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Eric Ambel Brings His Expert, Purist Tunesmithing and Sizzling Lead Guitar Back to Brooklyn

If a clinic in spine-tingling, dynamic. expert lead guitar is your thing, you could spend hundreds of dollars and make Ticketbastard rich and go see Richard Thompson at a place like City Winery. Or you could go see Eric Ambel and his band for free this Saturday night at 9 upstairs at Hill Country Brooklyn. The Brooklyn branch of the bbq franchise is 180 degrees the opposite of the Manhattan location. The staff are friendly and seem happy to be there, the crowd is local and multicultural, and while they don’t nceessarily come to listen, a lot of them do. That way, the band doesn’t have to try to drown out the touristy din like they do in Manhattan. And the Brooklyn branch’s sound system is better, too.

Ambel has been on tour this summer with his band – Brett Bass on bass, Phil Cimino on drums and Spanking Charlene‘s Mo Goldner on second guitar – so they should be stoked to be back on their home turf. Ambel’s most recent New York show was here on this same stage at the end of June, and it was amazing, one of the year’s best. Switching between his custom Telecaster and Les Paul, “Roscoe” delivered searing, string-bending intensity, judicious jangle and clang, choogling four-on-the-floor grooves, a couple of stomping detours toward punk rock, even some plaintive wee-hour C&W. All that in two sets, about two hours of music where the band finally ran out of rehearsed material and blasted through a couple of old R&B covers to close the night.

There were so many high-voltage moments, it’s impossible to separate one from the rest. The band opened the second set with a searing take of Song for the Walls, the first track on Ambel’s second solo album, Loud & Lonesome, part psychedelic Beatles, part acidic Kevin Salem rock. Lou Whitney’s defiant Thirty Days in the Workhouse (“If I’d been a black man, they’d have given me thirty years”) resonated especially with this audience. There was roadhouse rock like Scott Kempner’s Here Come My Love. country-flavored material like Jimbo Mathus’ Let’s Play with Fire, and a couple of snarling, Ramones-influenced numbers, the best of them being the snide Hey Mr. DJ. Introducing that one, Ambel told a hilarious story about the first time he saw the Ramones, as an eighteen-year-old party animal in Illinois. That story’s too good to give away here.

Spanking Charlene frontwoman Charlene McPherson came up to duet on a swampy take of Have Mercy, which she co-wrote with Ambel. Mary Lee Kortes – Ambel’s wife and an equally skilled tunesmith, whose long-awaited forthcoming full-length album The Songs of Beulah Rowley is awe-inspiring – lent her crystalline voice to a couple of numbers too. The night’s longest and most darkly simmering epic, Buyback Blues – a bittersweet look back at Ambel’s well-loved and dearly missed East Village venue, Lakeside Lounge – was as good as anything Neil Young & Crazy Horse could come up with. If memory serves right, the band ran through just about everything from Ambel’s latest solo album, also titled Lakeside.

Later in the second set Ambel entertained the crowd with his funniest song, I Love You Baby – if you don’t know it, the lyrics are also too funny to give away here. The show this Saturday night should be something like this, who knows, maybe even better. If we get lucky they’ll play Garbagehead, the ultimate Lakeside Lounge Saturday night party anthem.

A Long-Lost 90s Psychedelic Blues Treasure Rescued from Obscurity

Guitarist Hugh Pool is sort of a New York counterpart to Stevie Ray Vaughan. Obviously, that’s not a completely fair comparison, considering that Pool outlived Vaughan the day he turned 36. He’s more versatile than Vaughan ever was, tackling everything from the fiery electric blues he’s best known for, to the spare, antique, otherworldly sound of his Mulebone collaboration with multi-instrumentalist John Ragusa. Then again, Vaughan didn’t live to see himself inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame – alongside both B.B. King and Eric Clapton, go figure – like Pool did last year.

