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Tag: dark americana

Yet Another Brilliant, Shadowy Album and a Gowanus Release Show From Noir Instrumental Icons Big Lazy

Big Lazy are the world’s most menacingly cinematic instrumental trio. They’re also the world’s darkest jamband, one of Brooklyn’s most popular dance bands…and they keep putting out brilliant albums. The cover of their long-awaited new one, Dear Trouble (streaming at youtube) has a 1972 Ford Country Squire station wagon off to the side of a desolate road somewhere in the midwest, facing a tower along the powerline as the clouds linger and the sun sets. That says a lot. They’re playing the album release show this Nov 8-9 at 8 PM at the old American Can Company building at 232 3rd St. in Gowanus. Night one is sold out, but night two isn’t yet; you can get in for $20. They’ll be joined by three of the special guests on the record: Sexmob‘s Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Slavic Soul Party’s Peter Hess on saxes and Miramar’s Farfisa sorceress Marlysse Rose Simmons. Take the F or the R to 4th Ave/9th St.

Interestingly, this turns out to be the band’s quietest, most desolate album. It begins with The Onliest, a loping, skeletal theme slinking along on Andrew Hall’s hypnotically bluesy bassline. They hit an interlude bristling with bandleader/guitarist Steve Ulrich’s signature, macabre chromatics, then eventually a false ending. It’s a good introduction to where the band are at now: there are echoes of horror surf, Angelo Badalementi David Lynch soundtracks, Thelonious Monk and Booker T. & the MGs in the rhythm, although Big Lazy’s sound is inimitably their own.

The album’s title track has Ulrich’s melancholy, resonant lead over a sardonically strutting blend of Nino Rota tinged with early 60s pop: if Tredici Bacci wanted to get really dark, they might sound like this. As is the case with so much of Ulrich’s catalog, the song takes on many different shapes, textures and guitar timbres and winds up far from where it started.

Ramona, with dubby accents from Simmons organ, is one of the spare, overcast bolero-ish tunes that Ulrich writes so well. Cardboard Man features Marc Ribot, a rare guitarist who can go as deep into noir as well as Ulrich, adding eerily flamenco-tinged touches. The exchanges between the two, switching in a split-second between styles, are expertly bittersweet.

Sizzle & Pops – referring to the imaginary roadhouse that Ulrich and his wife would be running in an alternate universe – is a rare moment of straight-up levity for this band, part Booker T, part pseudo Bill Black Combo 50s cheese. Bernstein adds distantly muted New Orleans flavor, both jaundiced and jubilant, on the group’s cover of the Beatles’ Girl: who knew what an ineffably sad song this was!

Drummer Yuval Lion takes the loose-limbed slink of the opening number and raises it several notches with his flurries in Dream Factory as Hall runs another trancey blues bassline, Ulrich’s baritone guitar pulling the song deeper into the shadows. Consider how the title of Cheap Crude could mean many things, and its sardonic rockabilly makes even more sense.

Exit Tucson, another tense, morose quasi-bolero, has all kinds of neat, rippling touches pinging through the sonic picture around Ulrich’s sad broken chords, disconsolately reverberating riffs and long, forlornly shuffling solo. The arguably even more gloomy Fly Paper has a deliciously disorienting blend of tone-bending lapsteel and furtive guitar multitracks: with its trick ending, it’s the most Twin Peaks of any of the songs here.

Ribot returns for Mr. Wrong, a disquietingly syncopted stroll: it’s amazingly how chameleonic yet grimly on task both he and Ulrich are here. The album’s final cut is Sing Sing, Peter Hess’ baritone sax adding extra smoke beneath Ulrich’s lingering, macabre tritones.

