New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: dann baker

Rebecca Turner Brings Her Richly Jangly, Anthemic Songcraft Back to the East Village

Songwriter Rebecca Turner earned a devoted following around the turn of the century for her catchy, anthemic blend of janglerock, Laurel Canyon folk-pop and the occasional detour into starker acoustic folk or more ornate psychedelia. In a lot of ways, she represents the vanguard of ex-Brooklynite musicians caught between the very tail end of the cds-and-college-radio era and the age of streaming and vinyl. She puts out albums at her own pace (she’s working on a new one, helmed in the studio by husband/bassist Scott Anthony, recently responsible for remastering the Feelies’ latest vinyl reissues). She also has an 8 PM gig coming up on May 7 at Hifi Bar, the scene of her most recent Manhattan gig.

That was last year, and it was killer. She had a five-piece backing unit for that one including Anthony on bass and Rich Feridun on six-string lead guitar; John Sharples, playing twelve-string, was the band’s not-so-secret weapon. They opened with a backbeat-driven anthem with torrents of lyrics and tantalizingly unresolved chord changes. The Cat That Can Be Alone, she explained, was inspired by an Anita O’Day quote relayed by Love Camp 7’s Dann Baker, something along the lines of “The cat that can be alone is better off than the cat that can’t.” It turned out to be a bouncy Beatlesque number, Turner soaring to the top of her range with a hint of country twang. She and the band wound it up with a tongue-in-cheek segue into the O’Day version of Tenderly.

Turner’s next number was period-perfect Lakeside Lounge rock from around 2000, a mashup of  swaying vintage 70s C&W-tinged with Blonde on Blonde era Dylan, The set hit a peak midway through with a rousingly jangling take of the Byrdsy anthem The Way She is Now, Sharples choosing his spots and leaving them out to glisten in the bar’s low lights.

Another backbeat anthem, That Did It, was part 60s electric Dylan, part Amy Rigby at her jangliest, with a delicious blend of six and twelve-string guitars meshing with Turner’s acoustic. She followed with Idiot, a similarly catchy, wryly propulsive number. A low-key, matter-of-factly fingerpicked take of the ballad Comfort You Up brought the lights down, Erica Smith joining to add lush low harmonies. Then they picked up the pace again with the lilting, bucolic My Morning.

The cover that had everyone in the crowd mystified was a BeeGees song from the 60s, Sun in My Morning, Sharples’ twelve-string filtering down into it as if in a Turner painting. Arguably the best song of the night was a new one, Tom Tom, shimmering in the twin-guitar jangle, up to a suspenseful turnaround on the chorus and a fiery, twangy Feridun solo. For the encore, Turner aired out what’s become her signature song, Brooklyn Is So Big. It was cute and wistful when it came out: it’s heartbreaking now, considering how many of Turner’s contemporaries have been priced out. It’s a good bet Turner and the band will bust out a lot of this material at the show this weekend.

Erica Smith Brings Her Poignant, Spectacular Voice and Eclectically Shattering Songs to the East Village

Erica Smith is one of New York’s most distinctive and often harrowing voices in folk noir and Americana. But even in this city, Smith’s ability to shift effortlessly from style to style is pretty spectacular. In addition to performing her own music, she’s currently a member of both the Richard Thompson cover group the Shootout Band – in which she puts her own stamp on Linda Thompson’s vocals – and also the explosive gospel-rock band Lizzie and the Sinners. Smith can belt a blues ballad or deliver a plaintive Appalachian narrative with anyone. And she’s also a versatile jazz stylist. Her latest album, a jazz recording with her band the 99 Cent Dreams, is One for My Baby, streaming at Spotify. She’s got a gig coming up on an excellent twinbill at Hifi Bar on May 10 at 7:30 PM; similarly lyrical and somewhat sunnier Americana singer Rebecca Turner follows at around 8:30 PM.

