New York Music Daily

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Tag: country rock

Americana Crooner Jack Grace’s Long-Awaited New Album Might Be His Best Yet

Back in the radio-and-records era, conventional wisdom was that a band’s first album was always their best. The theory was that in order to get a record deal, a group had to pull together all their most impressive songs. These days, that theory falls apart since artists can release material at their own pace rather than having to constantly deliver new product to the boss at the record label.

Still, how many artists do you know whose material is stronger than ever after twenty years of incessant touring and putting out the occasional album? Crooner/guitarist Jack Grace, arguably New York’s foremost and funniest pioneer of Americana and urban country, is one of that rare breed. His long, long awaited new Eric Ambel-produced album Everything I Say Is a Lie is arguably the best thing Grace has ever done, due out on April 28 and presumably streaming at Soundcloud at that point. Grace and his band are playing the album release show at around 8 PM on April 27 at Hifi Bar.

Interestingly, this is Grace’s most straight-ahead rock record to date: there’s plenty of C&W influence but no straight-up honkytonk this time around. It’s also more straightforwardly serious than Grace is known to be, especially onstage. As usual, the band is fantastic: a swinging rhythm section of ex-wife and Pre-War Pony Daria Grace on bass, with drummers Russ Meissner and Diego Voglino, plus Ambel contributing plenty of his signature, counterintuitive guitar and Bill Malchow on keys.

Driven by a catchy, tremoloing guitar riff, the album’s first song Burned by the Moonlight is a garage-soul number spiced with some characteristically savage lead work from Ambel. Grace’s voice has an unexpected, angry edge: “Let the wolves tear you heart out every night,” he rasps. Kanye West (I Hear That You’re the Best) is Grace at his most hilarious. “Taylor Swift, I hear you’ve got a gift, I don’t want to hear any more about it…Kardashians are so beautiful, Lindsay Lohan’s problems are so real.” As good as the lyrics are, this slowly swaying late Beatlesque anthem’s best joke is when it becomes a singalong.

Run to Me follows the kind of allusively brooding desert rock tangent that Grace was often going off on five or ten years ago. “Evil has connections we can use,” he muses. Being Poor, a song for our time if there ever was one, has a stark, rustic Steve Earle folk-blues vibe: “It’s all got you down on your knees, no power to question why.”

Bad Wind Blowing has a tense, simmering roadhouse rock sway and a souful vocal cameo from Norah Jones: “Lean against the wind or get your ass blown to the ground.” Then Grace shifts gears into wry charmer mode with the steady backbeat Highway 61 rock of I Like You.

He sings the almost cruelly sarcastic title ballad over Malchow’s Lennonesque piano; Ambel’s twelve-string guitar break is just as surreal. Again, this song’s best joke is a musical one. By contrast, the album’s most crushingly relevant cut is Get Out. “We really used to try to get out of Brooklyn, now everybody’s trying to get in,” Grace laments over a stark banjo/guitar backdrop. It’ll resonate with anybody who remembers the days (ten years ago if anybody’s counting) before every entitled, recently relocated yuppie tourist in New York was starting a band named after this city’s second-most-expensive borough.

The album closes on a similarly somber note with So We Run, an unexpected and successful detour into early 70s style psychedelic Britfolk. Good to see a guy who’s been one of the most reliably good tunesmiths in town still at it, and at the top of his game.

Joshua James Brings His Gothic Americana to the Mercury Tonight

Joshua James plays a surrealistic 21st century take on Nashville gothic and folk noir. He likes minor keys and ominous nature imagery. The production on his new album, My Spirit Sister – not yet streaming at Bandcamp, but due there at the end of the month and serendipitously available on vinyl – manages to be sleek and digital without dulling the edge of James’ song cycle. There’s an understatedly symphonic sweep to what’s essentially a theme and variations. He’s got a gig tonight with his band at the Mercury at 8. If you didn’t already get your $15 advance ticket, it’ll cost you three bucks more, which is as pricy as that venue gets these days. But James is worth it.

The album’s indelibly catchy opening track is Broken Tongue. It’s like the shadow side of a 60s Simon and Garfunkel folk-rock hit, with shivery digital reverb effects on the many layers of guitars over a steady backbeat anchored by bassist Isaac Russell and drummer Timmy Walsh. In his flinty twang, the Nebraskan songwriter ponders alienation and the struggle to communicate through the debris of a lifetime worth of damage.

