal: new calendar for July and August coming 7/1 with probably hundreds more listings. In the meantime, more and more free outdoor shows popping up all over town, so this calendar is being updated more frequently. A lot of shows are being announced at the 11th hour, so you might want to bookmark this page and check back on a night, or an afternoon, when you feel like going out.

Please don’t patronize venues that continue to enforce  lockdown restrictions. Let’s all do our part to make sure New York doesn’t turn into an apartheid state!

5/8, 4 PM brilliant resonator guitarist/bluesmama Mamie Minch in front of the Wild Project, 3rd St between Aves A + B. She’s also at High Dive on 5th Ave and Carroll Street in Park Slope on 5/29th at 2

5/13, 5 PM  hard-hitting bassist Dawn Drake & Zapote‘play psychedelic Afrobeat and funk at the corner of Fulton and Bond in downtown Brooklyn

5/15, 3 PM ish powerhouse tenor saxophonist Mark Turner leads a chordless trio with Vicente Archer on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/15, 4 PM composer-collective Oracle Hysterical premiere their new song cycle Terra Nova outdoors at the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza

5/15, time TBA avant garde chanteuse Jane LeCroy’s new punk cabaret duo project Shelter Puppy outdoors at City Reliquary, 370 Metropolitan Ave off Havemeyer, Williamsburg, free

5/16, 1 PM ish drummer Antonio Sanchez leads a trio with Donny McCaslin on alto sax and Matt Brewer on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/16, 3 PM luminous, visionary vocalist/dancer Luisa Muhr, multi-reed legend Daniel Carter and a posse of many more improvise outside 166 N 12th St. in Williamsburg

5/16, 5 PM the SEM Ensemble play Petr Kotik’s Letters to Olga (1988) with text by Václav Havel for two narrators, winds and guitars at in the yard adjacent to the Willow Place Auditorium, 25 Columbia Place (Joralemon/State), downtown Brooklyn, closest train is the A/C to High St.

5/17, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra brass quartet play works by Tcherepnin, Carlos Chavez, Strauss and others at Bryant Park. The program repeats on 5/19.

5/18, 5:30 PM oboeist Alexandra Knoll leads a wind trio playing an all-French program with works by Poulenc, Francaix and others at Bryant Park

5/20, 5 PM dynamic, sometimes atmospheric jazz violinist Charlie Burnham and band at the corner of Fulton and Bond in downtown Brooklyn

5/21, 5 PM cellist Marika Hughes‘ New String Quartet with Charlie Burnham on violin, Marvin Sewell on guitar, and Rashaan Carter on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side. 5/27, 5 PM she’s at the corner of Fulton and Bond in downtown Brooklyn

5/22, 3 PM ish tsunami drummer Johnathan Blake leads a wild quartet with Mark Turner and Chris Potter on tenor sax and Dezron Douglas on bass, wow, in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/23 starting at half past noon an outdoor jazz festival starting at half past noon outside at 18 Whitwell Pl in Gowanus with saxophonist Ole Mathisen‘s Take Off Collective trio at 4:30 F/R to 4th Ave

5/23-24, 1 PM ish drummer Nasheet Waits leads a high-voltage quartet with Mark Turner and Steve Nelson on tenor sax, and Rashaan Carter on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/26, 1 PM lustrous singer and badass cello-rock bandleader Serena Jost in a rare solo show at Bogardus Plaza, Hudson Street between Chambers & Reade, Tribeca

5/26, 7 PM, tunefully scruffy pastoral jazz guitarist Tom Csatari leads his  noir-tinged Uncivilized band at the Flying Lobster, 144 Union St off Hicks, just over the BQE, outdoors, F to Smith/9th

5/31, 2 PM drummer Michael W. Davis leads his trio with Lucas Pino on tenor sax, Martin Nevin on bass; at 3 trumpeter Jason Palmer leads his Quartet with Mark Turner on tenor sax, Edward Perez on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums in Central Park about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side; take the trail up, to the right of the bridge

6/1, 3 PM, tenor sax titan Mark Turner leads a quartet with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Joe Martin on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums in Central Park about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side; take the trail up, to the right of the bridge

6/2, 1 PM Celtic-inspired pianist Will Armstrong‘s Trio at Bogardus Plaza, Hudson Street between Chambers & Reade, Tribeca

6/2-4, 1 PM ish pyrotechnic tenor sax player Mark Turner records a live album with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

6/5. 4 PM  the world’s creepiest, slinkiest, most psychedelic crime jazz/film noir band, Big Lazy at a front-porch show at 182 Argyle Rd (Beverly/Albemarle). in Ditmas Park Brooklyn, Q to Beverly Rd.. 6/26 at 6:30 they’re at West Side Arts Concert series in Lincoln Park in Jersey City

6/6-8, 4 PM ish saxophonist Darius Jones records a live album with Dezron Douglas on bass and Gerald Cleaver next to the Catacombs in the middle of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, R to 25th St.

