New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: ennio morricone

Fearlessly Individualistic, Counterintuitive Classical Hits From Pianist Khatia Buniatishvili

By oldschool record label standards, releasing an album of greatest hits from the classical canon guarantees yourself a pretty wide audience. The theory is that most of the crowd who will buy it doesn’t know anything beyond the standard repertoire and can’t differentiate between interpretations. From a critical perspective, this kind of album invites disaster, a minefield of crushing comparisons to every great artist who has recorded those same pieces over the past century. How does pianist Khatia Buniatishvili‘s new album Labyrinth – streaming at Spotify – stack up against the competition? Spoiler alert: this is a very individualistic record. And that’s a very good thing.

Consider the opening number, Deborah’s Theme, from the late, great Ennio Morricone’s score to the film Once Upon a Time in America. Buniatishvili plays it with such limpidness, such tenderness, such spaciousness that plenty of listeners could call it extreme.

Then she tackles Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1: so easy to play, but so brutally challenging to figure out rhythmically. Buniatishvili gives it just enough rubato to avoid falling into the trap so many other pianists have, taking the easy way out and turning it into a maudlin waltz. This is haunting, and revelatory, and augurs well for the rest of the record.

Other pianists approach Chopin’s E Minor Prelude with a nervous, scurrying attack. Buniatishvili lets it linger in a ineffable sadness before she chooses her escape route. Again, it’s an unorthodox path to take, but once again she validates her approach. The Ligeti etude Arc-en-ciel, one of the lesser-known works here gets a similar treatment, its belltone sonics exploding just when not expected to.

Not all of the rest of the record is this dark. Her piano-four-hands take of Bach’s Badinerie, from Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067 with Gvantsa Buniatishvili is a clenched-teeth romp. Yet the Air on the G String gets reinvented as a dirge: the first instinct is to laugh, but then again the choice to play it as Procol Harum actually works. She does the same with Scarlatti later on.

Buniatishvili builds baroque counterpoint in an increasingly crushing take of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise: probably not what the composer envisioned, although there’s no arguing with the logic of her dynamic contrasts. She follows a deviously ragtimey arrangement of Serge Gainsbourg’s La Javanaise with a haphazardly pummeling and then luxuriant version of Villa-Lobos’ Valsa da Dor, which also works in context.

The pairing of French baroque composer Francois Couperin’s circling, delicately ornamented Les Barricades Mystérieuses with a Bach ripoff of a famous Vivaldi theme is an even whiter shade of pale. Fans of 20th century repertoire are rewarded with richly lingering version of Part’s stark Pari Intervallo and a hauntingly enveloping performance of Philip Glass’ I’m Going to Make a Cake (from the film The Hours).

There’s also an opulent interpretation of the well-known Brahms Intermezzo, Liszt’s nocturnal Consolation (Pensée poétique) and another Bach piece, the brooding Adagio from the Concerto in D minor, BWV 974. Oh yeah – there’s another famous thing here that clocks in at 4:33. Don’t let that lead you to believe that the album’s over yet. Stodgier classical music fans will hear this and dismiss much of it as punk rock. Let them. Their loss.

Back at Bryant Park For an Even More Revealing, Entertaining Concert of String Quartets

The American Symphony Orchestra deserve immense credit for their courage in taking a frontline role in bringing live music back to New York at such a perilous historical moment. Likewise, the programmers at Bryant Park deserve just as much of a shout for giving musicians a space to perform when indoor spots have been ruled off-limits by Il Duce up in Albany. Concert-starved audiences whose daytime hours are free can catch an ongoing series of solo performances on the park’s electric piano at half past noon on frequent weekdays.

Monday night’s performance featured a string quartet of violinists Cyrus Beroukhim andRichard Rood, violist William Frampton and cellist Alberto Parrini playing a fascinating and entertaining mix of obscure and standard repertoire. Crowds have become immune to rote homilies like “You’re such a lovely audience, we’d like to take you home with us.” But when Frampton unselfconsciously gushed about how much of a pleasure it was to finally be able to play concerts again, there was no doubting his sincerity.