Ulrich and Big Lazy are no strangers to the best albums of the year page here. He took first place back in 2012 for the Ulrich Ziegler record, a quasi-Big Lazy album with guitarist/bassist Itamar Ziegler, which turned out to be a one-off project before he reformed the group.. And Big Lazy’s big comeback album, Don’t Cross Myrtle, was #1 with a bullet for 2014. As far as 2019 is concerned, no spoilers, check back here at the end of December…

Crooked Horse Bring Their Dark Americana to an Unexpected Friday Night Spot

Crooked Horse play disarmingly direct, catchy Nashville gothic and dark Americana. Their debut album is up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. They’re playing this Friday night, Jan 12 at 10:30 PM at Pine Box Rock Shop.

The album’s briskly marching opening track, Maybe, is a kiss-off anthem: it could be an acoustic version of a Walkabouts tune. “Maybe it’s everybody that leaves me with only maybe,” frontwoman Liz Rymes muses in her husky, impassioned voice. Guitarist Neal Johnson fires off a nimble flatpicking solo, then backs away for Bridget Nault’s river of minor-key accordion.

You Have to Know is a little less pissed off – “You’ll be better on your own” is the chorus – set to a catchy acoustic guitar loop over percussionist Aaron Kakos’ loping groove. The band pick up the pace with Omen and its tasty acoustic guitar multitracks: when the “wind blows in like an omen,” it’s obviously not carrying anything good.

Johnson sets a spiky, moody country-blues ambience in The Poet: “You crackle as you speak, the poet of defeat,” Rymes accuses, then the accordion and drums finally kick in. They break out the electric guitars in the snarling shuffle All For You, a brooding escape anthem – the question is who’s getting away, and to what.

The matter-of-factly defiant shuffle We Live Small makes a refreshingly optimistic anthem for the Trump-era depression: “We live small, but we live well,” Rymes asserts. The ominous vocal harmonies in the eerily strolling A Place Like This underscore the gloom, a chronicle of everything that’s out of reach in a dead-end town.

“Take a deep breath in the dark and just trust,” Rymes encourages in the moodily bouncing number after that. With its soaring, ghostly backing vocals, the scampering, bluegrass-tinged Lace Curtains is the catchiest and arguably best track on the album: “I don’t believe,” is the mantra. The album ends with Rotten, a sparse, hypnotic, anguished dirge. Catch this band on the way up before word gets out and you won’t be able to get in to see them.

A Fond Look Back at a Brooklyn Show by Noir Chanteuse Gemma Ray

It’s hard to fathom that Gemma Ray hasn’t played a New York show since a tantalizingly brief, luridly delicious set at Rough Trade about a year and a half ago during Colossal Musical Joke week. While it would be understandable if CMJ turned her off to this city, the now Berlin-based noir chanteuse/guitarist was originally scheduled to make an auspicious return this April 9 at the new Owl in Lefferts Gardens. Unfortunately, that gig has been cancelled. Stepping in to fill the slot is none other than Patti Smith’s lead guitarist and powerpop mastermind Lenny Kaye. Botanica pianist/frontman Paul Wallfisch is booking the venue that night, and the rest of this week with some of the best acts from his deep address book, both from playing and booking artists at his long-running Small Beast night at the Delancey a few years back – one of the very few genuinely essential weekly rock events this city’s ever produced.

The grim, overcast, rainy atmosphere outside the venue set the tone for Ray’s set that September day. Inside on the high stage, backed by just a drummer, the black-clad, leather-jacketed, raven-haired singer brought down the lights and turned the venue into a sonic Twin Peaks set, opening with a mutedly percussive ghoulabilly number. Ray has a very distinctive, terse guitar style, flinging bits and pieces of chords in between strums, not wasting a note – Randi Russo comes to mind. Ray also had fun teasing the crowd by leaving her loop pedal going in between songs, a red herring of a segue machine.