6/6, 4 PM  amazing string quintet Sybarite5– who are also the world’s coolest Radiohead cover band – on the steps of the Grand Army Plaza branch of the Brooklyn Public Library

6/6 and 6/13, 2 PM a Scandinavian orchestral and chamber music festival with performers TBA on the Billings Lawn at Ft. Tryon Park. Artists associated with the late, great NY Scandia Symphony may be involved.

6/10, 7:30 PM bhangra-klezmer mashups with Sharabi with trumpeter Frank London & Deep Singh with singer Sarah Gordon at Wagner Park just north of the battery CANCELLED DUE TO THREAT OF RAIN

6/10, 7:30 PM perennially popular jazz bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding with drummer Teri Lyne Carrington and keyboardist Leo Genovese outdoors at the Clemente Soto VélezcCultural & Educational Center, 114 Norfolk St., LES

6/13, 2 PM carnivalesque Balkan punk monstrosity Funkrust Brass Band outdoors at 98 Dikeman St, (Richards/Conover) Red Hook

6/13 , 2 PM tenor sax player Danny Walsh leads a trio with bassist Yoshi Waki and dummer Richie Morales in Central Park about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side, take the path up the hill to the left of the bridge

6/15, 7:30 PM orchestra the Knights with Gil Shaham, violin and Aoife O’Donovan, vocals play works by O’Donovan, George Walker and Beethoven at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, there may be restrictions, be prepared to linger on the fringes

6/18, 9 ish  torchy cumbia/swing singer and accordionist Erica Mancini at Sunny’s. She’s back on 6/25.

6/19, 4:30 PM intense Balkan chanteuse Jenny Luna‘s haunting, traditional Turkish band Dolunay outdoors at Barbes

6/19, 4;30 PM wildfire electric blues guitarist Celisse Henderson at the block party at Astor Place east of Lafayette

6/19, 6 PM House of Time play works by JS Bach, CPE Bach & Telemann; Suzanne Lorge sings azz with John Di Martino (piano) and Sophia Reyes (flute); pianist Evelyne Luest plays Schubert outdoors at the B-C Courtyard at Hudson View Gardens, 116 Pinehurst Ave, Washington Heights, A to 181st St., free

6/19, 8 PM fearless, psychedelic jazz trumpeter Jaimie Branch and band at San Pedro Inn, 320 Van Brunt St, Red Hook

6/20, 1 PM ish an allday outdoor jazz extravaganza with trombonist Bryan Drye’s Zodiac Quintet, Steven Bernstein’s Millenial Territorial Orchestra, drummer Jeff Davis’ quintet and Brooklyn psychedelic funk legends Groove Collective in front of I-Beam

6/20, 2 PM join some of the prime movers of the NYC pro-freedom movement for a summer solstice celebration in the park on Roosevelt Island with a picnic and activities, dedicated to the late great activist Rosa Koire. Tour starts at 2 at the café at Cornell Tech, 2 West Loop Road, a 10-minute walk south from the Roosevelt Island subway station.

2:00 – “Transhumanist dream” by art-rock singer/investigative journalist Tessa Lena (at Cornell Tech)
2:30 – “The biomedical roots of the Covid plandemic” by psychiatrist Dr. Karin Burkhard (Smallpox hospital ruins)
3:00 – “The evisceration of our freedoms” by investigative journalist/healer Cat McGuire (FDR Four Freedoms Memorial)
3:30 – gong-bath storytelling performance by Mary Ann Schmidt and Michael Jay
4:00 – acceptance celebration and healing circle
4:00-7:00 – percussion improvisation by Africa Forestdance

6/20, 3 PM alto saxophonist Abraham Burton leads a trio with Dezron Douglas on bass and Eric McPherson on drums in Central Park about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side; take the trail up, to the left of the bridge