With full-on vibrato, they opened with an unabashedly Romantic rendition of Nino Rota’s Love Theme from the film Romeo and Juliet, and brought the concert full circle with the encore, Gabriel’s Oboe, by Ennio Morricone. In between, they confidently and vividly tackled three completely different but equally engaging pieces.

The first was Nino Rota’s lone string quartet, in three movements – considering the demands on his creativity as a film composer, it’s no surprise that there isn’t a fourth. From the initial movement’s soaring, lively, anthemic opening-credits energy,  the quartet turned in a robust, dynamic interpretation – more than a little cabin fever may have been exorcised at this show. The contrasts between the meticulously calm, baroque-tinged rondo and rise to a bracingly insistent minor-key coda in the second movement were striking, as the visceral triumph of the conclusion.

The group worked a spring-loaded, dynamically-charged intensity in the opening and closing movements of Samuel Barber’s String Quartet, Op. 11, its centerpiece being an even more dynamic, gossamer interpretation of the iconic Appassionate For Strings. Hearing that often whispery, achingly crescendoing movement – often played as a stand-alone piece – in the context of a greater whole was revelatory, especially when the quartet threw caution to the wind and reveled in the rise to the payoff at the end.

George Walker’s 1946 String Quartet No. 1 was the most technically challenging, thorniest work on the bill, but also the most fascinating. Much more rhythmic, bustling with constantly changing counterpoint, it’s  a crazy quilt of short, incisive, pervasively restless phrases, like a Bartok Jr. Never having heard the piece before, the simmering, nocturnal second movement came as a surprise – as did the shivery intensity of the reprise of the opening theme in the movement afterward. The dichotomy between bristling energy and plaintiveness was evoked even more strongly in the rather brief coda.

You can go on youtube anytime you want and look up every composer who ever wrote a note, but nothing compares to new discoveries brought to life before your eyes by a group who seem to be enjoying that every bit as much.

The next live performance at Bryant Park is a solo piano gig tomorrow, Sept 25 at half past noon by Yuko Aikawa.

Haunting Film Noir and Desert Rock Themes from Reverend Screaming Fingers

Reverend Screaming Fingers’ cinematic, surfy instrumental themes don’t often scream, but boy do they resonate. And there are no doubt films in development screaming out for these songs. The guitarist (real name: Lucio Menegon) layers colorful multitracks over a steady, low-key rhythm section for a mix of creepy noir themes, spaghetti western tunes and midtempo surf rock. The Desert Years, his new third volume in his series of Music for Driving and Film, is streaming at Bandcamp. Big Lazy’s highly anticipated new album isn’t out yet, but until then, this twangy, dusky masterpiece will do just fine. It’s a lock for one of the best albums of 2019.

Here Menegon is supported by a rotating rhythm section: Wally Ingram on drums, with Danny Frankel, Damian Lester, Kip Powell and Janie Cowan sharing bass duties.The opening track, No Destination starts out with a fleeting, insistent new wave guitar riff but quickly slinks into the shadows with a southwestern gothic ambience capped off midway through with a little Tex-Mex. Then the bandleader completely lfips the script with the tender, oldtimey country ballad Chapparal Kiss, with low-key mandolin over a graceful 6/8 sway.

Dream of the Desperado comes across as a mashup of rapt Japanese temple music mingled with slow-burn Black Lodge guitar that finally coalesces as a creepy slide guitar blues: it would be a solid track on any Big Lazy album. Monsoon Gully has snarling, distorted, serpentine guitar leads set to a gently tumbling cha-cha beat: Beninghove’s Hangmen are a good point of comparison.

Spare, spaciously fingerpicked guitar figures mingle above a backdrop of rain and tree frog samples throughout Funereal. Speaking of funereal, the organ beneath the loping, savagely crescendoing desert theme Dance of the Dust adds immensely to the ominous ambience.