As the similarly brooding yet propulsive Coyote Calling moves along, the guitars of James and Evan Coulombe slash and stab through the digital haze: in a subtle way, it’s the album’s funniest song. It segues into Real Love, a creepy hitchhiking narrative which mirrors the opening track. Is the “mighty wind that’s gonna lift you up” a tornado, a fire-and-brimstone religious metaphor, or both?

The crushing, distorted electric guitars return in Golden Bird, a druggy, apocalyptic tale that unwinds amidst the contrast of high lonesome, reverbtoned guitar twang and a crushing, distorted chordal attack. James paints an understatedly cynical portrait of rural white ghetto nickel-and-diming: it’s like Tom Waits backed by Jessie Kilguss’ band.

In a swaying Wallflowers/Deer Tick rock vein, Pretty Feather is the first pop-oriented number here. Backbone Bend, which nicks the chord progression from a familiar Prince hit, strays further beyond Americana than any of the other tracks. Losin’ My Mind is a tasty reverb guitar-fueled update on vintage 60s acoustic Dylan. In Dark Cloud, James weaves a richly detailed story about a young couple hanging on by their fingernails: you can see the end coming a mile away, but it still packs  an impact. The cycle winds up with the Springsteen-folk of Blackbird Sorrow, which is a decent song, although the ending is too pat: dark clouds don’t usually vanish from the sky as fast and inexplicably as they do here. It’ll be interesting to see where James goes after this.

The Cactus Blossoms’ Moody Americana Hits the Spot Gently at Lincoln Center

Last night at the Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center, the Cactus Blossoms built a lowlit, Lynchian ambience, rising out of it occasionally with hints of rockabilly, Tex-Mex and a detour into rambunctious Vegas noir. It was indicative of how much edgier the American Songbook series here is now. Tonight’s show features blue-flame oldschool soul songstress Ruby Amanfu; showtime is 8 PM, and be aware that latecomers aren’t allowed in.

It wouldn’t be overhype to mention brothers Jack Torrey, who played artfully terse leads on a shortscale Guild guitar, and rhythm guitarist sibling Page Burkum in the same sentence as the Everlys or the Louvins. Their blend of voices is every bit as celestial, and often heartbreaking as either of those two iconic Americana acts, and they work it for all it’s worth. Burkum didn’t talk to the audience at all; Torrey didn’t do that much either, and then only with a laconic, aw-shucks Midwestern modesty.

The night’s most stunningly relevant number was the disconsolate border ballad Adios Maria. Awash in longing and doomed acceptance, it spoke for anyone dreading deportation, or, possibly even worse, an early-morning raid to snare a loved one. Introducing a shuffling, vintage C&W flavored take of Chuck Berry’s Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Torrey spoke of being on tour in Europe during the Presidential inauguration back in January and missing Obama’s presence in the Oval Office. “I hope they hear this over at the Trump Tower,” he deadpanned.

Otherwise, this band lets the music speak for itself.If there ever was a retro group for this era, the Cactus Blossoms are it. Even the upbeat Happy Man, with its 50s R&B allusions, positioned its central character in a gloomy context. The most surrealistically dark of all the songs, Burkum’s Powder Blue, used the Twin Peaks theme as a stepping-off point to build a backdrop that was equal parts lovestruck rapture and understated dread. Torrey’s more country-flavored Queen of Them All worked that territory with similar, wounded grace; then the band picked up the pace with a swaying cover of the Kinks’ Who’ll Be the Next In Line, followed by Torrey’s honkytonk-spiced kissoff anthem A Sad Day to Be You.

They went into sardonic, rockabilly-tinged territory for Clown Collector and drew the night’s loudest applause with the surprisingly jaunty Stoplight Kisses. Burkum and Torrey wove their harmonies with the kind of intuitive chemistry that you would expect from family members, while the latter parsed the songs with muted early-rock leads, slinky Nashville licks and hints of electrified bluegrass. And the rhythm section was tremendous. Bassist Andy Carroll swung as judiciously as Torrey did, playing his Guild hollowbody model just a hair behind the beat with a little treble bite in his tone. Drummer Chris Hepola switched judiciously from sticks to brushes, pushing the quieter numbers with a rapt rimshot beat, then breaking out his mallets for the voodoo groove of the obscure Vegas C&W novelty Uncle John’s Bongos. For their first encore, the brothers voiced the high/low contrasts of the Beatles’ This Boy rather than the moodier internal harmonies, something of a departure from what they’d been doing all night. The Cactus Blossoms’ tour continues; their next stop is in their hometown Minneapolis on around 10 PM on April 14 at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Union Theatre.