6/20, 5 PM repeating 6/23 at 6:30 PM clarinetist Bixby Kennedy, cellist Madeline Fayette and pianist/salonniere Yelena Grinberg play works by Beethoven, Ries and Mendelssohn at Grinberg’s now-resusciated monthly upper westside salon, email for deets here., convenient to 1/2/3 trains, $35 includes wine, munchies and good conversation afterward

6/21-24, half past noon lyrical jazz pianist Deanna Witkowski plays solo at Bryant Park

6/21, 6 PM dark psychedelic acoustic blues/klezmer/reggae/soca jamband Hazmat Modine under the Manhattan Bridge archway in Dumbo, F to York St.

6/21, 6:30ish the NY Mandolin Orchestra at Needle Park at the triangle at Broadway and 65th St.

6/21, 7 PM Zach Layton and Nick Hallett lead a performance of Terry Riley’s “In C” at Brooklyn Bridge Park Harborview Lawn on Pier 1, south of the old roller rink, walk up and west and you’ll find it

6/24, 6:30 PM surreal, rustic, lyrical klezmer from the Beary Brothers featuring Psoy Korolenko, Zisl Slepovitch and Ilya Shneyveys at Wagner Park just north and west of the Battery

6/26, 4 PM cinematic, psychedelic quirk-pop keyboardist Michael Hearst and his Songs for Unusual (fill in the blank: creatures, vehicles, you name it) at the Old Stone House in Park Slope

6/26, 7 PM clever, fiery, eclectic ten-piece Balkan/hip-hop/funk brass maniacs Slavic Soul Party  under the Manhattan Bridge archway in Dumbo, F to York St.

6/26, 8 PM tunefully scruffy pastoral jazz guitarist Tom Csatari leads his  noir-tinged Uncivilized band at San Pedro Inn, 320 Van Brunt St, Red Hook

6/27, 7 PM Charu Suri Raga Jazz w/ Sufi Maestro Umer Piracha at Drom, $15

6/29, 7:30 PM an oldtimey swing dance party with the Silver Arrow Band at Drom, free

6/29, 7:30 PM the Ulysses and Emerson String Quartets team up for music by Shostakovich, Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss and others at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park

7/5, 7 PM wryly retro, period-perfect classic 60s style female-fronted honkytonk band the Bourbon Express at Cowgirl Seahorse

7/6, 7:30 PM chamber orchestra A Far Cry play works by Grieg, Part, Jessie Montgomery and others at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park

7/11, 3:30 PM the Noga Band featuring amazing Middle Eastern oudist Avram Pengas at Wagner Park north and west of the Battery

7/16, 7 PM  sizzling salsa dura band the Spanish Harlem Orchestra at Bryant Park

7/20, noon classical ensemble the Sterling Strings play a program TBA at Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn

7/20, 7:30 PM the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra play works by Purcell, John Blow and others at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park

7/23, 7 PM orchestra the Knights play music by Jessie Montgomery, Anna Clyne, and Christina Courtin, alongside Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik. at Bryant Park

7/24, 7:30ish the Sun Ra Arkestra at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park

7/31, 7 PM salsa romantica crooner Tito Nieves at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park

8/3, 7:30 PM the East Coast Chamber Orchestra play works by Mozart, Golijov and others at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park

8/6, 7 PM trumpeter Terence Blanchard with the Turtle Island Quartet at Bryant Park

8/14, 9:30 PM  this era’s most consistently interesting jazz pianist, Vijay Iyer at Prospect Park Bandshell. Listen from outside (try around the back) since the arena may still have restrictions

8/18, 5 PM the Harlem Quartet at Times Square. Where? Follow the sound, it seems

8/21, 7 PM legendary second-wave Afrobeat band Antibalas at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park

8/24, 6 PM the Donald Harrison Quartet with the Harlem Orchestra play Charlie Parker’s Bird with Strings at Marcus Garvey Park, be prepared to hang on the fringes because there may be restrictions

9/18, 7:30 PM Trombone Shorty at Prospect Park Bandshell. We might have to listen from outside since the arena may still have restrictions

9/19, 7 PM Patti Smith at Central Park Summerstage, maybe listen from outside because the venue may still have restrictions

Hard Country Singer Sara Petite Shifts Gears into Harder Rock Territory

“I ain’t feeling like an angel tonight,” Sara Petite sings over a twangy stomp on the opening track of her new album Rare Bird, streaming at Soundcloud. She’s made a career in defiant bad-girl hard country sounds: this one’s more rock-oriented. Her vocals are more focused, more wintry, more dynamic this time out: there’s more depth to the hard-living persona.