There’s a tragic backstory here: as it turned out, this was the final recording by the great New York drummer Dave Campbell. Perhaps best known for his serpentine, turn-on-a-dime work with psychedelic rock band Love Camp 7, Campbell was also a terrific swing jazz player with a flair for Brazilian grooves, which comes across vividly on the more upbeat tunes here. This is a collection of counterintuitive versions of standards recorded with rock band instrumentation – electric guitar, bass, drums and Leif Arntzen’s soulful muted trumpet on two numbers – along with an obscure treasure by one of this era’s great lit-rock songwriters. It opens with The Very Thought of You, where Smith distinguishes her version from the famous Billie Holliday take with her inscrutable delivery, growing more playfully optimistic as she goes along. Guitarist Dann Baker (also of Love Camp 7) mashes up Barney Kessel and Wes Montgomery as he follows Smith’s emotional trajectory.

Interestingly, there are a couple of songs commonly associated with Sinatra here. Smith does I Could Write a Book as ebullient, optimistic swing: the song feels like it’s about jump out of its shoes, but Smith holds it in check over a slightly ahead-of-the-beat bassline And she does the title track a tad faster than the Ol’ Blue Eyes original, echoing the bartender’s desire to call it a night as much as the wee-hours angst of the lyrics, Baker with her every step of the way through an alternately woozy and vividly brooding interpretation.

She does Rodgers and Hart’s It Never Entered My Mind as lingering, noir-tinged torch jazz, Baker’s gracefully stately chordal ballet in tandem with Campbell’s tersely slinky 6/8 groove. Smith’s careful, minutely jeweled, woundedly expressive vocals mine every ounce of ironic, biting subtext in the lyrics. Ain’t Misbehavin’ gets a hushed low-key swing treatment that builds to coyly nonchalant optimism, Arntzen’s trumpet following suit.

Campbell’s artfully acrobatic tumble opens Everything I’ve Got as an altered bossa before the band swings it by the tail, Smith leading the group on a long upward trajectory that far outpaces the Blossom Dearie original. The album’s most shattering track is a desolate, rainswept take of Cry Me a River, Baker shifting Kessel’s lingering lines further into the shadows over Campbell’s low-key, sepulchrally minimalistic brushwork. The band does the first recorded version of Livia Hoffman’s Valentine as a slow swing tune: “What are childhood crushes for? For crushing all your dreams forevermore,” Smith intones in a knowing, wounded mezzo-soprano. The album winds up with a wryly good-naturedly suspenseful, rainforest-swing solo take of Campbell’s drums on Everything I’ve Got: just wait til the hip-hop nation finds out that this exists. Throughout the record, Smith’s disarmingly direct, imaginative, emotionally vivid phrasing breathes new life into songs that other singers sometimes phone in, reason alone to give this a spin if classic jazz is your thing.

Sunday Salon #2 – Gaining Traction

Every Sunday starting at 5 PM, New York Music Daily presents the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin, in the old Zinc Bar space on Houston St. just west of LaGuardia Place. Last Sunday’s was Salon #2. Conceived as a place for elite songwriters to work up new material in a supportive milieu with the possibility of spontaneous interaction with their fellow A-listers, this one was more about individual contributions. The one unexpected turn came when Rick Snyder asked the sound guy to join him on bass for a trio of catchy, John Prine-ish Americana rock tunes and the sound guy obliged.

There were other highlights. LJ Murphy, who’s playing here on Dec 9, burned through a handful of relatively new versions including the lusciously new wave flavored Imperfect Strangers and a snarling Wall Street afterwork scenario, Happy Hour. Salon co-founder Lorraine Leckie, who played a soaring, rivetingly psychedelic set of chamber pop collaborations with Anthony Haden-Guest the following night at the Mercury, warmed up her pipes with a handful of creepy, sarcastic numbers. But the star of the evening, by pretty much everybody’s reckoning, was Molly Ruth. She too would go on to play an assaultively intense set at the Mercury the following night; this time out, she treated the crowd to a pretty hilarious look at a one-sided relationship, playing both voices in the conversation; a little later on, she did an absolutely morbid Robert Johnson-style blues set in the Rockies. She could have told the crowd that it was an obscure blues classic and nobody would have guessed it was an original.

