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Tag: demolition string band

A Tasty Guitar-Fueled New Album by Demolition String Band’s Americana Pioneers Elena Skye and Boo Reiners

One of New York’s funnest street fairs of the year actually isn’t in New York, it’s in Hoboken. This afternoon at 2:30 PM, Boo Reiners and Elena Skye – the brain trust of pioneering NYC urban C&W group Demolition String Band – are the main attraction at this year’s Hoboken Arts & Music Festival. It’s not the first time they’ve been the stars of this show and it probably won’t be the last. The stage is on the town’s main drag, Washington Street at 8th Street, just a short ten-minute walk from the Hoboken Path train station.

Elena and Boo also have a new album out, I Wait for the Light, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s the second one they’ve released under their own names, after four with Demolition String Band, and it’s notable for being their most rocking one so far. The lineup on this one is much the same as the original unit: Reiners wailing and flatpicking up a storm on Telecaster and banjo, Skye on mandolin, guitar and baritone guitar, with Kenny Soule on drums, Winston Roye and Mike Santoro sharing bass duties.

The album kicks off with the highway rock anthem I Don’t Know, I Can’t Say. With her forceful, soulful, twangy delivery, Skye has never sung better: this song is like vintage 90s Wilco with a woman out front. The second track, Sea of Pleasure has a dynamic the BoDeans used to work all the time –  hushed and muted, then richly clangy, with a tantalizingly  brief, biting Reiners Tele solo out.

The tender ballad Red For You has a hushed vintage 50s Kitty Wells sway with 21st century production values, and a rich web of guitars that build to an achingly sunbaked peak. The album’s mightiest track, the big anthem She’s Nobody’s Girl is the kind of snarling guitar rocker that someone like Miranda Lambert could only wish she’d written. The band follows with the lingering ballad Deep Cool Green Ravine, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Emmylou Harris catalog.

Then they pick up the pace with the burning acoustic-electric Every Day An Angel and its subtle Beatlesque tinges. The duo reinvent Elegant Wind, a familiar number to Demolition String Band fans, as spare Gillian Welch-style folk. By contrast, the blazing Sailor Girl is a mashup of Revolver-era Beatles and shuffling vintage 60s honkytonk.

“Jesus was a peace freak, he took care of the weak,” Skye reminds in the Ramones-influenced Jesus Was a Liberal, the album’s most ferocious and arguably best track. “if Jesus had a radio show, or a tv show, he’d been on after Randi Rhodes, or Rachel Maddow,” Slye asserts, something you might expect from a singer who in the past decade would make it a point to dedicate Demolition String Band’s snarling version of Creedence’s Fortunate Son to George W. Bush.

The lush blend of banjo, mando and guitar textures throughout the wounded ballad Scar on My Heart are among the album’s tastiest moments. They wind it up on an upbeat note with You Keep Me Up, which draws a straight line back to the Emmylou Harris/Rodney Crowell collaborations of about ten years ago.

Blues Guitar Maven Will Scott Makes His Way Back to His Old Brooklyn Stomping Ground

Will Scott was in goodnatured entertainer mode yesterday evening at this year’s Brooklyn Americana Festival, staged in Brooklyn Bridge Park by 68 Jay Street Bar impresario and distinctive British-American folk song stylist Jan Bell. “I’m the only guy who ever left Brooklyn for Indiana and lost weight,” he joked. Which is funnier than you might think, considering that his rangy build never seems to have felt the effect of all those late-night whiskeys during the weekly residency he held for years up the block at 68 Jay. This one of a handful of return shows over the past year was especially fun since he was playing solo acoustic – he’s always been more of a band guy. For another, he got to air out just about every one of his many blues styles: swooping, animated Robert Johnson-style slides; intricate fingerpicking; purist delta blues, and Bible Belt gothic gospel. And lots of grim fire-and-brimstone biblical imagery, and one absolutely sizzling, shredding display of tremolopicking where he really took his time chainsawing all the way to the top of the fretboard. The one style he didn’t show off, one that he’s exceptionally good at, was hypnotic Mississippi hill country blues. But you can only fit so much stylistic cliff-jumping into a 45-minute set.

Scott explained that Gnawbone – the raw, roughhewn title track from his 2009 electric blues album – was named for a town in his home state. “They wanted to name it after Narbonne, in France,” Scott explained, “But the best the hoosiers could do was Gnawbone. I figured I’d name my album that since there was no way I’d ever end up playing there,” he explained. He paused. “Well…I just did.” Apparently the people in town didn’t take offense.

Scott eventually brought up Bell, his longtime collaborator and partner for some harmony vocals on a high-energy, anthemic take of See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, which turned out to be pretty amazing. See, most backup singers will go way up high and wail around on the blue notes. Bell did the opposite: if memory serves right, she went up an octave above the fifth and then made her way down. The effect was as original as it was unselfconsciously chilling: somebody transcribe that so other singers can do that too! And it’s worth mentioning that they way they did the song, looking back toward gospel rather than the Blind Lemon Jefferson recording that Dylan based his on, harked back to a very early version better known as One Kind Favor.