Delicate tremolo-picking beneath lingering reverbtoned riffs raises the suspense in Yuma Interlude, up to a tantalizing exchange of riffs in both channels, then back down again. Lost Alien Highway slowly builds into a simmering roadhouse blues. Almost Home is a lively blend of Buck Owens twang and roller-rink organ theme. The final cut is Rattler Ranch, an upbeat, catchy, woodsy groove for guitar and bass.

Lush, Epic, Hauntingly Cinematic Jazz from the Robert Sabin Dectet

Today’s Halloween album, streaming at Bandcamp, is Humanity Part II, released by bassist Robert Sabin and his dectet in 2015. The black-and-sepia cd packaging leaves no doubt about this lushly Lynchian musical reflection on the horrible things people do to each other There’s a dead woman lying in the woods on the front cover, silhouette of a guy going after his wife with an axe in the cd tray and a gloomy quote about loss and absence from Albert Camus’ La Peste on the inside cover flap.

These piece are epic – the shortest one is more than five minutes and the aptly titled concluding number, Leviathan, clocks in at almost eleven. The title track, a relentlessly enveloping rearrangement of Ennio Morricone’s theme to the John Carpenter film The Thing, opens the suite. Sabin’s bass and Jeremy Noller’s drums keep a calm, clenched-teeth suspense going beneath the band’s tectonically shifting sheets of sound, both tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby and guitarist Jesse Lewis reaching for postbop blitheness but quickly getting pulled down into the mist.

The ten-minute, Ingmar Bergman-inspired Through a Glass Darkly builds morosely out of a brooding guitar vamp. Ben Stapp proves that there can be noir hidden deep in the valves of a tuba, Rigby follows with a long, vividly downcast, smoke-tinted solo of his own and Sabin’s top-to-bottom, Gil Evans-like orchestration is deliciously uneasy. As is the way the guitar, then the bass, then the whole ensemble stalk Noller’s drum solo and make a carnivalesque mambo out of it. Gato Loco ought to cover this.

Sabin takes his inspiration for Scarecrow from the scene of a hanged man in the desert depicted in Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. A tensely circling bass theme and ambered, spacious horns lead to an enigmatic John Yao trombone solo as the band swings straightforwardly.

Ghost is a portrait of a house whose occupant has just died, a somber belltone pavane punctuated with artfully suspenseful use of space, moody horns leading to a pensive Rigby solo. Noller and Lewis team up for an allusively syncopated latin noir pulse, then back away.

Tenebre, inspired by Dario Argento’s cult film, opens with moodily circling syncopation, alto saxophonist Aaron Irwn and trumpet Matt Holman reaching to poke a hole in the grey clouds overhead. The bandleader’s solo swings morosely and then stalks as Leviathan rises from the depths toward macabrely cinematic heights, Irwin offering a sardonically contented wee-hours solo, a crowded club full of unsuspecting victims. Then Lewis hits his distortion pedal and bares his fangs! As the credits roll at the end, the monster gets away to ensure that there will be a sequel – we can hope, anyway.

One of the most lustrously dark and troubled albums of recent years, this could be the great lost Gil Evans record, or the soundtrack to a cosmopolitan David Lynch thriller yet to be made.

A Rare New York Show and a Killer Album from Paris Combo

Long before the Squirrel Nut Zippers were a gleam in anybody’s eye, or there was such a band as the Flying Neutrinos – remember them? – Paris Combo were swinging the hell out of a sound that was part 20s, part 30s and part 80s, at least when they started. Since then, they’ve maintained a devoted fan base on their side of the pond, but they make it over here too infrequently. Their French lyrics are sardonic, playful and funny; likewise, their music has a lot more edge and bite than your typical goodtimey swing band, which makes sense considering that they got their start when punk rock was still current. These irrepressible, ever-more-eclectic Parisians are making a rare New York stop at City Winery on Feb 21 at 8 PM; $25 admission is available, meaning that you can stand somewhere within shouting distance of the bar and not feel stressed about buying expensive drinks.

Paris Combo’s latest album Tako Tsubo – a Japanese term for the very real cardiological effects of heartbreak – is streaming at youtube. The opening number, Bonne Nouvelle (Good News) is a real stunner, part tarantella rock, part Romany swing. Frontwoman/accordionist Belle du Berry understates the narrative’s ominous undercurrent: it’s about playing with fire, more or less.