Ray’s vocals rose from an icepick alto to a wounded upper register on the shuffling, staggering noir blues The Right Thing Did Me Wrong. She brought things down low with a skeletally creepy 6/8 soul ballad, adding a nonchalantly chilling guitar solo full of murderous passing tones midway through. Ray and her drummer swayed their way through the doomed, starlit, Lynchian number after that, her reverb turned up all the way. The two then made a return to shuffling, anguishedly bluesy terrain with There Must Be More Than This, Ray punctuating it with a series of tremoloing, gutpunch chords midway through. Then she fingerpicked her way through the folk noir gloom of If You Want to Rock and Roll. She closed with a cantering, low-key take of the Gun Club’s Ghost on the Highway, a slow, elegaic dirge and then a more direct, guitar-fueled number that was part Spector pop, part Julee Cruise. Ray has a new album in the works, and hopefully a return engagement here some time after that.

In the meantime, if noir is your thing, New York’s state-of-the-art noir band, Karla Rose & the Thorns are at the big room at the Rockwood on April 14 at midnight.

Dark Country Band the Whiskey Charmers Debut with a Killer Album

Detroit band the Whiskey Charmers play Twin Peaks C&W. It’s dark and intriguing and draws on classic 1960s country music, but also jangly rock and several noir styles from across the decades. Frontwoman/guitarist Carrie Shepard has a strong yet soft and utterly enigmatic voice. While she doesn’t sound anything like Tammy Wynette, she’s coming from the same place emotionally, world-weary beyond her years, keeping her cards close to her vest. Guitarist Lawrence Daversa plays with edge and bite and a very distinctive sense of melody which manages to be counterintuitive to the extreme yet wickedly tuneful – he always leaves you guessing what’s coming around the bend, and it always ends up working out. Their fantastic new album is streaming at their webpage.

Shepard’s strums a lush, nocturnal blanket of acoustic guitar, Daversa interspersing his bluesy accentts as Elevator gets underway. It seems to be a ghost story – in a footrace, the dead always win. Vampire, a creepy southwestern gothic bolero, also puts a cleverly sardonic spin on an old legend: yeah, this guy is out for blood, but the girl doesn’t give a damn. It’s the catchiest (no pun intended) track on the album, Daversa’s Lynchian twang leads reverberating over the dancing rhythm section.

Straight & Narrow weaves an undercurrent of heartbreak into a darkly familiar oldtime gospel theme: it’s akin to Iris DeMent taking a detour into Appalachian gothic. The band follows that with Neon Motel Room, an eerily shuffilng outlaw ballad that’s all the more relevant in an era when renegade cops are blowing innocent people away every time you turn around. They revisit that vibe, musically speaking anyway, a little later with Can’t Leave

C Blues is an elegant, low-key country blues lament. Parlor Lights mashes up a haunting Bessie Smith-style blues ballad with ominous trainwhistle slide guitar: “Turn off the open road, there’s an end in sight,” Shepard intones, letting the subtext speak for itself. Sidewinder follows a stark, loping Hank Williams sway until Daversa’s snarling electric lead kicks in with the rest of the band; the guy Shepard’s referring to in the title is a real snake.

The album winds up with the simply titled Waltz, a nocturne that could be an early Bob Wills number. If this is the only album they ever make, it’ll have a cult audience for decades. Obviously, they’ve got more songs than this; let’s hope they record them someday. The Whiskey Charmers spend a lot of time on the road: their next club gig is on August 19 at 8 PM at Small’s, 10339 Conant in Hamtramck, Michigan; cover is $7 ($10 for ages 18-20).

Intriguing Dark Americana from Kate Vargas

Americana chanteuse Kate Vargas is playing the album release show for her forthcoming one Down to My Soul at the big room at the Rockwood on Feb 20 at 7 PM with her excellent band. In the meantime, she’s got a couple of intriguing tracks up at her Bandcamp page. The first, Throw the Devil Back is a rustic, banjo-driven Appalachian gothic tune that slowly morphs into a slow-burning blues-rock anthem.  The second is the album’s title track, an ominously swaying folk noir anthem that recounts an escape and then an uneasy New Mexico return, “Past the old school bus abandoned in 1963 down a long ditch road that leads you home past the sweet cottonwood trees.”  Both songs are evocative of a couple of first-class dark Americana bands from these parts, Frankenpine and Bobtown: fans of those bands, and dark folk in general, ought to check Vargas out.