The festival winds up today, September 27 with a ton of music, starting at eleven in the morning at Superfine in Dumbo with the mando and guitar-driven Demolition String Band, eclectic retro Americana/doo-wop singer Willy Gantrim, and honkytonk bandleader/bassist Abby Hollander. Then at 4 PM there’s a rare solo vocals-and-accordion set by charismatic Romany chanteuse and song reinventor Eva Salina followed by the Jack Grace Band playing their boisterously funny oldschool 60s C&W and brooding southwestern gothic, under the archway below the Manhattan Bridge: if you’re in the neighborhood, you’ll hear it. And Scott makes a fond return appearance at 68 Jay at 7 PM.

The Irrepressible Deena Shoshkes Opens a Night of Cult Favorites This Friday in Park Slope

Some music you can listen to pretty much anytime. Deena Shoshkes‘ music is what you might want to hear when you DON’T want to hear noiserock…or eardrum-smashing jazz improvisation…or doom metal. It’s upbeat and fun and cheery without being bland. For the longest time, Shoshkes fronted the Cucumbers, one of the defining Hoboken bands of the 80s and 90s. Her chirpy high soprano and irrepressible charm won the group an avid cult following, as well as earning a curmudgeonly backlash from a faction who found the band terminally cute. In the years since, Shoshkes has gotten more in touch with her lower register, has added a tinge of smoke and plenty of welcome nuance to her vocals. She’s opening a historically rich triplebill of cult favorites with her band the Laughing Boys at Union Hall in Park Slope this Friday night, March 20 at 8:30 PM followed by downtown NYC postpunk supergroup Heroes of Toolik and then Hoboken janglerock vets Speed the Plow at around 10:30. Cover is $10.

Shoshkes’ latest album Rock River is streaming at Spotify. Her calling cards are craft and a sense of humor. On one level, she takes what does does completely seriously, but she doesn’t seem to take herself seriously at all, and the result is infectious. After awhile, it’s hard to be curmudgeonly, you just start bobbing your head and humming along. A droll spin of the maracas here; a lush waterfall of twelve-string jangle there; a little silly P-Funk portamento synth; references to Brill Building pop, vintage C&W, the majestic clang of the Church in the 80s, even 90s trip-hop in the spirit of edgier bands like Madder Rose.

Her longtime fellow Cucumber Jon Fried adds southern-fried [resisting the urge to say cucumber!} flavor to the punchy opening track, My Own Advice. Longtime Hoboken (ok, ex-Hoboken) luminaries Rebecca Turner and Elena Skye make a Spectoresque chorus on All She Wrote, which sounds like a L’il Mo country crowdpleaser. There are a couple of pensively swaying ventures into Tex-Mex balladry. There’s a soaring country anthem spiced with Jonathan Gregg’s washes of pedal steel that wouldn’t be out of place in the Amy Allison songbook. There’s a saucy organ-and-horn-driven soul groove. Other tracks channels watery new wave and wistful chamber pop. And just when Shoshkes has you thinking that all this is about the hooks and the arrangements, she zings you with a line like “Lost a lot a long time ago in the backdrop of her eyes.”

You aren’t going to hear her sing about how the remains of the Fukushima reactors keep leaking into the Pacific, and that it’s going to kill every living thing on the planet if we don’t stop the deluge. Expecting her to do a song about the Pentagon trying to engineer regime change in Russia – and inciting a global nuclear holocaust – would be a bit of a stretch. Shoshkes seems more content working the corners of a song, intricately and thoughtfully, and having so much fun with it that it makes you jealous. You can get that kind of jealous this Friday in Brooklyn.

An Enticing New Single from Demolition String Band’s Brain Trust

Since the late 90s, guitarist Boo Reiners and mandolinist/singer Elena Skye have led Demolition String Band, the well-loved New York-based punk-inspired roots rock band. Part oldschool bluegrass crew, part anthemic highway rockers, they’re sort of a more electrified version of what John Doe and Exene Cervenka of X did with their Knitters side project.

Over the years, Boo and Elena have done a bunch of gigs as an acoustic duo – their next one is upstairs at 2A as part of Tom Clark’s Sunday acoustic thing on Jan 5 at around 9. They’ve also got a new single from their forthcoming Eric Ambel-produced album streaming at Bandcamp. The A-side, Sailor Girl is a sparkling banjo tune sung fetchingly by Elena. The B-side, Loving Cup, is a Stones cover, and it’s a revelation. That song is the best track on Exile on Main Street; the two do it here with just guitar and mando. Mick only wish he could have sung it like Boo does – and you can understand the lyrics! What a beautiful buzz!