Pool has also just re-released a rare 1996 recording, Willsboro Sound Lab, available on cd for the ridiculously low price of seven bucks. Like so many deserving obscurities from the early days of the web, it hasn’t made it to Spotify yet. What’s most striking about this album is not necessarily how tight it is, but how tantalizingly brief Pool’s solos are. For a guy who’s made a name for himself on the jamband circuit, he really makes every note count. The album opens with What I Did, a swinging, wah guitar-driven update on Hendrix-inspired 70s hard funk. The rhythm section – bassist Mike Bernal and drummer Matt Mousseau – establish a groove that will stay in place throughout the rest of the session. The open-tuned Angel’s Hair blends subtle, soulful slide work alongside Mike Latrell’s similarly low-key organ: it has the purist feel of a late 80s/early 90s electric Hot Tuna number, albeit with bass that’s closer to the ground.

The gracefully bouncing, understatedly moody When the Well Runs Dry mingles spare jangle, and clang along with keening, shivery slide work. Pool’s ominous, distantly Detroit-tinged solo could have gone on for four times as long and nobody would be complaining. “You can feel the cold when you open the door,” he intones broodingly.

Pool finally cuts loose, but still choosing his spots, with wrist-shattering tremolo, lightning Hendrix hammer-ons and some big crunchy stadium chords in the funky, dynamically shifting, psychedelic I Forgot Where I Was. The ep winds up with the quietly menacing nocturne Big Ol’ Moon, Pool’s lingering, hypnotic acoustic and electric multitracks anchored by Mousseau’s spare, deep-space boom.

Fans of rootsy psychedelia, from Jorma’s many projects, to current-day New York artists like Eric Ambel and Lizzie & the Makers should check this out. Pool’s next New York gig is July 27 at midnight at the Ear Inn, the final stop on his current US tour. In addition to his own projects, Pool plays lead guitar in Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons, who have a birthday gig coming up at 10 PM on July 15 at Sidewalk, followed a set by downtown siren Carol Lipnik, who will be airing out some of Leckie’s most haunting art-rock songs.



A Clinic in Purist Guitar Rock from Eric Ambel and Esquela

“Who needs pedals?” Eric “Roscoe” Ambel asked the party people in the house at a private event at Bowery Electric last week. His pedalboard was acting up, so he pulled the plug on it. Running straight through his amp, switching between a vintage black Les Paul and his signature Roscoe Deluxe Tele model by Stonetree Custom Guitars, Ambel put on a clinic in lead guitar, playing a mix of old favorites and material from his new gatefold vinyl album, Lakeside. Behind the guitar icon and head honcho of the late, great Lakeside Lounge were Brett Bass on bass, Phil Cimino on drums and Spanking Charlene‘s Mo Goldner taking on a Keith Richards role on second guitar. They kicked off hard with Song from the Walls, the angry, acidic riff-rock opening track on Ambel’s 1995 Loud and Lonesome album.

It’s amazing how few notes Ambel uses, considering what kind of chops the guy has. Everything counts for something: the lingering bends on the simmering, amped-up Jimmy Reed groove of Here Come My Love; the gritty, enveloping roar of the anti-trendoid broadside Hey Mr. DJ; the sunspotted, precise blues bite of Don’t Make Me Break You Down. Spanking Charlene frontwoman Charlene McPherson lent her powerful pipes to the vocal harmonies on Have Mercy, a soul-infused number that she wrote with Ambel. They sent a shout-out to the Ramones with Massive Confusion, then chilled out with Gillian Welch’s Miss Ohio. Ambel’s playing the album release show on April 29 at around 8:30 PM at Berlin (in the basement under 2A). He’s doing double duty that night: after his set, he’a adding “power assist guitar” with the ferociously funny Spanking Charlene.

The opening act, Esquela – whose album Canis Majoris Ambel recently produced – were excellent too. They work a country-oriented side of paisley underground twang and clang. The push-pull of the two guitarists, Brian Shafer’s snaky, sinuous leads against Matt Woodin’s punchy, uneasily propulsive drive had an intensity similar to great 80s bands like True West and Steve Wynn‘s Dream Syndicate. They also hit hard with their opener, Too Big to Fail (as in, “too rich for jail”), frontwoman Becca Frame’s big, wounded wail soaring over the twin-guitar attack and the four-on-the-floor drive from the band’s main songwriter, bassist John “Chico” Finn and drummer Todd Russell.