Pianist David Lewis opens Je Suis Partie (I’m Out of Here) with an uneasy minor-key glimmer, du Berry channeling moody angst as the band leaps into a bouncy groove from bassist Benoît Dunoyer de Segonzac and drummer François Jeannin. Then Lewis supplies balmy trumpet over guitarist Potzi’s breezy, cosmopolitan swing shuffle in the album’s title track, with a droll, tongue-in-cheek hip-hop interlude.

Anemiques Maracas is one of the album’s funniest numbers, part Morricone soundtrack spoof, part yuppie satire. Profil does double duty as balmy, vampy retro 60s ye-ye pop and snide commentary on internet dating. Notre Vie Comme un Western (Our Life As a Western) opens as a surprisingly uneasy waltz and then takes on a cynical bolero-tinged atmosphere, Europeans equally mesmerized and mystified by American cultural imperialism.

Part Django swing, part tongue-in-cheek spy theme, D’Heidi has a wide-eyed sarcasm that recalls the group’s Dutch 80s/90s contemporaries Gruppo Sportivo. The slashing wordplay of Specimen comes across as a French counterpart to New York murder ballad duo Charming Disaster. Just the title of Mon Anatomie Cherche un Ami – part Doors, part Chicha Libre – takes that cleverness to to the next level,

Vaille Que Vaille (Somehow) follows a pretty savage faux-Spanish waltz sway: it’s an oldschool existentialist cautionary tale. The faux-reggae Cuir Interieur (Leather Seats) is just plain hilarious: if the Tubes had been good French speakere, they might have sounded something like this. The album winds up with Orageuse (Stormy), which is funny because it’s hardly that – it’s a balmy before-the-rain scenario, at best. Every time you listen to this, you discover something new and amusing, which might well be poking fun at you too. Count this as one of the best albums to come over the transom here in the past several months.

Ben Von Wildenhaus Brings His Gorgeously Entrancing, Lynchian Guitar Back to Brooklyn

Guitarist Ben Von Wildenhaus is a connoiseur of noir. He’s also one of the best loopmusic performers around. Loopmusic is as brutally difficult to play live as it is easy to record: you lay down a phrase, preferably a simple, catchy one that you can harmonize with, and then play over it, again and again. Onstage, if you miss a beat, you’re screwed, but Von Wildenhaus has done this to the point that he has it in his fingers. His new album II is streaming at Soundcloud, and available on delicious vinyl. He’s also got a show coming up at Troost in Greenpoint on July 9 at 9 PM accompanied by a diversely talented cast: vocalists Clara Kennedy and Scott Matthew, resonator guitarist Zeke Healey and violist Karen Waltuch.

The album’s opening track, Bad Lament is basically variations on the Twin Peaks theme with boomy drums, a balmy bocal choir, tersely suspenseful Rhodes piano, spiky twelve-string guitar. Hard to argue with a classic riff and what a talented cast can do with it…but not crediting Angelo Badalamenti’s original is a crime. The originals start, essentially with the first part of The Knife Thrower, a fast, shuffing, surfy take on a noir bolero, veering between tremoloing Lynchian twang and surfy staccato phrases, a smudgy loop taking the place of the drums.

From the title, you might think that Al Azif would be a Middle Eastern theme, but instead it veers from a Frisellian pastoral soundscape into eerie, more ambient shadows, an attempt to evoke a creepy, H.P. Lovecraft insectile atmospherics. For whatever reason, the next track, Bad Motherfucker is a slinky Egyptian snakecharmer theme punctuated with tersely spiky layers of guitar and Rhodes electric piano. Then Kennedy sings the torchy, slowly swaying, ominously crescendoing ballad Tú in Spanish, up to a smoky baritone sax solo over shivery, reverberating Rhodes electric piano and guitar.