Petite also explores more musical territory here. Case in point: the second track, Runnin’. If not for the pedal steel and the down-home snarl of the guitars, this would be new wave.

As Petite sees it, Scars are “like barbwire to the touch, jagged and jaded” and make a good theme for a richly textured, unexpectedly complicated Americana rock anthem. Listen closely and you realize how much Stockholm Syndrome plays into an abusive relationship.

The title track is a mashup of elegant 60s countrypolitan and more recent, harder-edged Nashville sounds, with a plaintively sizzling fiddle solo on the way out. Petite picks up the pace with The Misfits, a big, fist-pumping nonconformist anthem, then brings the lights down again with the gorgeously bittersweet Missing You Tonight.

She fills a barroom with a colorful bunch of party animals in Crash Boom Bang, mashing up a simmering Texas slide guitar shuffle with a familiar Elvis hit. Likewise, she blends some catchy Memphis soul into the mix in Medicine Man.

Floating With the Angels has tinges of Tex-Mex, Petite finding religion in drunken bliss via a clever litany of gospel imagery. She goes back in a retro soul direction with the resolute, distantly New Orleans-tinged Keep Moving On: “I’ve been ridiculed, blamed, shamed, misunderstood,” she admits, but she won’t let that get her down. “Freedom ain’t just for the chosen few.”

She winds up the record with Working on a Soul: who would have expected the crazed noiserock intro that kicks off this surreal mix of hick-hop, Nashville gothic and jubilant country gospel.

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.

Grimly Lyrical, Darkly Jangly Americana Rock Tunesmithing From Janet Simpson

The ramshackle, embroidered cover art for Janet Simpson‘s new album Safe Distance – streaming at Bandcamp – is pure American gothic, a cowboy trying to lasso a snake. That speaks volumes for Simpson’s worldview and irreverent outsider persona. Her songs draw a straight line back to the glory days of the so-called “paisley underground” rock of the 80s: Americana twang, punk spirit, psychedelic ambience. Simpson’s tales of hard times on the forgotten fringes are starkly lyrical and often chilling. She plays guitars and keys and has a great band behind her: Will Stewart on guitars, Robert Wason on bass and Tyler McGuire on drums. This is one of the best rock records of the year.

The opening track, Nashville Girls sounds like the Dream Syndicate with a woman out front, a clanging, vampy, wickedly catchy, caustically picturesque sendup of the kind of clueless trust fund kids you see in any gentrified neighborhood. Stewart’s uneasy chorus-box guitar solo wafts in, a fresh breeze straight ouf of the 80s; Simpson overdubs some whooshy synth on the way out. It’s a hard act to follow, but the rest of the record holds up.

The blend of jangle and clang in the second cut, Slip, is just as delicious: it could be the Gun Club at their most focused mid-80s peak, taking a stab at a hypnotic, nocturnal waltz. Alcohol permeates these songs like George Jones’ breath: Simpson’s battlescarred narrators medicate 24/7. Case in point: Reno, a pulsing, honkyonk-flavored tale that turns far much darker than you would ever think.

Simpson layers hazy keys and spare guitars for suspenseful, nocturnal ambience in Awe & Wonder, a brooding, completely ambiguous look at trying to rekindle what seems to be a pretty dead romance.

She wails to the top of her range over a steady, tense backbeat iu I’m Wrong: “I wander off sometimes it’s so easy to let myself fall through the cracks,” she muses. The baritone guitar solo out is an unexpected treat.

As an offhand portrait of despondency while everybody’s out having fun, Aiu’t Nobody Looking packs a calm wallop: and that fretless bass is a trip. The album’s title track is not a snide lockdown reference but a sobering account of a blackout hookup set to a marching waltz beat:

Dancing the line as if it was straight
A callous ballet, the border so fine
On the border so fine between two awful states

Simpson goes back to portraits of terminal depression in the spare, fingerpicked Black Turns Blue:

I’ve been drinking all my feelins it’s so much easier than dealing
The world’s so pretty when I’m reeling I’d rather stay where I can’t see

The album’s most hauntingly allusive song is Double Lines, a Nashville gothic drinking-and-driving tale right up there with Ninth House’s Follow the Line. Simpson offers up the spare, mostly acoustic Silverman as a mea culpa to someone who could have been a safe harbor.