From there they hit a wry Del Shanon doo-wop rock groove with It Didn’t Take, went into stomping mid-70s Lou Reed territory and then rousing Celtic rock with Need Not Apply, a snarling look back at anti-Irish racisim across the ages. Their best song was a bittersweetly swaying dead ringer for mid-80s True West, but with better vocals and a careening, shoulder-dusting Shafer solo. Or it might have been an echoey psychedelic number that they suddenly took warpspeed at the end. They brought up harmony singer Allyson Wilson, whose soulful intensity was every bit the match for Frame’s – which made sense, considering that she usually can be found singing opera and classical repertoire at places like Carnegie Hall. Her most spine-tinging moment was when she tackled the Merry Clayton role on a slinky cover of Gimme Shelter.

The band closed with Freebird, a sardonically funny, Stonesy original that Finn wrote to satisfy all the yahoos who scream for it. Perennially popular indie powerpop road warriors the Figgs – who haven’t lost a step in twenty years – were next on the bill. Which was where the whiskey really started to kick in – this was a party, after all. Sorry, guys – for a look at what they sound like onstage, here’s a snarky piece from Colossal Musical Joke week, 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maynard & the Musties Put Out a Cool New Album of Wry, Surreal Country Songs

Songwriter Joe Maynard is one of New York’s urban country pioneers. He got his start here back around the turn of the century, fronting a funny band called the Illbillies, then went in a more trad direction, at least musically, with the Millerite Redeemers, who morphed into Maynard & the Musties. When not playing music, Maynard’s gig is dealing in rare books, which explains the band name. Although his songs can be LMFAO funny, they’re just as likely to be poignant or even haunting, sometimes with a defiant political edge. And unlike so many of the recent transplants here who call themselves country but are as country as Blake Shelton, Maynard originally hails from Nashville. That might have something to do with how oldschool his mix of honkytonk anthems, cry-in-your-beer ballads and brooding Nashville gothic tales can be. And as much as the band can channel a vintage C&W sound, they can also really rock out when they want. They’re headlining an excellent Americana triplebill on March 11 at the Way Station, with brassy, female-fronted rockabilly band Rocket J & the 88s opening at 9, followed by Dr. Bluegrass and the Illbillies (no relation to Maynard’s old band) at 10 and then Maynard himself at 11.

Their latest album, Fall On In – streaming at Bandcamp – was produced by Americana maven and ex-Lakeside Lounge honcho Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who also contributes some of his signature guitar. This band went through a million drummers: none of them worked out until they found Pierre Scoffini, who’s absolutely brilliant, and Ambel obviously had a lot of fun capturing his offbeat cymbal swooshes and counterintuitive snare hits.

Lead player Mike Randall doesn’t waste any time throwing off some restlessly growling six-string lines on the opening track, the swamp-rock flavored Evil Flower. The C&W shuffle Smart Ass, spiced with Jonathan Gregg’s rippling pedal steel, offers a sardonic look at the value of higher education. The fiery Americana rock tune Chinese Jail is Maynard – who’s never sung more vigorously than he does here, over a backdrop of slowly phased Exile on Main Street guitars – at his surrealistic, twisted best.

With its gorgeous web of jangling, twanging guitar from Randall, Mo Botton, Gregg and Maynard himself, Road to Ruin paints an even more twisted urban picture, and has an absolutely hilarious line about sex with a woman of a certain age. Death is a departure into creepy circus rock, bassist Chet Hartin adding accordion over the vaudevillian pulse of Dikko Faust’s trombone. The gently swinging, wistful Broken Angel dates back to the Millerite Redeemers days.