Dark Crooner Mark Sinnis Releases His Catchiest, Hardest Country Record

There’s not a little irony in that baritone crooner Mark Sinnis’ catchiest and hardest country record comes out of the most difficult and arguably most complicated time in his life as a recording artist. His latest album, One Red Rose Among the Dying Leaves – streaming at Spotify – picks up the doomed tangent he began in 2012 with It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter. At that point, his marriage was on life support this one traces the despair that followed in its wake, yet paradoxically it’s Sinnis’ most hopeful album ever. Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

As you might expect from Sinnis’ most traditional country album, there’s plenty of reverence for and references to to a century of tradition. The Elvis homage In Tupelo opens it; a homage to New York’s one and only country station, 1050 WHN, which aired at that frequency on the AM dial from 1941 to 1987, closes it on a similarly nostalgic note.

In between, there’s On This Thanksgiving Day, a cruel Johnny Cash-flavored anthem chronicling Sinnis’ departure/eviction from his Westchester home (he’s since resettled in North Carolina). There’s the towering, angst-fueled, Orbison-esque bolero that serves as the album’s title traack, inspired by an actual flower Sinnis discovered the day he moved out of his home in the frigid winter of 2014. It graces the album’s back cover.

Why Should I Cry Over You is a brisk, propulsive minor-key honkytonk blues number. There are a couple of older songs dating from Sinnis’ days fronting gothic-tinged art rock band Ninth House, notably the haunting When the Sun Bows to the Moon – “You create your own atmosphere, breathe your own tainted air” – and the creeping, low-key, doomed Jealousy.

There’s surprisingly upbeat, optimistic material here too. Love, Love Love (You’re Such a Four Letter Word) is a funny and wickedly catchy update on Don Gibson-style 1960s country-pop. Five Days, Seven Nights looks back to the roots of alt-country and bands like the Mekons, but with more finesse. Where It All Ends, a 70s style country ballad, serves as the album’s quietly triumphant coda.

Siting at the Heartbreak Saloon wouldn’t be out of place in the classic-era Merle Haggard songbook. And the album’s best song, Tough Love Is All She’s Got, is one of the all-time greatest kiss-off anthems ever written. See, on the surface, this retro chick – as he tells it, Sinnis’ ex – looks like a classic car from 1956 or so. But wait – pop the hood! Fans of classic country from Lefty Frizzell, to Waylon and Willie, to Jack Grace will love this album A period-perfect and smart, tersely recorded performance from multi-instrumentalists Stephen Gara-  who plays everything from banjo to bagpipes – ass well as W. D. Fortay on lead guitar, Ken Lockwood on fiddle, Brian Aspinwall on pedal steel and trumpet, Lee Compton on lead trumpet, Mike Gross on bass and Michael Lillard on drums.

The Long Ryders and Lorraine Leckie at Bowery Ballroom: Two Generations of Smart Americana Rock

Last night at Bowery Ballroom, the Long Ryders opened with their big 1983 college radio hit Tell It to the Judge on Sunday – an ominously scampering mashup of electrified bluegrass and the 13th Floor Elevators – and encored with a singalong of the rapidfire, Dylanesque imagery of Looking for Lewis and Clark. Despite a layoff of more than two decades, and the fact that they hadn’t played Manhattan in almost three, the guys who pretty much invented Americana rock all by themselves proved little worse for the time away. Beyond their three excellent albums from that era, and the new four-disc retrospective Final Wild Songs that came out earlier this year, the quartet distinguished themselves with vocals as well as a deep, and, when you think about it, surprisingly eclectic back catalog. Can you name another rock band from that era, or any other, with three lead singers as strong as guitarists Sid Griffin and Stephen McCarthy and bassist Tom Stevens? Isn’t it weird to hear songs like And She Rides – whose infamously funny video Griffin mentioned toward the end of the set – and realize just how good a new wave band these guys were when they weren’t using Griffin’s Kentucky roots as a stepping-off point for a brand-new style that combined punk energy with rootsy rusticity?