The 50 Best Albums of 2012

About five years ago, people were saying that the album was a thing of the past. How wrong that turned out to be! This year’s crop of albums was so absurdly good that it felt criminal to whittle it down to a hundred, let alone fifty. And the only way of getting it down to that number was to cut out all the “world music,” including reggae and Afrobeat and most of the gypsy sounds, because there was so much of that and it was all so good.

Bookmark this page and return often. Virtually all of these albums are streaming (click the links) or are available as free downloads: consider this your place to discover some amazing sounds that were too smart for the Bushwick and Wicker Park blogs, and too dangerous for corporate radio and tv.

1.  Ulrich Ziegler – their debut album
Dating back to the 90s,  guitarist Stephen Ulrich has been New York’s most distinguished noir composer. When he wasn’t writing film and tv music, he was leading the ferociously creepy instrumental trio Big Lazy. When that band broke up (the drummer left to join Gogol Bordello), Ulrich eventually teamed up with Itamar Ziegler from Pink Noise, and then released this haunting, reverb-drenched, surf/skronk/jazz/soundscape masterpiece. Stream it

2.  Chicha Libre – Canibalismo
Chicha Libre’s 2008 debut album Sonido Amazonico landed in the top ten and this one is arguably even better, a trippy, wickedly dub-influenced mix of Peruvian surf rock, slinky Andean and latin grooves, and surrealistic psychedelic rock. There is no more fun, or more danceable, band in New York than Chicha Libre. Band info and audio/video

3.  Raya Brass Band – Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders
This fiery Brooklyn crew distinguish themselves from the hundreds of other excellent Balkan brass units by virtue of their long, scorching jams: nobody does that better. Stream it

4.  Botanica – What Do You Believe In
This era’s pre-eminent art-rock band’s most brooding, haunted album, a rich blend of gypsy-tinged melody, raw, roaring guitar, edgy piano and spooky organ. Stream it

5.  The Universal Thump – their full-length debut
The final and concluding installment of the most massive, richly orchestrated album on this list, a lushly symphonic double-cd mix of chamber pop, art-rock, psychedelia and quirky, theatrical indie pop. Stream it

6.  Rachelle Garniez – Sad Dead Alive Happy
The iconic, eclectic accordionist/chanteuse – who has sort of become the Dorothy Parker of underground rock – took a deep dive into soul and gospel sounds, with richly soaring results. Stream it

7.  The Japonize Elephants – Melodie Fantastique
One of the original gypsy bands, this enormous, theatrical circus rock crew took their game to the next level with this one. Stream it

8.  Lianne Smith – Two Sides of a River
An iconic presence in the New York Americana and rock scene since the late 90s, Smith’s debut album was legendary before it was finally released – and it’s as eclectic, psychedelic, haunting and funny as anything else on this list. And her amazing voice is better than ever. Stream it 

9.  Bobtown – Trouble I Wrought
Nobody writes more cleverly creepy acoustic Nashville gothic and bluegrass than Bobtown. With four first-rate songwriters, their sound is as diverse as it is dark. Stream it

10.  Jan Bell – Dream of the Miner’s Child
One of the great voices in Americana music, Bell made this into a concept album that linked British folk with the American country and bluegrass sounds that grew out of it  with a vivid sense of history and a tantalizing mix of classics and originals that sound like Appalachian standards. Stream it/free downloads

11. M Shanghai String Band – Two Thousand Pennies
The mighty eleven-piece Brooklyn acoustic Americana crew’s most lush, haunting, diverse and ultimately best album, ranging from gypsy and chamber pop to brooding Appalachian ballads and the rousing singalong songs they’re best known for. Stream it

12.. Love Camp 7 – Love Camp VII
An expertly wry, tuneful, catchy janglerock concept album looking at recent history through the prism of the Beatles, with a jaundiced eye and expertly labyrinthine polyrhythms. Given up for dead after the tragic loss of brilliant drummer Dave Campbell, the band has recently regrouped and is as playful and fun as ever. Stream it

13. Hannah vs. the Many – All Our Heroes Drank Here
Ferociously literate, white knuckle intense female-fronted punk and powerpop, with some noir cabaret and Jarvis Cocker-style art-rock thrown in for good measure. Stream it

14. The Larch– Days to the West
The follow-up to their 2010 masterpiece Larix Americana finds the Brooklyn retro new wavers sounding more psychedelic and more savagely lyrical than ever. Stream it

15. Lorraine Leckie and Anthony Haden-Guest – Rudely Interrupted
A blackly amusing, gorgeously orchestrated chamber-pop collaboration between the caustic social critic and the Canadian gothic rock siren.  Band info and a/v

16. Black Fortress of Opium – Stratospherical
Lush, roaring, darkly psychedelic Middle Eastern-tinged art-rock from this powerful, female-fronted Boston band. Stream it

17. Matt Keating – Wrong Way Home
The respected Americana rocker’s best single-disc album, a brooding, offhandedly menacing blend of classic soul, country and elegant chamber pop. Stream it

18. Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores  – Sister Death
Not to have this album in the #1 spot is pretty absurd: the Rhode Island band’s swirling, psychedelic, gypsy-tinged art-rock masterpiece is the most downright macabre collection on this list. Stream it

19.. The Sometime Boys – Ice & Blood
The second album from cabaret siren Sarah Mucho and art-rocker Kurt Leege’s sharply lyrical acoustic Americana project finds them funkier, more lush and more intense than ever. Stream it

20. Animation – Transparent Heart
As historically important as it is richly arrranged, saxophonist Bob Belden’s collection of cinematic instrumental themes traces the decline of New York over the past couple of decades, centered around 9/11 and the fascism that ensued. Band info and a/v

21. Tift Merritt – Traveling Alone
Marc Ribot’s guitar is amazing beyond belief, and Merrritt’s pensive Americana songs and nuanced vocals are as vivid as always.  Band info and a/v

22. Out of Order – Hey Pussycat
The loudest album on this list is by this assaultive all-female Long Island noiserock/punk trio, raw but richly produced by John Sharples. Stream it

23. Changing Modes – In Flight
With three keyboards and edgy lead guitar, these women and guys play biting, lyrical art-rock and new wave-influenced sounds. Stream it

24. Chris Erikson & the Wayward Puritans – Lost Track of the Time
Erikson has been one of the great guitarists in Americana for years, in other peoples’ bands. This is his long-overdue debut as a leader, a careening, gorgeously twangy mix of Americana, paisley underground psychedelia and riff-rock. Stream it

25. Marissa Nadler – The Sister
The Nashville gothic/noir cabaret chanteuse/songwriter’s most haunting and atmospheric album since her debut, a darkly nebulous, allusive gem. Stream it/free downloads

26. Spanking Charlene – Where Are the Freaks
Female-fronted Americana punk band with  powerful, intense lead vocals, hooks that run the gamut from the Stooges to X and a potently snide, sarcastic, spot-on worldview. Stream it

27. Frankenpine – In That Black Sky
Creepy original bluegrass, Appalachian ballads and elegantly dark acoustic sounds from this diverse Brooklyn band. Stream it/free dowloads

28. Choban Elektrik – their debut album
A side project by members of Zappa cover band Project/Object, they take classic Balkan and gypsy themes and make trippy psychedelic rock out of them. Stream it

29. Slavic Soul Party – New York Underground Tapes
The wildly popular Brooklyn Balkan brass band at the top of their funky, surprisingly eclectic, intensely danceable game. Stream it

30. Saint Maybe – Things As They Are
A throwback to the paisley underground bands of the 80s like True West and the Dream Syndicate, this project by a Patti Smith guitarist and Bob Dylan’s drummer mixes surreal, apocalyptic imagery and raw, surreal, psychedelic Americana rock. Stream it 

31. Mike Rimbaud – Can’t Judge a Song By Its Cover
The New York underground rocker – who also put out an excellent album of originals last year, and constantly releases video singles – puts his indelibly New York spin on politically charged classics by Phil Ochs, Dylan, the Stones and others. Stream it

32. When the Broken Bow – We, the Dangerous Weapons
A surreal, fearlessly political, apocalyptic concept album by this Oregon band  that runs the gamut from soul-pop to careening art-rock to goth and gypsy sounds. Stream it

33. Tim Foljahn – Songs for an Age of Extinction
Grimly lyrical, pensively psychedelic noir chamber pop and Americana-influenced songwriting. Stream it

34. Demolition String Band – Gracious Days
The well-loved New York Americana/bluegrass/rock twanglers’ best electric album, an intoxicating blend of guitars, mandolins, banjo and Elena Skye’s velvet vocals. Stream it

35. The Brixton Riot – Palace Amusements
Sort of the missing link between the Jam and Guided by Voices, this New Jersey band blast their way through a series of hard-hitting, swirling, lyrically biting three-minute songs. Stream it

36. L’il Mo & the  Monicats – Whole Lotta Lovin
Americana chanteuse Monica Passin’s most intimate and eclectic album to date, with soaring harmonies from fellow Americana siren Drina Seay. Song samples

37. Leigh Marble – Where the Knives Meet Between the Rows
Brooding, bitterly lyrical songwriting with a mix of hypnotically psychedelic and Americana-flavored tunes from the Portland, Oregon bandleader. Stream it

38. Eilen Jewell – Queen of the Minor Key
Truth in advertising – Jewel excels at noir Americana, ghoulabilly, garage rock and oldschool psychedelic sounds. Band info and a/v

39. Mucca Pazza – Safety Fifth
A characteristically high-voltage mix of short but sonically titanic gypsy punk and gypsy rock songs from the brass-heavy Chicago dance orchestra. Stream it

40. Chicago Stone Lightning Band – their debut album
With a raw, guitar-fueled edge, their twin-Gibson assault covers classic 60s style Chicago blues, riff-driven stoner rock, original soul and funk. Stream it