The slow, uneasily misty Waiting on a Train brings to mind John Prine – a guy Maynard often evokes – at his most wryly allusive, fiddler Naa Koshie Mills adding stark, bagpipe-ish textures. Part honkytonk, part western swing, Boozy Memory is the album’s funniest track. The weirdest track is another older tune, The Beef Trade in Suede, reinvented here as a Tex-Mex number. The scariest one is Caroline and Danny, a tale of obsession and cheating gone horribly wrong. The album winds up with the joyously careening We Are The People!, which could be an Occupy anthem, and the morbid miniature Everyone’s Dead. Fans of the lyrical side of Americana from Alex Battles to Steve Earle ought to check this out.

Purist, Catchy, Artfully Arranged Tunesmithing from Guitar Goddess Ann Klein

Ann Klein may be best known as one of the most distinctive, exciting lead guitarists in any style of music, but she’s also a first-class tunesmith. She’s got a new album, Tumbleweed Symphony streaming at Soundcloud, which turns out to be more about tunesmithing than spine-tingling fretwork. She’s likely to deliver more guitar pyrotechnics at her album release show coming up on July 16 at 7 PM on an eclectic triplebill at the big room at the Rockwood: Icelandic glamrocker Ívar Páll Jónsson and his band follow at 8, then at 9 explosive Americana crew the Brothers Comatose (the latter for a $10 cover).

The album opens with Tango Wrangler, a funky soul tune spiced with violin, about an irrepressible WWII vet who “had a way with the ladies if the ladies had the lust.” Klein keeps the soul vibe going, but in a completely different direction, with the slow-burning Start a Fire: the blend of acoustic and electric piano is eerie and texturally luscious, as are the tersely multitracked guitars of Klein in tandem with producer Eric Ambel.

Her clear, uncluttered vocals linger over an artfully arranged backdrop of guitars and organ on the breakup ballad Remember to Forget. She follows that with the darkly scampering, rockabilly-flavored I’m Gone, So Long, and a tantalizingly brief, noisy guitar solo. Likewise, the broodingly gorgeous Sunday Morning has an uneasy, mandolin-fueled sway.

Real Love floats along slowly on a bed of watery guitars and electric piano: it’s part pastoral Pink Floyd, part Americana. Rodents in the Attic is a sardonically funny, swinging number about an old country house, Klein cutting loose on guitar with an icy, echoing tone through a vintage analog delay pedal – and when’s the last time anybody used the word “rodent” in a rock song? Then she switches gears with Rocking Chair, a nostalgic, dobro-driven country number.

Klein’s growling slide guitar contrasts with spiky mandolin on the album’s hardest-rocking track, Break Out. The final cut, Promised Land is not the Springsteen classic but a stomping, chirpy garage rock original. Why does this album sound so good? A little backstory: Klein is married to Tim Hatfield, partner with Eric Ambel at Brooklyn’s legendary Cowboy Technical Services studio, where the album was recorded.

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!

Ellen Foley Gets Back in the Rock Groove

Before she made a name for herself in film, on tv and in the theatre, Ellen Foley had a brief but arguably just as successful career as a singer. Her Mick Ronson-produced 1979 debut album Night Out bombed in the US but scored big in several European markets. Her classic remains 1981’s Spirit of St. Louis, generally regarded as the great lost Clash album since Joe Strummer and Mick Jones (Foley’s boyfriend at the time) produced it, played on it and wrote most of the songs. Then there was 1983’s Another Breath, a pretty forgettable detour into synth-pop. Oh yeah – Foley also sang on that famous Meatloaf monstrosity as well as a bunch of Joe Jackson hits. After a similarly eclectic acting career, it was good to suddenly see her fronting a band again, starting about six years ago when she had a more-or-less monthly residency at the late, great Lakeside Lounge. And now she’s got a new record, About Time, with her Lakeside band, assembled by former Five Chinese Brothers leader Paul Foglino and produced by Eric Ambel. The album, her first in thirty years, confirms for anyone who missed her Lakeside shows that the chameleonic chanteuse is just as adept at deliciously guitar-driven highway rock as she is with cabaret, powerpop and elegant chamber-rock. The whole thing is streaming at her Bandcamp page. She’s doing the album release show at the Cutting Room at 8 PM on Nov 4; tix are $20 and still available as of today.