Stevens ended up taking the lion’s share of lead vocals and a handful of tantalizingly brief bass breaks, more than you’d expect from a country-rock band. McCarthy switched between his signature twangy Telecaster leads and searing steel guitar. Counterintuitively, the high point of the show was midway through the set, when Griffin, playing twelve-string Rickenbacker, led the band through an insistently raging cover of Dylan’s Masters of War, McCarthy adding menace with his blazing, upward and then descending steel slides. They kept that intensity going with a broodingly lingering take of Two Kinds of Love. Methodically and energetically, the band aired out most of the hits – and there were a lot of them: the wry shuffle Run Dusty Run, the pensively jangly Ivory Tower, You Can’t Ride the Boxcars Anymore and Mel Tillis’ Sweet Sweet Mental Revenge..

Opening act Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons had come to conquer, and the charismatic Canadian-American frontwoman was taking no prisoners.“If you ask me, I’m for immediate impeachment on the grounds of extreme ugliness,” the wiry, black-clad singer asserted. Hitting their stride right off the bat with a classic 1979 CBGB-style powerpop shuffle, Language of the Night, they roared and stomped through material as diverse as the enigmatic, Neil Young/Crazy Horse sway of Beware and the New Orleans shout-out Rebel Devil Devil Rebel – title track to Leckie’s 2014 album.

Drummer Keith Robinson kept an energetic swing going in tandem with bassist Charlie DeChants as guitarist Hugh Pool and violinist Pavel Cingl – just in from Prague – teamed up for a slinky, elegantly fugal duel during the volcanic coda, Ontario. But the best song of the night might have been when Leckie went centerstage with just her vocals and acoustic guitar for a brand new co-write with the Jigsaw Seen‘s Dennis Davison, possibly titled The Owl. It wasn’t clear whether the song’s narrator gets lured away and then overdoses, or gets murdered, but either way, the audience responded with rapt silence: you could have heard a pin drop. And Bowery Ballroom was packed. The Long Ryders are at Cafe Nine in New Haven tonight, Nov 11 for lucky Fairfield County peeps; Leckie is at Sidewalk on Nov 18 at 11.

Kelley Swindall and David Allan Coe in Midtown: Rising Star and Old Lion of Country and Americana

Last night at B.B. King’s, Kelley Swindall had the daunting task of taming a sold-out crowd of drunken fans of the shit-kickingest country music imaginable. And she had to do it with just her voice, and her guitar, and her personal assets. That by the end of her first number, a talking blues about drug-running, she’d pulled the audience to the edge of the stage and got them whooping along, testifies to how effortlessly she worked these people. Which makes sense when you remember that she cut her teeth with a residency at the old Holiday Lounge, one of New York’s most notorious dive bars.

That she closed her set with a muted, enigmatic version of her ballad You Can Call Me Darlin’ If You Want, inspired by the big hit that headliner David Allan Coe ended up closing his show with, also speaks to Swindall’s stage savvy. She engaged the Deadheads in the audience – several, as it turned out – with her original My Minglewood Blues, which is as vindictive as it is funny. Otherwise, she reasserted herself as an individualistic champion of all things Americana, from blues, to the wildly applauded, grisly Murder Song, to neo-Patsy Cline, Big and Rich-style hick-hop, stark mountain music and regret-drenched Nashville pop. And some urban sounds too, including a vivid, late-night Tom Waits-style Soho blues tableau. Although based in New York, Swindall is best known as an attraction on the national touring circuit. Her next gig in her adopted hometown (she’s Georgia-born and raised)  is July 15 at 10:30 PM at Arlene’s.

Coe is 76 now, and also still knows how to work a crowd, even if he doesn’t have much of a voice left. Most of his set was a medley of hits he’s written for others, all played in the same key, backed by a band who’d come in if they knew the song and lingered in the background awkwardly when they didn’t. He’d saved the best of those numbers, Cocaine Carolina, for Johnny Cash. The worst were a couple of lame hip-hop co-writes with a Michigan corporate pop guy from the zeros. There were plenty of unexpected moments, including the catchy Please Come to Boston, a folk-pop hit appropriated by Kenny Loggins’ label exec brother in order to get a plaque in the Zager and Evans Hall of Fame.