Side two of the album opens with Bad Lament II, a less thinly disguised version of that iconic theme, veering toward more skronky terrain: think Tonic, 2006. The second version of The Knife Thrower slows it down to a simmering, halfspeed intensity, a white-knuckle tension between the echoey Rhodes and lingering, twangy guitar building a Morricone-esque southwestern gothic tableau.

An Nur follows a stern, woundedly stark upward trajectory over an almost imperceptibly pulsing backdrop: it’s arguably the catchiest track here. Easy Opium, arguably the album’s strongest and most anthemic cut, pairs elegant Rhodes bolero-psych riffage against Ethopian-flavored violin, with a jagged sax/guitar conversation on the way out. The album winds up with Two, an anguished ballad, like Botanica lost in the desert and the only track with actual lyrics. One of the most cinematic and consistently interesting albums to come out so far this year, it’s something you could put on loop and discover something new in every time – maybe something about the music, maybe something about yourself, if you aren’t afraid to look in the mirror.

A Historically Vital, Epically Sweeping Film Music Album from Daniel Hope

Violinist Daniel Hope‘s latest release, Escape to Paradise: The Hollywood Album (streaming at Spotify), isn’t just a fascinating and rewarding listen: it’s a important historical document. Film preservationists race against the ravages of time to salvage rare celluloid; likewise, Hope’s new recordings of film music by Jewish expatriates, mostly from pre-and post-WWII Hollywood, have historical value for that reason alone. What’s just as important is how vividly Hope underscores how Jewish composers’ contributions were as vital in defining an era in filmmaking as their colleagues on the theatrical side were. What’s more, this new recording, made with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic under the baton of Alexander Shelley, is much cleaner and higher quality than any old, mono celluloid version could possibly be. Many of these pieces are not heard all the way through in the films, and while there were stand-alone soundtrack albums for some of the movies whose music is featured here, others had none, all the more reason to savor this.

As you would imagine from the filmography chronicled here, it’s a lavish, Romantic ride. The album opens with Miklós Rózsa’s ripe, vibrato-fueled 1959 love theme from William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, Hope leading the way with a crystalline, guardedly hopeful, soaring tone. Likewise, his highwire lines light up Rózsa’s lush, flamenco-inflected 1961 Love Theme from El Cid. And yet another romantic theme – this one from Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, from sixteen years earlier – shows that Hungarian-born composer had his ecstatically crescendoing formula well-refined by then.

Taken out of context, Thomas Newman’s interlude from the immortal plastic bag scene in American Beauty is remarkably plaintive, a quality enhanced by this performance. The swing-era standard As Time Goes By, popularized in Casablanca, wasn’t written by Max Steiner, the composer of that film’s score, but by Tin Pan Alley song merchant Herman Hupfeld: Hope chooses it to end the album, in a stark solo rendition. A sad Henry Waxman waltz from the 1962 weepie Come Back, Little Sheba foreshadows it

The source material here reaches beyond mainstrean Hollywood. There’s also a majestic, string-driven version of a Walter Jurmann Weimar ragtime piece; Eric Zeisl’s striking overture Menuhim’s Song; and a surprisingly Celtic-tinged instrumental ballad by Werner Richard Heymann.

Not all the composers here are Jewish, either. John Williams’ theme from Schindler’s List adds context, along with an achingly lush 1988 Ennio Morricone set piece from Cinema Paradiso that draws a straight line back to his predecessors here.

And the album isn’t just film scores. German crooner Max Raabe sings a marvelously deadpan version of Kurt Weill’s Speak Low. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, best known for his work with Andres Segovia, gets a shout via a rippling take of Sea Murmurs, from his Shakespeare Songs suite. Erich Korngold – whose Hollywood success springboarded a career in serious concert music – is represented first by a dynamic version of his Violin Concerto in D. Hope dances and weaves over an alternately sweeping and gusty backdrop as a dramatic melody with all the hallmarks of a movie title theme rise to the forefront. The Serenade from his ballet suite Der Schneeman (The Snowman) is more low key, with a similarly heart-on-sleeve ambience. Virtually everything here will sweep you away to a land that time happily hasn’t forgotten – if you tend to find yourself immersed in something on Turner Classics at three in the morning, do yourself a favor and get this album.