Mountain, a Memphis soul tune, is an unexpectedly optimistic scenario. The album’s final cut is Wrecked, a subdued but defiant, distantly Tex-Mex flavored tune:

Maybe I’m barely hanging on
Maybe I’m wrecked, but I’m not too far gone
Maybe the edge is right where I belong
I’m not a fighter but I’m a dancer
And it might be a grave I’m dancing on

Live Music Calendar for New York City and Brooklyn For April and May 2021

Audiences from Florida to the Dakotas are back to normal while we’re still stuck in lockdown hell. But there’s a growing number of shows here this month, almost all of them outdoors and free. Sorry, no speakeasy shows listed here: we can’t snitch on them!

New listings are being added, sporadically: it couldn’t hurt to bookmark this page and check back in about a week to see what else is on the schedule!

4/4. 11 AM alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan, trumpeter Giveton Gelin, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by the Wayne Escoffery/Jeremy Pelt Quartet with Dezron Douglas on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums, wow, at the south end of the mall in Central Park, enter at 72nd St and go south when you see the Naumburg Bandshell

4/6, 5 PM the Regeneration Quintet – Ras Moshe (saxophones), Matt Lavelle (trumpet),Ayumi Ishito (saxophone), Evan Crane (bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums) improvise in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off Prospect Park West, F train to 7th Ave

4/10, 3 PM organist Gail Archer plays a rare program of Russian organ music at St. John Nepomucene church, 411 E 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

4/10, noon AM alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan,, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by bassist William Parker’s Trio with Cooper-Moore (on keys?) and Hamid Drake on percussion at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/11, POSTPONED DUE TO THREAT OF RAIN alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan,, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leading her Trio with Pablo Menares on bass and Kush Abadey on drums at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/14, 5:30 PM serious improvisation: Becoming and Return – Daniel Carter (woodwinds/trumpet), Roshni Samlal (tabla), Dan Kurfirst (drums) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off Prospect Park West, F train to 7th Ave

4/15, 7 PM poignant, eclectic, lyrical jazz bassist/composer Pedro Giraudo’s tango quartet at Terraza 7, sug don $10

4/17, 1:30ish saxophonist Chris Potter leads a trio with Joe Martin on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

4/17, 1:30 PM luminous, visionary vocalist/dancer Luisa Muhr, multi-reed legend Daniel Carter and a posse of many more improvise outside 166 N 12th St. in Williamsburg

4/20, 5:30 PM best show of the month: haunting Middle Eastern jazz with Ensemble Fanaa – Daro Behroozi (saxophone/bBass clarinet), John Murchison (double bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums/percussion) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off Prospect Park West, F train to 7th Ave

4/23, 7 PM noirish, tunefully scruffy pastoral jazz guitarist Tom Csatari leads his pastoral noir Uncivilized band at the Flying Lobster, 144 Union St off Hicks, just over the BQE, outdoors, F to Smith/9th

4/24, 1 PM ish trumpeter Marquis Hill‘s Quartet in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

4/25, 1 PM ish saxophonist Michael Thomas leads his Quartet with Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, Edward Perez on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

4/25, 5 PM spy-surf band the Royal Arctic Institute outdoors at 18th Ward Brewing, 300 Richardson St off Kingsland, Greenpoint, G to Nassau

4/27, 5:30 PM stoner downtempo grooves with Lateef Beats – Fima Chupakhin (keys), John Merrit (bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off Prospect Park West, F train to 7th Ave

5/1, noon saxophonist James Brandon Lewis‘ Freed Style Free Trio with Rashaan Carter on bass and Chad Taylor on drums followed at 1 ish by sax player Aaron Burnett’s Quartet with Peter Evans on trumpet, Nick Jozwiak on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/2, 1 PM ish intense tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leads a trio with Pablo Menares on bass and Kush Abadey on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/3-4, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra String Quartet play works from south of the border by Manuel Ponce, Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez at Bryant Park

5/5, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra Percussion ensemble play an all Javier Diaz program in the park at Herald Square. The program repeats on 5/12