Foglino contributes most of the songs here – and they’re some of the best he’s ever written. The opening track, If You Can’t Be Good has Foley showing off the big resonant vibrato that became her trademark back in the 70s, over a tastefully arranged web of jangly guitars. Nobody Ever Died from Crying looks back to Blondie with its steady backbeat pulse and coyly vengeful lyrics, while All of My Suffering goes in a swaying, anthemic highway rock direction with Stonesy piano, organ and slide guitar, followed by a tasty wee-hours version of Randy Newman’s Guilty.

“If you had a mind, you would be losing it, if you had a soul, it would be shaking…torture me, torture me, open your eyes and tell me what you see,” Foley intones with understated rage on the catchy, soul-tinged If You Had a Heart. She turns in her best vocal over a sultry saloon-jazz groove on Madness, then goes back to the glam on the T Rex-flavored Worried Woman, with its wickedly soaring chorus. And then she brings it down with the Memphis soul-tinged Any Fool Can See.

Around the Block and Back keeps the vintage soul vibe going, defiantly alluding to the twists and turns of a long career. Another standout track is I Can See, Orbison noir as peak-era 70s Blondie might have done it. She looks back in time another ten years to the early Who with the stomping Carry On and winds up the album with a lullaby of sorts, Everything’s Gonna Be All Right. It’s good to see a cult heroine from thirty years ago still at the top her of game, picking up like she never left off.

The Del-Lords’ First Album in 23 Years Picks Up Like They Never Stopped

In the case where a band releases their first album in 23 years, it’s typically either a reissue, a grab-bag of rarities or a half-baked attempt to revisit the group’s glory years, assuming they had any.  In the case of the Del-Lords, had they never made their new album Elvis Club- their first since 1990’s Lovers Who Wander- their place in rock history would be secure. They came up as a fiery highway rock band with deep roots in Americana, in an era when theose roots were being rediscovered and a four-star review in Rolling Stone actually helped a band sell records. If it’s possible to say that a band had a huge cult following, the Del-Lords had one. Their live performances are legendary, including a series of 1987 New York shows where they opened for Lou Reed and his band and blew them off the stage. The new album  – as well as two albums’ worth of rarities and esoterica – is streaming at the Del-Lords Bandcamp page. Much as it might sound extreme to declare it the ballsiest Del-Lords album ever, it just might be. The band is playing the album release show on June 27 at 9 PM at Bowery Electric with excellent female-fronted Americana punk rockers Spanking Charlene opening the night at 8; advance tickets are still available as of today but won’t last much longer.

The irony is that this probably wouldn’t have happened had a promoter not contacted them in 2010 and persuaded them into doing a brief Spanish tour. The quartet – guitarists Scott Kempner and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, bassist Manny Caiati and drummer Frank Funaro – reunited, played a handful of reunion gigs at the now-shuttered Lakeside Lounge to warm up for the tour (under the pseudonym the Elvis Club, which explains the album title), and decided, what the hell, let’s pull some new songs together. It’s a good thing they did. Kempner’s tunesmithing is as strong as ever and as it turns out both he and Ambel have never sung better. The songs run the gamut from anthemic Willie Nile-ish janglerock to fiery riff-rock to various rootsy styles, with a choice Neil Young cover to cap it off.

The music is a rich blend of jangle, twang, clang and roar. Layers of guitar get tweaked artfully for just the right tinge of reverb or distortion or tremolo; the playing is terse and powerful. This time around, Ambel handles all the leads except one; almost all of them go on for no more than a couple of bars. He always leaves you wanting more. He also produced the album with his usual purist touch (the inside cd cover shot is an early morning view of the East River from inside Ambel’s Cowbow Technical Services studio, home to scores of great albums in the years since the Del-Lords first disbanded). That has a lot to do with why it sounds as good as it does: strong as the band’s albums from the 80s were, there’s a distinct 80s feel to them, while this one sounds timeless. The rest of the band is as strong as they were 23 years ago, in the case of Kempner maybe stronger. This time out, Caiaiti wasn’t available, so a rotating cast of bassists including Ambel’s Yayhoos bandmate Keith Christopher, Jason Mercer, Steve Almaas and new fulltime member Michael DuClos share the four-string chair.