41. Emily Jane White – Ode to Sentience
Intense, broodingly lyrical, intricately orchestrated Nashville gothic and art-rock sounds. Band info and a/v 

42. My Education – A Drink for All My Friends
The Austin postrock/instrumental band have never sounded more lush or guitarishly intense on this mix of desert rock and cinematic themes. Stream it

43. Tom Shaner – Ghost Songs, Waltzes and Rock n Roll
That such a great album would be this low on the list attests to how amazing this past year was for music. The former Industrial Tepee frontman has never written more richly or lyrically than he does on this southwestern gothic gem. Band info and video

44. Jon DeRosa – A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes
The Brooklyn crooner comes across as sort of a cross between Jarvis Cocker and Leonard Cohen, with a mix of lush chamber pop, Americana and 80s-influenced gothic art-rock. Band info and a/v

45. The Sweetback Sisters – Lookin’ for a Fight
This amazing two-frontwoman honkytonk band not in the top ten? How can that be possible? Take a look at the rest of the list. Stream it

46. Band of Outsiders – Sound Beach Quartet
The 80s psychedelic punk legends are still going strong, with a richly jangly, snaky new ep that evokes Television as well as the Jesus & Mary Chain, both groups whose careers they’ve now eclipsed. Stream it 

47. Mighty High – Legalize Tre Bags
The funniest album of the year blends roaring Motorhead-style biker rock with woozy stoner riffage and some of the best weed jokes ever put on vinyl. Stream it

48. The Weal and Woe – The One to Blame
Gorgeously harmony-driven oldschool honkytonk and 1950s style proto-rockabilly sounds from this wonderfully retro Brooklyn band. Stream it

49. Guided by Voices – The Bears for Lunch
Agelessly energetic, prolific indie surrealist Robert Pollard hasn’t lost a thing: this is the third and best release in the band’s incredibly productive 2012, not including Pollard’s own solo releases. Band info and a/v

50. Ian Hunter – When I’m President
Last but hardly least on this list, another ageless rocker from an even earlier era put out an album that could be the great lost Stones classic from 30 years ago. Band info/free downloads 

Unexpectedly Edgy Americana from Lindi Ortega

Lindi Ortega hails from Canada, whose government supports the arts, and as a result Canadian artists’ albums typically have superior sonics compared with American recordings made on the fly, DIY, with Protools and a couple of mics haphazardly set up in somebody’s bedroom. Which in the case of Ortega’s new album Cigarettes & Truckstops is important, because producer Colin Linden gets the excellent band behind her to really breathe, as they make their way through a diverse mix of oldschool honkytonk, highway rock, bluegrasss and some surprisingly intense blues. Ortega comes across as more of a rocker who discovered Americana than someone who’s been immersed in it since day one. However, there’s as much Dolly Parton influence as there is Jolie Holland in Ortega’s energetic, occasionally raspy, fluttering melismatic vocals.

The album’s title track has a Gentle of My Mind vibe, but with hushed contemporary alt-country production: brushed drums, tremolo guitars and Rhodes piano – and a Dolly reference that will have her fans cringing. Things get better from there. The Day You Die, a brisk bluegrass shuffle, reminds of Demolition String Band, right down to the biting electric guittar solo. Ortega reverts to a country nocturne vibe with Lead Me On, a sad, resigned ballad with the same tasty acoustic/electric textures as the opening track.

Don’t Wanna Hear It contrasts Ortega’s languid vocals with a big snarling, Link Wray-inspired garage rock arrangement. A Canadian twist on outlaw country, Demons Don’t Get Me Down reminds a bit of Lorraine Leckie, with some bright honkytonk piano handing off to a tasty slide guitar solo. Murder of Crows sounds like it’s going to go down to the delta crossroads until the electric guitars kick in and it turns into a big, murderous blues anthem, like Holly Golightly airing out her pipes, and her band, with big-room production values.

Heaven Has No Vacancy, a creepy, slow, noirish open-tuned slide blues, reminds of John Mellencamp’s self-titled blues album with guitarist Andy York about ten years ago. Once again, the layers of guitars are absolutely exquisite, and in this instance, pretty bloodcurdling (musician credits weren’t included with pre-release downloads). “I’ve got some pain to medicate and I’m all out of pills,” Ortega intones on the next track, High, a stoner take on Jimmy Webb-style countrypolitan: “I ain’t that sane, honey, I just want to fly…I’m not into razorblades so I thought I’d try something new.” And then on the casually stomping song after that, she’s telling a guy not to use crack, or shrooms, or ecstasy – if the effect is to induce a few chuckles. it works. The album ends with the swirly, creepy noir 60s pop charm of Every Mile of the Ride, hinting that Americana may not be Ortega’s ultimate destination. But while she’s doing it, she’s doing it with class: who says Canadians can’t play blues or country music? Lindi Ortega is on US tour right now with Social Distortion.