5/8, 1 PM ish cellist Marika Hughes‘ New String Quartet with Charlie Burnham on violin, Marvin Sewell on guitar, and Rashaan Carter on bass – hey, they’re all string players! – in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/10-11, 5:30 PM jazz pianist Lee Musiker leads a quintet at Bryant Park

5/15, 1 PM ish powerhouse tenor saxophonist Mark Turner leads a chordless trio with Vicente Archer on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/15, time TBA avant garde chanteuse Jane LeCroy’s new punk cabaret duo project Shelter Puppy outdoors at City Reliquary, 370 Metropolitan Ave off Havemeyer, Williamsburg, free

5/16, 1 PM ish drummer Antonio Sanchez leads a trio with Donny McCaslin on alto sax and Matt Brewer on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/16, 5 PM the SEM Ensemble play Petr Kotik’s Letters to Olga (1988) with text by Václav Havel for two narrators, winds and guitars at in the yard adjacent to the Willow Place Auditorium, 25 Columbia Place (Joralemon/State), downtown Brooklyn, closest train is the A/C to High St.

5/17, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra brass quartet play works by Tcherepnin, Carlos Chavez, Strauss and others at Bryant Park. The program repeats on 5/19.

5/18, 5:30 PM oboeist Alexandra Knoll leads a wind trio playing an all-French program with works by Poulenc, Francaix and others at Bryant Park

5/22, 1 PM ish tsunami drummer Johnathan Blake leads a wild quartet with Mark Turner and Chris Potter on tenor sax and Dezron Douglas on bass, wow, in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/23-24, 1 PM ish drummer Nasheet Waits leads a high-voltage quartet with Mark Turner and Steve Nelson on tenor sax, and Rashaan Carter on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/29, 1 PM ish alto saxophonist Abraham Burton leads a trio with Dezron Douglas on bass and Eric McPherson on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/31, 1 PM ish trumpeter Jason Palmer leads his Quartet with Mark Turner on tenor sax, Edward Perez on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

6/2-4, 1 PM ish pyrotechnic tenor sax player Mark Turner records a live album with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

6/ 6-8, 1 PM ish saxophonist Darius Jones records a live album with Dezron Douglas on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

6/10, 7:30 PM bhangra-klezmer mashups with Sharabi with trumpeter Frank London & Deep Singh with singer Sarah Gordon at Wagner Park just north of the battery

A Surreal, Lushly Eclectic Live Album From Susanne Sundfor

The fourth track on today’s album features a duel between Greg Leisz’s pedal steel and André Roligheten’s sax – in a pensive chamber pop piano ballad.

Sung in English by a Norwegian songwriter. WTF?

In this century, stylistically, music is up for grabs. If a Brooklyn psychedelic cumbia band can get press here, Susanne Sundfor deserves to make the front page too. That particular song, Good Luck Bad Luck, is from People in Trouble: Live From the Barbican, streaming at youtube. You can start your playlist with track number three, Reincarnation, a loping, western-flavored country song that winds down to almost four minutes of desolate steel.

This is why live music – where it’s legal, anyway – is worth the hassle of leaving the house and putting down the magic rectangle for an hour or so. Sundfor stretches from New Mexico C&W to pensive piano balladry to dark folk, as exemplified by the album’s centerpiece, The Sound of War. “Leave all the silverware ‘cos you won’t need it there…just pawn the china…leave this ghost town before they burn it down” she warns. Bass player Frans Petter Eldh detunes and leaves his axe feeding into the PA; eventually a tightly pulsing intensity emerges.

“You take the pain, I take the fear, was the Devil a good negotiator?” Sundfor asks in Bedtime Story, a hazy psych-pop ballad with echoey Rhodes piano and a pensive clarinet solo by Jesse Chandler. Skip the seventh track: it’s a pop song with a pointless bass solo (which bass solos usually are). You can pick up with No One Believes in Love Anymore, arguably the album’s catchiest tune, with an aptly lush outro.

The album’s best and most disorienting track is The Golden Age, an Amanda Palmer-like waltz, interrupted. Sundfor winds up the record – and presumably, the concert – with Mountaineers, an echoey, possibly very metaphorical, orchestral take on Stereolab.

For those who refuse to listen to reason and insist on hearing tracks one, two and seven, be aware that there is a “moon-june” rhyme in the second one. For real. Sundfor gets a pass this time around because she’s not a native English speaker.

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.