The opening track, When the Drugs Kick In sets the stage for what’s to come with its wickedly catchy four-chord hook and beefed-up janglerock vibe. The second track, Princess might be the strongest one: the beat is deceptively funky, the reverb-fueled minor-key riffage burns and slashes, with a couple of searing Ambel solos fueled by resonant chords and nonchalantly savage tremolo-picking. The sardonic Chicks, Man is one of those classic one-chord songs (give it a listen, it’s true), while Flying works some vintage Memphis licks into a gorgeous, midtempo anthem in the same vein as Kempner’s classic Forever Came Today (from the 1986 Roscoe’s Gang album), with a sudden, explosive crescendo midway through.

Fueled by more of that soul guitar, All of My Life is a casually celebratory ballad from the point of view of a survivor who never expected to get as far as he has, Rob Arthur’s lush Hammond organ picking it up out of a thoughtful Ambel solo. Everyday – co-written with early rock legend Dion DiMucci – is the closest thing to  Willie Nile here. Ambel takes over the vocals on Me & the Lord Blues, an evil, slinky, slow-burning tune that builds to a sunbaked Ron Asheton-like wah guitar solo.

The low-key but catchy Letter (Unmailed) sways along with a hint of Tex-Mex and a subtle reference to the Church, followed by You Can Make a Mistake One Time, which has the feel of an oldtime chain gang song set to raw, electric rock, Ambel getting a rare opportunty to cut loose for more than a couple of bars and making the most of it, Funaro’s snare drum like a sniper in the dark.

Silverlake evokes Steve Wynn with Kempner’s  brooding lyric – “It’s just a matter of trying, it’s just a matter of crying, it’s just a matter of lying to yourself” – and forceful, jangly tune. The album winds up with a take of Neil Young’s Southern Pacific – the best song from the 1981 Reactor album – which turns out to be a lot more sonically diverse than the original while maintaining an angry mood all the way through. Considering that it’s told from the point of view of a guy who worked his whole life only to get laid off, it’s an apt way to wind up an album released in these new depression days. It’s inspiring to see a bunch of guys who’ve been going as long as these guys have continuing to put out music that’s as vital and entertaining as what they were doing almost three decades ago.

The 30 Best New York Concerts of 2012

Of all the end-of-the-year lists here, this is the most fun to put together. It’s the most individual – everybody’s got a different one.  Last year’s list had 26 shows; this year’s was impossible to whittle down to less than 30. What was frustrating was looking back and realizing how many other great shows there were. Erica Smith, Rebecca Turner, Love Camp 7 and Pinataland all on the same bill at the Parkside? The club didn’t list it on their calendar. Neil Young in Central Park? Completely spaced out on that one. Pierre de Gaillande’s Georges Brassens translation project, Les Chauds Lapins and Raya Brass Band at that place in Tribeca in January? That night conflicted with Winter Jazzfest. The Brooklyn What at Littlefield, Rachelle Garniez at Barbes, Ward White and Abby Travis at Rock Shop, Spanglish Fly at SOB’s…all of those conflicted with having a life. But it was still a great year, arguably better than 2011.

Of all the multiple-act bills, the longest marathon, and arguably most exhilarating show of the year was Maqamfest on January 6 at Alwan for the Arts downtown with slinky Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat, haunting vintage Greek rembetiko oud band Maeandros, torchy Syrian chanteuse Gaida, rustic Iraqi classicists Safaafir, deviously intense Palestinian buzuq funk band Shusmo and then a crazy Middle Eastern jam with the brilliant Alwan All-Stars. Maqamfest 2013 promises to be just as good.