Wrapping Up a Good Month’s Worth of Shows

If you’ve been following this space over the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably been wondering where all the concert coverage went. That’s not to say that this has been a slow month for live shows – this is NYC, after all. To keep pace with what’s been happening, here’s a look at some of the highlights from the past month or so that didn’t get coverage here for one reason or another (the band just got written up here; the show wasn’t that good; it’s hard to come up with anything much to say about a performance where you show up late and only catch the last half hour).

After a long hiatus, a reconfigured version of psychedelic Greek surf/rebetiko rockers the Byzan-tones has made a scorching comeback in recent weeks. Their show at Otto’s in early August was off the hook and got a rave review here; a couple of weeks later at Zebulon, they were even better. The electric oud is sorely missed, but they’re incorporating more and more of the virtuosity of new guitarist Steve Antonakos into the show, a good idea considering his extensive background playing this kind of stuff with Magges. It was a feast of scary chromatics, and frontman/guitarist George Sempepos was getting all kinds of praise for his brooding baritone vocals.

Another first-rate instrumental unit that had been on hiatus for just as long, Dimestore Dance Band, is back together and has been playing a series of last-minute gigs as they reconfigure themselves (the drum chair has been rotating lately). They were a staple of the Tonic scene in the mid-zeros, and since guitarslinger Jack Martin and bassist Jude Webre decided to get back together, they’ve made Zirzamin – the closest thing to Tonic in New York these days – their new home. Like the Byzan-tones, their late July show at Zirzamin drew a rave here; their show there earlier this month was also arguably even better. Playing a borrowed guitar through a borrowed pedalboard, Martin broke a string on the first song, fueling a savage, volcanic performance that rocked harder than anything this elegant, cerebral gypsy/jazz/ragtime/jamband has done lately. Billing themselves as the Bob Dylan Deathwatch, they put Martin on vocals on a handful of searing, swampy, noir covers of Dylan, the Stanley Brothers and Martin’s old garage rock band Knoxville Girls. Sometimes musicians play their best when they’re pissed off: this show was a prime example.

One of the most reliably excellent free summer concert series in town is the jazz program put on by the Jazzmobile at a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces around the five boroughs. At the very end of last month, veteran pianist Barry Harris, who goes all the way back to the golden age of the 50s, played a suavely indestructible set of bop standards with a four-horn septet way up at Grant’s Tomb. Places to sit and watch (and try to figure out who the supporting cast was) were hard to come by: although the series’ site doesn’t list the concert, somebody must have spread the word because there was a big afterwork posse gathered around the monument with their picnics and lawn chairs. Does everyone in Harlem read the NY Jazz Record? It would seem like it.

Another enjoyable end-of-the-month show was Demolition String Band’s Friday night gig at Rodeo Bar. Frontwoman/guitarist Elena Skye has never sung better or with more nuance, and lead guitarist Boo Reiners remains one of the most soulfully pyrotechnic players in country music. He flatpicked and twanged and jangled while Skye led the band through a mix of well-received, biting twangrock and C&W originals from earlier in their career along with some more rustic material from their sensationally good new album Gracious Days, plus a handful of bluegrass classics.

Quirky instrumentalists This Spy Surfs, who’ve been around forever, made a return to the stage Labor Day weekend at Otto’s and proved no worse for a long layoff. The bass growled and popped, the guitar snaked and slashed and the drums switched from a new wave scamper to a surprisingly funky pulse. The band name is a misnomer: what they play is basically catchy 80s rock without the vocals. It’s good to see such an original band back in action.

One of the year’s most amusing concert moments happened about a week later at Tompkins Square Park, where David Peel forgot the lyrics to The Pope Smokes Dope. The original stoner freak-folk songwriter has only been playing the song for about 45 years – and he had to stop in the middle and then restart it when he remembered what they were. Maybe he’d had a marijuana….duh, of course he’d Have a Marijuana at a time like this.  That’s the title of his John Lennon-produced debut album, which reputedly went multi-platinum despite being banned from radio and the Top 40 charts for obvious reasons. He sang that one, and a new song for the Occupy movement, and a handful of other singalongs. There seemed to be just about as many people gathered in front of the crowd, playing with Peel – there’s a reason why his scruffy band is called the Lower East Side – as there were watching. The band before Peel, a tunefully sludgy metal trio called the Aliens, who sounded like the Melvins doing Social Distortion, weren’t bad either. They’re also impossible to find online (try googling “aliens” and “Tompkins Square”…)

While the summer concerts are over, there’s still plenty of interesting free music around town. The series of ongoing performances of new music by an eclectic mix of European composers – primarily from Austria – programmed by the Austrian Cultural Center on 52nd Street got off to a good start Friday night at the Bohemian National Hall with the Talea Ensemble. The respected avant garde chamber group’s first piece was Ondrej Adamek’s Ca Tourne Ca Bloque, an electroacoustic work that had the ensemble mimicking spoken phrases in French and Japanese. There was clearly some improvisation going on along with what was on the scores; it wasn’t easy to figure out which was which, particularly when the piece began swirling as the laptop started spitting out random spoken phrases. Music is often described as having the quality of speech – emphatic, conversational, laughing, teary, you name it – and this was an interesting exploration of that concept, even if it went on a little long.