The big audience singalong, at least until the final number, was Take This Job and Shove It (Coe didn’t mention what might be the best recorded version, by the Dead Kennedys). But as far as the funny songs that are his stock in trade were concerned, that was pretty much it, and that’s too bad, because even in his mid-70s, Coe can still be hilarious and this show wasn’t. Including the audience fight that sent Coe’s considerably younger wife/backup singert scrambling back to the dressing room for good, and also might have cut his set short – and resulted in at least one person leaving the club in an ambulance. Redneck music is fun, but they can be something else.

Jenifer Jackson Brings Her Erudite Texas Americana Charm to the New York Outskirts

The plushly ambiguous cover image of Jenifer Jackson’s latest and tenth album, aptly titled Cloud Ten – streaming at Bandcamp – speaks volumes. Look closely and you’ll see a furry cat! There’s a feline grace, and playfulness, and warmth, and hominess to the cutting-edge Americana songcraft and performances on this charming, irresistibly engaging new collection of songs. As a bonus, Jackson plays not only her usual guitar but also piano, drums and for the first time, ukulele. On her current US tour, she’s bypassing Manhattan for an intimate house concert on May 18 at 7 PM at 11 Bollenbecker Road in Rhinebeck. Westchester dwellers and adventurous city people can get information and rsvp here. She’s also doing house concerts on the 19th and 20th in Ancramdale and New Paltz, respectively.

Curmudgeons beware: she’s going to get you smiling like a big Texas sunrise, and asking yourself in astonishment, “Did they really just play what I think they did?” whether you like it or not. Which isn’t what you might expect from someone with such an extensive back catalog of thoughtfully crafted, often melancholy songs. Her career’s taken her from Beatlesque nuevo bossa nova, to harrowing folk noir, to classic Brill Building style pop, slinky psychedelia, blue-eyed soul, and now the Americana she’s been mining for such rich results over the last few years. Joining the brain drain out of New York City, her move to Austin in 2007 jumpstarted a career that had critics swooning but had reached critical mass in the big city. Cloud Ten reconfirms how fertile the Texas landscape has been for one of the most prolific, irrepressibly fun and unselfconsciously brilliant tunesmiths working today.

The innumerable little touches define this album. You might expect to hear multi-instrumentalist Kullen Fuchs’ good-naturedly purist honkytonk guitar in the vintage C&W sway of Pen to Paper, but probably not his glimmery Mad Men era vibraphone. But you get both! The Texas shuffle groove and Jackson’s own piano mingling with classic Beatles allusions in Love Me Best; hints of Laurel Canyon psychedelia and coy 50s exotica in the bossa-flavored Coriander; a little later, Jackson and Fuchs’ coyly aphoristic duet on the album’s title track makes gently narcotized uke indie-pop out of a classic western swing theme.

Some touches are somewhat more traditionally oriented to the various styles she expands on here, but no less apt. The elegantly rippling George Harrison Abbey Road lead guitar amidst her vividly summery fingerpicking in the Britfolk-tinged River Road; Fuchs’ deep floodwaters of accordion throughout Gravity, a lilting lullaby. Longtime Johnny Cash collaborator Earl Poole Ball’s elegant Floyd Cramer slip-key piano mingles with glockenspiel, enhancing the gently crepuscular ambience of Only in Dreams; Jesse Ebaugh’s deep-sky pedal steel on the sharply lyrical Wondering, which looks back to Townes Van Zant outlaw balladry. Perhaps the album’s most striking if shortest track is the wary, austere Birdy’s Lament, Fuchs’ melodica taking the song into surrealistic early 70s folk-rock terrain. Its most period-perfect is Mother Nature, a spot-on evocation of early 60s honkytonk.

Jackson draws on the multicultural fabric of her adopted state with two songs in Spanish: the tender, bolero-tinted Sabor a Mi and the gentle Bahia/Veracruz mashup Como Fue, Fuchs’ trumpet sailing overhead. It’s as heartwarming as it is just plain fun to hear this genuine American treasure continuing to evolve and keep audiences entertained: if there’s any album released this year that makes you reach for the repeat button, this is it.

Gill Landry Makes a Night Out Among the Tourists Actually Worthwhile

When’s the last time a song absolutely ripped your face off? Gill Landry‘s Waiting for Your Love will do that to you. It’s a kiss-off anthem, but it’s also a requiem for a relationship gone irreparably wrong. Via a travelogue worthy of Kerouac, the Old Crow Medicine Show guitarist recounts a long downward spiral, with an ending that will give you chills. Not to spoil anything, but this time around, only death brings closure.