Rather than trying to rank the rest of these shows, they’re listed chronologically:

Walter Ego at Otto’s, 1/28/12 – the witty, brilliantly lyrical multi- instrumentalist/songwriter, minus his usual theatrical shtick, instead running through one clever, pun-infused, catchy song after another.

Eva Salina at the Ukrainian National Home, 3/31/12 – this was the debut performance of brilliant Balkan chanteuse Eva Salina Primack’s new band with Frank London on trumpet and Patrick Farrell on accordion. She swayed, lost in the music and sang her heart out in a bunch of different languages over the haunting pulse behind her.

Closing night at Lakeside Lounge, 4/30/12 with co-owner Eric Ambel’s Roscoe Trio, Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith’s band, Mary Lee Kortes, Boo Reiners from Demolition String Band, Charlene McPherson from Spanking Charlene and many others giving the legendary East Village rock venue a mighty sendoff.

Little Annie, Paul Wallfisch and David J at the Delancey, 5/7/12 – the smoky, sureallistically hilarious noir cabaret chanteuse, Botanica’s brilliant keyboardist playing three sets, and the legendary Bauhaus bassist/songwriter/playwright at the top of their brooding noir game.

Ben Von Wildenhaus at Zebulon, 5/14/12 – at one of his final shows before leaving town, the noir guitarist played solo through a loop pedal and turned the club into a set from Twin Peaks.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices at Otto’s,  6/16/12 – backed by the ferocious piano of Patrick McLellan, Tommy Hochscheid’s classic Stax/Volt guitar attack and a swinging rhythm section, the NYC noir rock legend careened through a politically-charged set of songs from his reportedly phenomenal forthcoming 2013 album.

Black Sea Hotel in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, 6/17/12 – the trio of Willa Roberts, Corinna Snyder and Sarah Small sang their own otherworldly, hypnotic a-cappella arrangements of surreal Bulgarian folk songs from across the centuries, their voices hauntingly echoing in the cavernous space of an old synagogue.

Veveritse Brass Band at Barbes, 6/28/12 – over the absolutely psychedelic, bubbly pulse of the trubas, this ten-piece Balkan jam band burned and roared and turned the club’s back room into a cauldron of menacing chromatics and minor keys.

Kotorino at Joe’s Pub, 6/29/12 – transcending a series of snafus with the sound system, the lush, artsy chamber-steampunk band evoked other countries and other centuries throughout a set that was as jaunty and fun as it was haunting.

Aaron Blount of Knife in the Water with Jack Martin from Dimestore Dance Band at Zirzamin, 7/9/12  – although the two hadn’t rehearsed, Martin evoked the ghost of Django Reinhardt against the reverb cloud swirling from Blount’s guitar amp, through a mix of moody, gloomy southwestern gothic songs.

Magges at Athens Square Park in Astoria, 7/10/12 – the Greek psychedelic rockers played a long show of spiky, often haunting songs spiced with Susan Mitchell’s soaring electric violin and Kyriakos Metaxas’ sizzling electric bouzouki – it seemed that the whole neighborhood stuck around for most of it. Too bad there wasn’t any ouzo.

Neko Case out back of the World Financial Center, 7/12/12 – the stage monitors weren’t working, which messed up opening act Charles Bradley’s set, but Case, Kelly Hogan and the rest of the band didn’t let it phase them, switching up their set list and playing a raw, intense set of noir Americana.

Niyaz at Drom, 7/22/12 – a  long, mesmerizing cd release show by the artsy Canadian-Persian dance/trance ensemble, frontwoman Azam Ali slowly and elegantly raising the energy from suspenseful to ecstatic as it went on.

Dimestore Dance Band at Zirzamin, 7/23/12 – since reviving this group, guitarist Jack Martin has become even more powerful, more offhandedly savage and intense than he was when he was leading them back in the mid-zeros when this witty yet plaintive gypsy/ragtime/jazz band was one of the finest acts in the Tonic scene. This show was a welcome return.

The Secret Trio, Ilhan Ersahin and Selda Bagcan at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 7/28/12 – the annual “Turkish Woodstock” began with short sets of haunting classical instrumentals, psychedelic jazz and then the American debut of the legendary psychedelic rock firebrand and freedom fighter whose pro-democracy activism landed her in jail at one point.