Twin Guns’ New Album: Dark Reverb Central

Twin Guns’ new album Sweet Dreams is all about the reverb: waves, and waves, and waves of it. What’s most amazing about the album is that it’s just two members, guitarist Andrea Sicco and drummer Jungle Jim (formerly of the Cramps and the Makers).  Recorded by Hugh Pool at Brooklyn’s famed Excello studios and produced by Heavy Trash’s Matt Verta-Ray, it’s a feast of menacing retro guitar sonics. In fact, there’s so much guitar, you don’t even notice that there’s no bass. Fans of vintage equipment will have a field day guessing which amps and guitars are getting a workout. And while you could pigeonhole this as garage rock or ghoulabilly, it transcends any label you could stick on it. It’s just good. Fans of loud, dark rock have a lot to enjoy here. One good band this resembles sometimes is bass-less two-guitar Pennsylvania garage/punk rockers the Brimstones.

The title track is a pounding, syncopated monster surf instrumental with hollers of pain – or something like pain – echoing in the background. It’s the great lost track from the acid trip sequence in Jack Nicholson’s The Trip. The second cut blends ghoul-garage rock with a relentlessly assaultive Radio Birdman vibe. “I always turned away from love to be with all my demons,” Sicco explains.

They follow that with a snarling fuzztone riff-rocker, then a slowish G-L-O-R-I-A vamp with reverbtoned harmonica. Never Satisfied moves ominously from echoing spaghetti western riffage, to a chromatically-charged menace, to a Psychotic Reaction verse and then gets slow and creepy again. The Creeper sounds like Morricone doing Link Wray, while Teenage Boredom, arguably the album’s best song, infuses Lynchian 60s-pop with layers and layers of guitar, tremoloing, smoldering, pulsing, filling every corner of the sonic picture like liquid pitchblende, lethal but irresistible.

Bloodline nicks the riff from Bela Lugosi’s Dead, adds an Apache drumbeat and echoes of the 13th Floor Elevators. Mystery Ride mingles screaming cowpunk and goth, with a tasty, surfy outro. Motor City – a tribute to the Ludlow Street bar, maybe? – blends Syd Barrett and X influences. The album ends with the slow, Gun Club-style dirge Wild Years, taking on a macabre bolero surf edge as its murky waves rise. As far as creating a mood and keeping it going, this is as good as it gets. An early, sonically luscious contender for best rock record of 2013. The whole thing is streaming at Twin Guns’ Bandcamp page.

Bombay Rickey Plays Amazing Psychedelic Bollywood Rock at Barbes

It would be reductionistic to the extreme to describe Bombay Rickey as a psychedelic, Bollywood-influenced surf rock band. Their show Saturday night at Barbes was an example of the best kind of results a band can get blending literally dozens of styles from around the world, including ideas from American rock spun through the prism of other cultures who transformed them and then blew them back at us. That was apparent from bassist Gil Smuskowitz’s first few notes: he was playing the riff from Sonido Amazonico, the Peruvian chicha classic that the Barbes house band, Chicha Libre, immortalized on their 2008 debut album. That was only the beginning. Alto saxophonist Jeff Hudgins took the song, a rock arrangement of a Bollywood theme, deep into the shadows with a sinuous, noir solo, frontwoman/accordionist Kamala Sankaram adding a contrastingly boisterous, playful edge with some rapidfire, staccato vocalese over the jangle and twang. She’s probably the most powerful singer to play [fill in the name of your favorite venue – if she’s been onstage there, it’s most likely true]. Yet her mighty coloratura soprano is only part of the picture. When she sang off-mic, she was the loudest instrument in the band; when she went on mic to color the songs with minute, more subtle shades, the effect was no less exhilarating. Later on in the set, they did a Yma Sumac song as a psychedelic cumbia and Sankaram made hitting all those stratospherically high notes look like just another day at work.