The group followed that with a percussive suspense movie for the ears, Pierluigi Billone’s Dike Wall, interspersing tense washes of sound from the strings amidst even tenser scrapes, scampers, suspenseful footfalls and the occasional ominous crash from inside the piano as well as from the vast collection of instruments employed by percussionist Alex Lipowski, who was given centerstage and got a real workout. The series at the Austrian Cultural Center is ongoing: reservations are required..

Much as it’s been a typically good month for concerts in this city, there were a few disappointments as well. That Summerstage show last month was a sad reminder that just because a girl has a southern accent and plays the banjo, it doesn’t make what she does any more interesting than what you’d hear in the dentist’s office. That classical pianist with the lovely musical name did her best with a difficult program, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the screeches of the security gates at that ill-advised anniversary tribute series way downtown. And that rock & roll reverend needs to drop that hideous hair-metal cover from the set list. It’s worse than a bathroom tune: it’s enough to clear a room.

Closing Night at Lakeside

How do you play your own funeral? Obviously, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and the Roscoe Trio have plenty of life left in them, as they made clear last night when they played the closing night at Ambel’s beloved Lakeside Lounge. An East Village fixture for sixteen years, Lakeside was home to literally hundreds of excellent New York bands: its absence leaves a gaping hole in the New York rock scene. Still, it’s no wonder that Ambel – someone whose muse is not booze – had already gone through three pints of red wine (ok, somebody kicked one of them over) by the time their practically three-hour performance was over. The energy onstage bristled with raw anxiety, echoed by the crowd packed into the back room and lingering on the sidewalk outside: people were not happy to see their favorite rock club being priced out of the neighborhood for yet another effete, shi-shi gentrifier bar. Neither Ambel nor the band – Alison Jones on bass, Phil Cimino on drums and Ambel’s pal Chip Robinson on guitar and also vocals – alluded to rage or resentment: they just let the songs do the talking and gave the club the sendoff it deserved. Taken out of context as an especially raucous Lakeside show, or as a harbinger of possibly worse things to come, this was something people will be at least thinking about for a long time.

They opened with Girl That I Ain’t Got, a twangy country-rock number from Ambel’s cult classic solo debut, Roscoe’s Gang, and closed with Cinderella, an obscure riff-rocking R&B song from Lakeside’s famous jukebox. Was it deliberate when Ambel’s wife Mary Lee Kortes, singing a rampaging version of Tangled Up in Blue (which also appears on her iconic 2002 live recording of Blood on the Tracks), gave special ferocity to “all the people we used to know, they’re an illusion to me now?” Who knows. Ambel did make a point of giving shout-outs to Lakeside regulars now gone, notably Ff bandleader Tom Price and multi-instrumentalist genius Drew Glackin, who, “If he would have lived, would have played more gigs here than anybody.”

Guitarist Mark Spencer, originally with the Blood Oranges, added some seriously searing rock leads on a couple of tracks. Lenny Kaye memorialized the place as “a place for musicians, and people who like to hang around them,” then led the band (with Ambel moved behind the drumkit, replaced on guitar by Demolition String Band’s Boo Reiners) through “the national anthem of rock n roll,” Gloria, with an interlude where he imagined the girl lifting her shirt in Lakeside’s photo booth for the benefit of Ambel and co-owner/jukebox archivist Jim Marshall, a.k.a. The Hound. John Mellencamp lead guitarist Andy York also beat a path through the crowd from the bar to the stage several times, notably for an absolutely luscious cover of Raw Power where he switched to bass and played wave after wave of Ron Asheton melody.

The New Heathens’ Nate Schweber sang Thousand Dollar Car, by the Bottle Rockets (who’d played the opening night party here on April 10, 1996 if memory serves right). Robinson delivered a subdued, pensive one from his Mylow album [memo to self – must dig that one out again] that picked up with one of an endless series of growling, sideswiping Ambel solos. Spanking Charlene’s Charlene McPherson took centerstage for a volcanic take on I Wanna Be Your Dog. And was that Schweber singing the night’s most brooding, downcast song, Dylan’s I and I? That’s the problem of not having any video to go with the audio, 24 hours later.

With Ambel out front, they blasted through familiar favorites like Garbagehead – written in five minutes for a particularly high-energy New Year’s Eve show – as well as blistering versions of the angry, overdriven, Beatlesque Song for the Walls along with Ambel’s inimitable version of Swamp Dogg’s Total Destruction to Your Mind. But this wasn’t just the hits. Ambel’s shows here with his trio have always been a party, part live rehearsal, part focus group for new material, and as usual he brought some of that, including a particularly hard-hitting, riff-rocking new collaboration with Kasey Anderson. The band had never played the Kinks’ Where I Belong – the anthem that Ambel had picked out specially for the night – but they made it through that one without embarrassing themselves thanks to Ambel somehow managing to play lead guitar and simultaneously signal chord changes via sign language (musicians understand those things).