Bettye LaVette at Madison Square Park, 8/8/12 – the charismatic underground soul legend took songs from acts as diverse as George Jones, Paul McCartney and Sinead O’Connor and made them wrenchingly her own, a portrait of endless struggle followed finally by transcendence.

Bombay Rickey at Barbes, 8/11/12 – jaunty, jangly, surfy , psychedelic Bollywood rock fun, with guitar, accordion and frontwoman Kamala Sankaram’s amazing operatic vocals.

Daniel Kahn & the  Painted Bird at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 8/12/12 – grim, politically spot-on, lyrically brilliant klezmer-rock songwriting from the Berlin-based bandleader backed by an inspired New York pickup group.

Ulrich Ziegler at Barbes, 8/17/12 – of all the single-band shows, this was the year’s most intense, over an hour of eerie. reverb-driven noir cinematic instrumentals from genius guitarist Stephen Ulrich and his inspired colleague Itamar Ziegler, celebrating the release of the album rated best of 2012 here.

The Byzan-Tones at Zebulon, 8/22/12 – the recently resurrected Greek psychedelic surf rockers traded in the electric oud for Steve Antonakos’ lead guitar, and the result sent the haunting, Middle Eastern-fueled energy through the roof.

J O’Brien and Beninghove’s Hangmen at Zirzamin, 9/10/12 – a fascinatingly lyrical, characteristically witty set, solo on twelve-string guitar, by the former Dog Show frontman followed by New York’s best noir soundtrack jazz band at their most intense and psychedelic.

The Strawbs at B.B. King’s, 9/11/12 – it’s amazing how almost 45 years after the psychedelic/Britfolk/art-rock band began, they still sound strong, their lyrical anthems still resonant even in a stripped-down acoustic trio setting.

Sam Llanas at Zirzamin, 9/11/12 – rushing downtown to catch a solo show by the former BoDeans frontman paid off with a riveting, haunting set of brooding, austerely nocturnal songs, especially when J O’Brien joined him on bass.

Sex Mob at the World Financial Center, 9/27/12 – the downtown jazz legends got the atrium echoing with a hypnotic, absolutely menacing set of classic Nino Rota film themes – and they didn’t even play the Godfather.

Julia Haltigan at 11th St. Bar, 10/2/12 – the eclectic southwestern gothic/Americana/soul siren and songwriter at the top of her torchy, sultry, intense game, backed by a brilliant, jazzy band.

M Shanghai String Band‘s cd release show at the Jalopy, 10/5/12 – an hour of cameos from too many New York Americana luminaries to name, followed by two long sets from the massive oldschool string band, moving energetically from bluegrass, to Appalachian, to sea chanteys, gypsy sounds and Britfolk, sometimes fiery and intense, sometimes hilarious.

Theo Bleckmann backed by ACME, crooning Phil Kline song cycles at BAM, 10/25/12 – this was the premiere of Kline’s lushly enveloping chamber-rock arrangements of his acerbically hilarious Rumsfeld Songs, his eclectic Vietnam-themed Zippo Songs and his brand-new, luridly haunting new Sinatra-inspired cycle, Out Cold.

The Arturo O’Farrill Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra at Symphony Space, 11/2/12 – in the wake of the hurricane, O’Farrill decided to put on a couple of free concerts to lift peoples’ spirits. This was the first and better of the two nights, the brilliant latin big band pianist joined by special guests including Anat Cohen, Sex Mob’s Steven Bernstein, Rafi Malkiel and Larry Harlow, playing long, broodingly intense, towering themes, many of them based on classic Jewish melodies.

Katie Elevitch at Zirzamin, 12/16/12  – goes to show that you can’t really count the year’s best concerts until the year’s almost over. Backed by her fantastic four-piece band, the haunting, intense rock siren improvised lyrics, roared, whispered and seduced the crowd in the plush space with her voice and her achingly soul-inspired songwriting.