Marissa Nadler’s July: A Sullen, Overcast Art-Rock Masterpiece

Since the early zeros, Boston-area songwriter Marissa Nadler has built a richly creepy, allusively lyrical body of work that spans the worlds of folk noir, chamber pop, art-rock and Americana. Her latest album, July, is out today and streaming all the way through at NPR. And it might as well be called December instead. Her previous album, The Sister, took a turn away from Americana back toward the moody atmospherics of her mid-zeros work. This one takes that sound to the next level, methodically building layer upon swirling layer of Phil Wandscher’s guitars, Steve Moore’s keys and Eyvind Kang’s one-man string orchestra into a melancholy grandeur that sometimes reaches epic heights.

While the album has a handful of the mysterious, ghostly narratives and twisted historical vignettes that Nadler writes so well, the back end of the albm traces a theme of rejection, abandonment and despair that sinks deeper into the abyss as it goes on. Nadler’s nimble, hypnotic, baroque-tinged, fingerpicked acoustic and electric guitar work underpins most of these songs, although the production is far more lush than anything else she’s recorded. There are echoes of 80s goth music and densely echoey ambience a la the Cocteau Twins or the Church. As usual, Nadler puts reverb on all of it.

Nadler is as strong a singer as she is a storyteller, multitracking her vocals into an otherworldly choir of ethereal highs balanced on the low end by her gently menacing, elegantly melismatic attack. Drive unveils a typically sepulchral tableau, “Seventeen people in the dark tonight – you see some familiar faces behind the cellular lights.” It’s classic Nadler: the only driving in the song is a memory, the implication being that as this nebulously apocalyptic scene unfolds, there may not be any more. The song ends with a long, elegaic, Gilmouresque pedal steel solo.

1923 traces a theme of longing and absence as Nadler’s waves of guitar mingle with the organ, steel guitar and piano, building toward apprehensive cinematics. Firecrackers, a menacingly opiated, reverb-drenched, mostly acoustic Nashville gothic ballad, paints a booze-fueled Fourth of July scenario that does not end well. We Are Coming Back, with its richly spiky fingerpicking, is a vengeful ghost story, its narrator drawn back to a beloved childhood home where the unspoken horrific event at the center of the story went down.

Dead City Emily rises from similarly guitar-fueled, rhythmic insistence to icy, anthemic atmospherics, a wartime narrative that could be apocalyptic, or just symbolic of a metropolis or a scene that’s now gone. Nadler picks up the pace with Was It a Dream. a catchy, vintage 1960s style dark psych-folk hit fueled by snaky southwestern gothic guitar. By contrast, I’ve Got Your Name is a distantly gospel-inflected, minimalistic, cruelly sardonic breakup song, Nadler’s disconsolate narrator changing into her dress at a highway rest stop, taking care not to touch the floor, fighting highway hypnosis in the dark on the way back from New York to Massachusetts.

That story dominates the rest of the album. Desire is its most ornate, epic, overtly gothic track, a misty morass of reverberating vocals and darkly ethereal guitar. Anyone Else builds from a suspensefully apprehensive, richly jangling, ringing intro to an angst-fueled, bitter intensty. Nadler’s anger peaks on Holiday In, her narrator vowing that she’d rather be holed up at some cheesy roadside motel watching Crime TV than hanging out with the dubious fairweather character who left her hanging. And Nadler adds a country-gospel tinged note to the surreal, emotionally depleted Nothing in My Heart: “Got into the car today but didn’t go outside, maybe too far gone,” she frets. Raw, wounded and emotionally searing, this is one of the best albums covered here since this blog first went live in 2011. Time may judge this a classic. Nadler is at Glasslands on Feb 8 at 10 PM for $12. She also has a Soundcloud page with all kinds of deliciously creepy freebies.