Their most intricate number was a joint homage to Steve Reich and Ennio Morricone, intertwining a spaghetti western theme into a blithely circular indie classical accordion-and-guitar riff, Hudgins’ apprehensive, microtonal atmospherics building the suspense to breaking point. They followed a takadimi arioso surf song with a Mozart aria done as a jaunty bolero, the pinpoint precision of Sankaram’s upper-register swoops wowing the crowd. A weedhead hare krishna theme translated to English as “take another toke,” Sankaram explained with a grin. Then Hudgins sang a spaghetti western ballad driven by Drew Fleming’s ominously jangly reverb guitar, with a long, hypnotic interlude that Fleming finally took up with an off-center menace. A little later, Hudgins and Sankaram duetted on a torchy, pensive chamber-pop song that was a dead ringer for another Barbes band, the Snow: “Midnight comes when you least expect it, and spring will never come again,” Sankaram intoned with a wounded poignancy.

Another number started out as a spaghetti western theme, then went in a Beatlesque direction, then picked up with a klezmer-ish series of sax riffs and soaring, powerhouse vocalese from Sankaram. They closed with Tuco’s Last Stand, a pensive bolero galloping gently along on percussionist Timothy Quigley’s mysterioso groove. Folks, this is the future of music: every style, from every spot on the world is fair game. Bombay Rickey just happens to have more of those flavors in their fingers than just about anybody else. They’re at Branded Saloon on Ft. Greene on August 24 at 10.

Catching Up on Some Good Southwestern Gothic

Too much good music, too little time. Lubbock, Texas band the Thrift Store Cowboys’ album Light Fighter came out last fall: if you’ve been paying attention to the recently resuscitated alt-country scene, you probably already know that. This is for those who might have slept on it a year ago: it’s worth your time. A lot of this is like peak-era Wilco circa Summerteeth but with more balls and less drawl – frontman Daniel Fluitt sometimes lets his syllables run overtime like that band did, but he doesn’t overdo it. And he’s a better songwriter. That which is not Wilcoish is the best stuff here, rich with ghostly imagery, aching violin, steel guitar and desert ambience like the best southwestern gothic: which makes sense, since the album was recorded at Craig Schumacher’s legendary Wavelab studio, home to Steve Wynn and Friends of Dean Martinez, Giant Sand and the rest of those great spaghetti western-tinged bands that sprang up in the tumbleweeds back in the late 80s and 90s.

In fact, those seem to be two distinct and separate sides to this band: you could make two solid, separate playlists out of the album, one of them scary and one of them more straight-up alt-country. The latter would include the title track which leans closer to Son Volt, actually, but with a hypnotic, circular 6/8 vamp. The album’s second track sounds like Wilco if they’d gone into the desert and never come back, while Regardless and Ghost Guys take the Summerteeth formula and add snappy bass and shimmery steel guitar. Rosemary mixes in out-of-focus, guitar-fueled noise and a little Morricone-style guitar. And You Can’t See the Light puts a historical spin on a familiar-sounding country-rock ballad theme, in this case the bitter tale of a seminarian imprisoned and later executed during the Spanish Civil War.

But the scary playlist is the really amazing one here: the band could release this as an ep and they’d have a genuine classic. The menacing, chromatically-charged banjo shuffle 7’s and 9’s sounds like Botanica if they’d gone into the desert and never come back. The best song here, Scary Weeds, is written by and sung with gentle apprehension by violinist Amanda Shires. A paranoid 6/8 ballad about a couple on the run, it reminds of the Walkabouts, with Shires’ vividly ominous violin and low, urgent, unaffectedly chilling vocals. The surreal, dizzyingly evocative Morning Weekend begins with menacing sunrise desert ambience and morphs into a big backbeat anthem; Nothing, a sad 6/8 ballad about Buffalo soldiers dying of thirst in the desert after being led astray by clever Comanches defending their land, is a dialogue between one of the dead soldiers and his widow at home, who also ends up emptyhanded. You have to listen closely but it’s worth it. And Shires contributes another creepy, 6/8 tune, Lean into the Sway, an allusive, brooding ballad that could be a prequel to her other one here. The Thrift Store Cowboys made a swing through New York last year behind this album; let’s hope there’s another one down the line.