Love Camp 7 followed with a set of their own. Seemingly finished in 2010 after the sudden death of their brilliant drummer and harmony singer Dave Campbell, the three surviving members have recently regrouped and have been playing a handful of semi-acoustic shows. This one was a mix of new tunes as well as a bunch from their absolutely brilliant 2012 album, Love Camp VII, part tongue-in-cheek Beatles homage and part cynical look at the 60s. Hearing these wickedly catchy, wickedly lyrical songs stripped down to just a three-piece was a revelation.

The Beatles stuff blended bittersweetness and a cruel sarcasm that was often just as unsparingly funny as the Rutles, bandleader Dann Baker’s acoustic guitar mingling with Steve Antonakos’ stingingly precise, staccato electric, Bruce Hathaway taking a handful of lead vocals when he wasn’t adding harmonies. They followed the wry Rubbber Soul with the bouncy Beatles 65 and its recurrent Hollies reference, its baroque guitar duet of sorts in the middle a possible parody of the Fab Four’s neoclassical adventures…or just an attempt to outdo them at chamber pop. Either way, it worked.

They did a request for an older song, The World Is Full of Dianas, its snarky lyric and catchy jangle juxtaposed with jazzy, Brazilian tinged sophistication, and tongue-in-cheek Society’s Child quote. Three of the set’s best songs were new ones: One Turquoise Afternoon, blending catchy vintage-60s psych-folk with teens bite, and an absolutely gorgeous number that built from a steadily pulsing, apprehensive, chromatically-fueled verse to a jazzy pensiveness. Horseshoe Canyon Road looked at a fast-disappearing childhood through the envious eyes of child star Mickey Dolenz, who never got to hang out and ride bikes with the rest of the neighborhood kids since he was always getting ready to go onstage or get off it.

They parodied early metal bands like the Pretty Things with Beatles 6, a corrosively riff-driven look at the record industry and made fun of themselves and fellow music snobs with Other Music, a backhanded tribute to the Astor Place record store and its ineffably hip clientele. Abbey Road turned the Youngbloods Get Together into an alienation anthem, while Help put the failings of everybody in the Beatles under the microscope – except for Ringo, since there’s no need for a microscope with him. They took unexpected detours into hardcore, surf music, faux-Indian raga rock and finally wound up on the catchy janglerock note where they started. They might be back here – watch this space.

The Sunday Salon at Zirzamin is free of charge and the public is always welcome to come and watch.

Erica Smith Makes a Jazz Record

OK – one more Kickstarter and that’ll be it for awhile here. This is a sultry vocal jazz album by Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams. Historically speaking, it’s notable for being the final studio recording featuring the late great drummer Dave Campbell, whose brushes and sticks and irrepressible joie de vivre also propelled psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7, and jazz bassist Pascal Plantinga’s band, among others. The band’s Kickstarter project has til October 5 to meet a rather modest $1200 goal; they’re currently a little less than $800 short. Many rewards are offered for contributing: for example, $500 will get you an album, a big thank-you in the liner notes, a rare unreleased track, a poster and a house concert by Erica which, if you have enough room, could actually pay for itself if you charge a nominal cover.

Early mixes of the album reveal it to be a torchy, retro Mad Men era project. You’d never know that a chanteuse who grew up on early Judy Collins, a psychedelic rock guitarist lately dedicated to keeping the Beefheart flame alive, a bassist whose main gig for awhile was covering every obscure surf rock song ever written, and a Brazilian-hearted jazz drummer who signed his emails “Elvin” because he knew he could get away with it would blend together so seamlessly. Watch the whole video here.

Love Camp VII – Their Brilliant Swan Song?