Jimbo Mathus, who’s currently recording with Ambel, joined the band on mandolin for a killer honkytonk song about homeless people on the streets of Hollywood who should be diamonds rather than lumps of coal. As the set went on, Ambel called up Alex Feldesman, the club’s tireless soundman and gave him a guitar in appreciation for his years of service. “Now I have to learn to play the thing,” deadpanned Alex (he was being sarcastic, as usual – maybe this is what he needed to get a new band going).

Whoever ends up taking over the Lakeside space, you can be damn sure they won’t be handing out guitars to loyal members of the staff. Nor is it likely that they’ll be there sixteen years like Lakeside was. Back in 1995, a friend may have responded to Ambel’s news that he was the proud owner of a New York State liquor license by telling him, “That’s like giving a monkey a gun.” That comment would later become a song title; going on twenty years later, the guy would have to eat his words. By the time the show was over, the line to the bar was five deep and growing and at this point, at least from a blogger’s perspective, there was no reason to stay: anything that anyone might have said or drunk at that point is strictly personal business. Thanks for the memories, Lakeside Lounge.

By the way, if anybody has video, please don’t keep it to yourself and hide it on Facebook where nobody can see it: put it up on youtube, or on your blog, and send a link over here!

Demolition String Band: Brilliant Country and Bluegrass

Demolition String Band’s new album Gracious Days is a kind of record that doesn’t get made very often anymore. It answers the question of what would happen if two of the most esteemed players on the New York country scene were turned loose in the studio with unlimited instruments and unlimited time, something Varese Vintage apparently decided to do, with delicious results. The production is absolutely gorgeous, many of the songs starting out totally acoustic before the electric instruments come in on a second verse or chorus: it’s a fully realized blend of the band’s electrifying live show along with their passion for old Appalachian songs. The band’s 2002 album Pulling Up Atlantis may represent an iconic moment in underground Americana, but musically speaking, this is the best thing they’ve ever done. The core band members, guitarist/banjoist Boo Reiners and mandolinist/guitarist Elena Skye have never sounded more inspired: Reiners’ effortless flatpicking, soulfully resonant dobro and fiery electric guitar create the album’s obvious highlights, Skye’s mandolin as edgy and contemporary as it is rustic. She’s also taken her vocals to the next level, whether soft and pillowy on the quieter songs, or evoking a raw, emotionally charged intensity on the more oldtimey numbers, her harmonies with Reiners as soulful as ever. This version of the band includes David Mansfield on steel, Mike Santoro on acoustic and electric bass guitar, Catherine Popper on upright and electric bass, Jimi Zhivago on keys, Kenny Soule on drums and Lisa Gutkin on fiddle: the arrangements are devised so that pretty much the whole band gets a chance to contribute to every track.

The album is bookended by a swaying countrypolitan theme by Skye disguised as an oldtimey string band tune. Misfortune, the most antique-sounding of all the tracks here is actually a Skye original, moving stoically from Carter Family plaintiveness to more lush textures with fiddle and a web of electric guitars. Reiners’ Under the Weather is a swaying, Creedence-flavored swamp rock tune and a launching pad for what seems dozens of smartly chosen guitar licks played on dobro and electric.

In the past, this band has covered Madonna: this time around, they tackle the Ramones’ Questioningly, turning it into rueful Social Distortion-esque Americana rock, lit up by a lithe, serpentine Reiners electric guitar solo. Mickey Newbury’s Why You Been Gone So Long gives the band a chance to show off their Bakersfield honkytonk side, with some clever effects on the vocals. Has anyone ever killed a fifth of Thunderbird, as the guy in this song does, and lived to tell the tale?

Dress of Roses, a longtime concert favorite for this band, gets reinvented with an even slower groove than usual, with some wickedly spiky banjo/mandolin interplay followed by a gorgeous Mansfield solo. Reiners gets to show off his wry banjo virtuosity on the lickety-split Boojo Breakdown, while Skye takes a turn of her own on the slower, more romantic Williamsville Ramble: these folks have their country dance tunes down cold.

Their swinging fiddle-and-mandolin version of Hard Ain’t It Hard is a showcase for Skye at her most vivid, while Blaze Foley’s sadly swaying you-done-me-wrong song Alibis is awash in cool guitar licks and an understatedly biting chordal acoustic solo. The band also takes a brisk run through Ola Belle Reed’s Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow (the centerpiece of the band’s brilliant Reed cover album by the same title, from 2006) and takes a stab at the traditional number Old Blue, which they rescue from cheesiness with a joyous acoustic-electric arrangement. If country music is your thing, this is for you. Demolition String Band play the album release show at around 10 PM on March 30 at Rodeo Bar.