The rest of Landry’s solo album – streaming at Spotify – isn’t quite up to that level of haunting, but it’s excellent all the same. He’ll be playing plenty of this material tonight, May 7 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood. Cover is $15; if the idea of spending a Saturday night dodging crowds of beer pong types seems dubious, consider that Landry’s solo stuff is more likely to draw a listening crowd rather than those people That’s not to say that Old Crow play beer pong music, just that some of those types gravitate to it. As a bonus, Landry is followd eventually at around 11 by the mighty gospel-rock orchestra Jesus on the Mainline, co-fronted by one of the most spectacular voices in town, Mel Flannery.

Over a matter-of-fact inteweave of acoustic flatpicking, the chilling Funeral In My Heart sets up the rest of Landry’s album:

Regret is by your coffin, can’t do anything but cry
The bloodless face of Used to Be is looking cold and grim
As the pallbearers of My True Love sing a silent hymn

Just Like You, like the rest of the songs here, is a gorgeously jangling, bittersweet update on a well-traveled sound, the angst-fueled highway rock of 80s and 90s bands like the BoDeans. Landry’s resonant baritone brings to mind that band’s former frontman Sam Llanas, sonically as well as thematically: Llanas mines a lot of the same existential angst as Landry does here.

The stately waltz Emily mashes up Tex-Mex, indie nebulosity and mid-70s Willie Nelson:

Flashing in foreign tongues to now-dead melodies
I tried to exalt you as you crucified me

Laura Marling adds her elegant voice to the duet Take This Body over a low-key acoustic countrypolitan backdrop. Odessa Jorgensen‘s uneasily soaring fiddle lines spice up the dark border-rock-shuffle Fennario. Over a bed of burning electric guitars, Lost Love evokes the blue-flame intensity of the mid-90s BoDeans, circa Joe Dirt Car, than anything else here. And while the organ-infused soul ballad Lately Right Now – as in, “Lately I need you right now” – at first sounds like an oxymoron, consider how many different directions, wry and otherwise, that phrase could go in.

Landry keeps the organ up in the mix through the ominously swaying, regret-laden Long Road. The final cut is the haunted outlaw country waltz Bad Love: “Hard looks and cold words, they kill by degrees,” Landry intones biterly, a sobering look at how quickly something good can decay, bringing this hard-hitting, emotionally raw collection of songs full circle with a real wallop.

Eric Ambel’s New Lakeside Record Captures the Guitarmeister at the Top of His Game

Eric Ambel is well known in Americana rock circles and something of a legend in New York. He’s played with everybody. He did a lengthy stint as Steve Earle’s lead guitarist back in the zeros. Before that he fronted the influential Del-Lords. For more than a decade, he ran the East Village’s coolest bar and music venue, Lakeside Lounge. And he continues to produce artists at his Williamsburg studio, Cowboy Technical Services.

He’s also got a new album, also called Lakeside, a fond over-the-shoulder look at the kind of edgy, purist retro sounds that could be found onstage during his old venue’s heyday. Interestingly, rather than producing this himself like his other solo albums, Ambel brought in Jimbo Mathus. formerly with the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who also contributes guitar and bass – and drums on one track. The result is a gatefold vinyl album (that comes with a couple of download cards), available in a limited edition of 500 copies, signed and numbered. This is one of those records you’ll probably want to tape and then play the caasette til it self-destructs. Seriously – if you own a turntable, you probably own a tape deck too.

Ambel’s longtime rhythm section, bassist Keith Christopher and drummer Phil Cimino show up on most of these tracks. As dirty and messy as Ambel can get, there’s a level of craft in what he does that’s rarely seen these days. That isn’t to say that there aren’t guys dedicatedly spending hours hunched over their laptops trying to get the right sound or the right mix, just that Ambel does it with quality gear. And while he’s known first and foremost as a guitarist, he really hit the vocals out of the park here. Other guys get old and reedy and raspy; Ambel sounds about 25, full of piss and vinegar.

The opening track is Ambel’s old Del-Lords bandmate Scott Kempner’s Here Come My Love. It’s a ba-bump roadhouse rock number with that band’s signature sardonic, surreal sense of humor and a tasty acoustic/electric backdrop. Mathus’ first number, Hey Mr. DJ is a sludgy, coldly amusing look at groupthink among the entitled sons and daughters of the idle classes on the demand side of the current plague of gentrification.