If this is the last Love Camp 7 album – and it might be – the long-running New York psychedelic rockers went out on a high note. Aside from a brief set by two longtime members – frontman/guitarist Dann Baker and bassist Bruce Hathaway – at a Manhattan bar last year, and an upcoming cd release show by the three surviving bandmates (guitarist Steve Antonakos joining Baker and Hathaway) at the Parkside this Saturday, this looks like the end for one of the most unpredictably brilliant rock acts to ever come out of this town. Despite the tragic and unexpected 2010 death of drummer Dave Campbell – whose nimble, shapeshifting, jazz- and Brazilian-influenced rhythms in many ways defined this band – they have a brilliant album to show for some of their last studio sessions. Titled Love Camp VII, it features the full band playing fourteen songs (including a secret track), all using Beatles albums as their titles.

While there are plenty of wry and lovingly pilfered riffs here, this isn’t a Beatles parody. Nor is it a homage in the strict sense of the word: when the Fab Four first make an actual appearance, it’s after the band has broken up, a rather cruel look back on what John, Paul, George and Ringo’s solo careers should have been (ok, Ringo gets a pass) but weren’t. Rather, this album is sort of a history of the Beatles era, that band somewhere in the picture, usually in the background. Which makes sense, given Baker’s fondness for historical themes (particularly on the group’s fifth and arguably best album, 2007’s Sometimes Always Never).

For all the stylistic and tempo changes here, this is basically a janglerock record with numerous breaks for psychedelic mayhem. Meet the Beatles opens the album, taking a brightly jangly Merseybeat melody and twisting the rhythm, with a big choir of voices, a fragment of baroque guitar, and a rolling, tumbling Campbell solo all together in the middle, one right after the other. That’s Love Camp 7 in a nutshell. The Beatles’ Second Album is cast as a shuffling, harmony-driven reminiscence by a kid whose time in a dysfunctional family is soothed by that particular soundtrack. Arguably the funniest track here, A Hard Day’s Night subtly observes how the Beatles changed everybody’s lives, in this case the members of the Byrds (back when Jim McGuinn was in the band – the lyrics are priceless). It’s the most Spinal Tap moment here, in a comedic sense at least.

Beatles ’65 evokes the Hollies with its bracing major/minor changes, then shifts suddently from cheery Merseybeat to an ornately artsy anthem and then back again. Beatles VI completely switches gears, an unexpectedly grinding, proto-metal heavy R&B number, like the Pretty Things circa 1968, that cynically celebrates the “media saturation” that the Beatles spearheaded. With its layers of ironically blithe harmonies, Help imagines what Lennon might have done without Yoko, George without Krishna, Paul if he hadn’t stolen ideas from Denny Laine, and Ringo….”help me understand how he ended up so much the same.” It’s a beautiful ballad, something that Roy Wood could have written: reputedly Erica Smith (who’s opening the Saturday show at 8:30) has a version of this song in the can that’s even better.

Rubber Soul starts out as a look back at Love Camp 7’s trickily rhythmic, often dissonant earlier work and then rises to a roaring art-rock crescendo complete with horns, while Revolver cleverly recasts a summer pool party as portent of radical times to come. Ironically, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has more in common musically with earlier Beatles sounds, although at this point marijuana finally makes an appearance: “The moon will soon be manned; brave new world’s at hand,” Baker observes, not without apprehension. A somewhat radically reconstructed skiffle tune, Magical Mystery Tour explores Baker’s first encounter with the album – in a Sav-On department store at the corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles.

The Beatles is the second proto-metal track here and also only the second to (briefly) chronicle the band, in this case what seems to be their eventual demise. The most musically diverse track here, Let It Be juxtaposes hardcore punk with a coldly sarcastic pop melody and a blatant I Am the Walrus quote. The saddest track (and ostensibly the final one) is Abbey Road, gently quoting the introduction to the Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry and later the Youngbloods’ Come Together as the 70s creep in, “Lying in their beds, a fearful throbbing in their heads, wishing they were dead; nobody cares.” The mystery track, The Beatles’ Story, is a perfect match of pensive yet optimistically jangly, Arthur Lee-esque pop that ends the album on a less than optimistic note: arguably, being able to live vicariously through the Beatles is a lot more fun than actually being one.