Have Mercy, a co-write with Spanking Charlene frontwoman Charlene McPherson, revisits that theme, an update on Creedence swamp rock with plenty of Ambel’s signature, offhandedly savage riffage. Let’s Play with Fire, another Mathus number, mashes up shuffling C&W and Orbison noir, with an absolutely Lynchian lapsteel solo by the bandleader. Side 1 concludes with Don’t Make Me Break You Down, an Ambel/Mathus co-write with a glowering Neil Young/Crazy Horse vibe.

Side 2 opens with the Ramones-tinged Massive Confusion, a Mathus tune. Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio, which always seemed to pop up somewhere during Ambel’s shows on his old East Village turf, gets a lingering, nocturnal Sticky Fingers treatment that builds to a mighty psychedelic peak. Ambel does the old soul hit Money as a haphazardly prowling Neil/Crazy Horse burner. The album’s best track is the slow, brooding minor-key Buyback Blues, drenched in an ocean of reverb and guitar multitracks.”It takes a special kind of understanding for a man to live in the nighttime,” Ambel sings dryly and knowingly. The record winds up with Ambel’s twangy, bittersweet, distantly Lynchian instrumental Crying in My Sleep.

Is this Ambel’s best solo record? It’s definitely as good as any of the other three. From the perspective of having caught the cult classic Roscoe’s Gang album back in the day when every bar in what used to be a happening neighborhood was playing it, it’s hard to tackle that question with any real objectivity. Ambel’s next show is at Berlin (in the basement space under 2A; enter through the door on the right, midway down the bar on the first floor) on April 29.

Two Shows in a Week From One of New York’s Most Individualistic, Entertaining Bands

It’s hard to think of a New York band with a more original, distinctive sound than the Sometime Boys. They can do straight-up funk, or country, or elegant chamber pop or wildly guitar-fueled psychedelia, but they’re more likely to combine all those styles. With her full-throttle, brassy alto voice and sardonic sense of humor, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho is a charismatic presence in front of the band, but the whole group – lead guitarist Kurt Leege, bassist Pete O’Connell and drummer Jay Cowit – have sizzling chops as well. They’ve got a couple of shows coming up, the first at 9:30 PM on Friday the 19th at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick, then they’re headlining at 10 PM at Cake Shop on an excellent billwith Paula Carino’s similarly lyrical, intensely catchy Regular Einstein opening the night at 8.

This blog most recently caught the Sometime Boys at Freddy’s on a Friday night right around Thanksgiving. They opened on an Americana soul tip with a funky beat, Leege flicking off some warm vintage Memphis licks as the song wound up. The next number’s playful hook brought to mind the Grateful Dead circa 1969; the band hit a more straightforward dance-rock pulse as Mucho’s voice soared to the rafters, Leege taking an all-too-brief, bluesy solo that suddenly veered off in a much darker direction before Mucho came back in to brightened things up. Later in the set, they again brought to mind the Dead, this time at that band’a early 80s peak.

Cowit drove the band’s cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a jaunty New Orleans second-line bounce, O’Connell taking a solo over Leege’s ragtime-flavored licks, the violinist from the Philly bluegrass band who opened the show (and were excellent) invited up to add a lively one of her own. From there the band went in a more enigmatically dynamic direction with the title track to their latest album, Riverbed and then a scratchy no wave funk number, Leege building an echoey vortex of reverb that he finally pulled out of with a shriek at the top of the fretboard.

Mucho and Cowit duetted on a droll bluegrass-flavored take of the big crowd favorite Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies and then really got the crowd going with their version of Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad. Not even counting the covers, this band has a lot more material than what’s on their three albums, and they brought back an enigmatically resonant dancefloor vibe with the set’s next song.

The night’s most intense number was also the quietest one. The Great Escape. Cowit built gentle clouds of mist with his cymbals as Mucho pulled back and let her haunting lyrics speak for themselves throughout this elegantly gospel-tinged chronicle of a late-night suicide. One of the closing tunes was an epic take of the Allman Brothers’ Whipping Post that went on for at least ten minutes, Leege finally hitting his distortion pedal for his most volcanically angst-fueled solo of the night. These are just some of the flavors the band might bring to the stage in Bushwick and on their old turf on the Lower East.