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Tag: Eric Heywood

Caitlin Canty Joins a Richly Tuneful, Edgy Americana Bill with Jeffrey Foucault at Subculture

Running a music blog is fun. That’s why we do it. But once the whole world starts watching, there are hiccups. The first thing that hits you is that everybody wants attention, but a whole lot of people aren’t willing to reciprocate. For example, there was this amazing Indian singer doing Pakistani ghazals, backed by this awesome Malian rock band, whose previous album got a rave review here. She’s got an album release show coming up very soon. But she she hides her music behind a paywall.

Then there’s this haphazardly fun Israeli guitarist who has a money gig in a lame indie rock band, but whose original material is completely different, and totally kicks ass. Unfortunately, his show on the south side of Williamsburg got cancelled…or the tourist trap he was scheduled to play at cancelled on him. Probably the latter: “Dude, you didn’t sell enough online tickets to yuppie Jersey parents, or parents of the Minnesota transplants who play here, so we’re cancelling your gig in favor of a Justin Bieber cover band.” This is Notbrooklyn, 2015.

So what do the other eight million of us have to look forward to this weekend? How about a killer doublebill on Feb 22 at Subculture at 8 PM with powerfully lyrical Americana songwriters Caitlin Canty and Jeffrey Foucault, and $18 advance tix, which you should scramble to get if you don’t already have them?

Foucault is a standard bearer of the Faulknerian southern folk rock of John Prine and Steve Earle, both of whom are obvious influences. Canty has a relatively new album, Reckless Skyline, streaming at Bandcamp, epically and puristically produced live in the studio by Foucault, which gives you a good indication of what kind of level she’s elevated her game to lately. The apocalyptic shuffle that opens the album, anchored by Eric Heywood’s eerily keening pedal steel, encourages an unnamed freedom fighter to burn his or her photographs: “No rest or time to run to cover,” Canty insists.

She looks back to a pre-spycam era with the warm, gorgeously layered True, a classic 60s soul ballad: “How can I belong to you, and belong to me, once I saw the fear?” she entreats, even as the guitar multitracks rise to a lush, enveloping sonic quilt.

One Man is a hypnotically enticing, entrancing electric blues number, Matt Lorenz’s snarling lead guitar over Jeremy Moses’ resonant bass and Billy Conway’s hard-hitting drums. My Love For You Will Not Fade evokes Tift Merritt at her most summery and sultry: “The pen is only at the paper, the ink aches for the page,” Canty insists, cool and strong.

The Brightest Day hits an explosive, gorgeously burning peak fueled equally by blue-flame guitars and vocals, Canty cutting off the end of her vocal lines to underscore the doom in the lyrics. Then she hits a simmering minor-key intensity with the bitter kiss-off shuffle Enough About Hard Times and keeps it going with the otherworldly, spacious, bluesy menace of Wore Your Ring: “I wore your ring til the stone fell out,” Canty intones, nonchalant but savage.

The hard-swinging My Baby Don’t Care hits a bitter, growling gutter blues groove, followed by the more optimistic, expansive blue-collar anthem Southern Man (an original, not the Neil Young classic). “Never hit dry land or the sky,” Canty intones cynically on the gorgeously low-key Nashville gothic anthem I Never. “Can you keep the pain out, only let in the breeze? Gonna leave the door open, only lets in all the leaves,” she laments.

The album ends up with an otherworldly, ethereal cover of the Neil Young cult classic Unknown Legend and then the roughhewn Cold Habit, a showcase for Canty’s flinty, restless, unselfconsciously wounded vocals. This is a deep album that offers deeper insights with repeated listening, and knowing how intense Canty is onstage, should translate even better up there. Stephen King, if you ever need someone to sing a soundtrack, here she is.

Tift Merritt and Eric Heywood Play Intimate, Gorgeous Existentialist Americana at Lincoln Center

The last time Tift Merritt played a hometown show, she sold out Rough Trade in Williamsburg. Thursday night at the Lincoln Center Atrium, the seats were full, and there were plenty of people lined along the wall toward Columbus Avenue watching her take a break from the ongoing Andrew Bird tour for a rare duo show with guitar genius Eric Heywood. Where was everybody else? For most people in this city, Lincoln Center is a lot easier to get to than Williamsburg.

Whatever the case, the show was in a lot of ways a reprise of Emmylou Harris’ concert across the street the previous night. Where that one was a launching pad for innumerable, soulful, intense solos from guitarist Jedd Hughes and pedal steel player Steve Fishell, this one gave Heywood a platform for his purist, incisive, similarly lyrical chops, on both pedal steel and acoustic guitar. It helped that he had Merritt’s equally intense, tuneful songs to play those solos on.

Merritt has never sung better, varying her delivery from the angst-ridden, throaty chirp she’s been relying on over the last few years, to every possible shade of crystalline and clear. Midway through the show, she and Heywood moved to a central mic, then backed away from it and the volume actually rose as Merritt leaned back and belted. Admitting to being especially wired on caffeine, she made good on a promise to chat up the crowd. Some of her banter coyly hinted at background on her vivid yet enigmatic storytelling. She explained how the friend whose North Carolina beach house Merritt had rented had misidentified herself in one particular balmy, summery number. And Spring, Merritt’s hauntingly insistent anthem about living at peak intensity (this one lit up by Heywood’s creepy, smoky pedal steel) turned out to be inspired by the tree outside Merritt’s apartment window. But her most revealing comment was that “no song is about any one thing,” which capsulizes her m.o. as a writer.

Sweet Spot revealed itself not as a love song but as an individualist’s forlorn lament, longing for an escape to where she can be finally be herself. Moving to the piano, Merritt described Small Town Relations as “vicious,” and sang that portrait of smalltown nosiness with a dismissive vengefulness that hit a cruel, whispery sneer on the final verse while Heywood matched her simmering rage line for line. Later on, he colored the all-acoustic songs with elegant flatpicking, tersely bending leads that mirrored his work on the steel, and even flickering Pat Metheny-esque pastoral colors on a hypnotic, vamping number toward the end of the set. Merritt sent a graceful, Aimee Mann-tinged shout-out to buskers with one anthem, weighed existential angst versus contentment on Traveling Alone and Still Not Home, hit a plaintive, wistful peak early on in a raptly gorgeous take of Feel of the World and encored with a quietly triumphant version of Feeling of Beauty. Merritt and Heywood have since returned to the Andrew Bird tour (which, judging from their Central Park Summerstage show in late June, is amazing); the remaining dates are here.

Jeffrey Foucault Brings His Dark Lyrical Americana to the Rockwood

On one hand, Jeffrey Foucault is the type of songwriter you see on Mountain Stage. He pretty much lives on the road, playing respectably midsize venues, something he’s been doing for the better part of ten years. But his moody, mostly slow-to-midtempo songs are a lot smarter and more interesting than most of what’s passing up and down the Americana highway. As befalls most songwriters who take their lyrics seriously these days, his twangy rock is heavily infused with country and blues, in the same vein as Steve Earle or James McMurtry. But where McMurtry will wind a yarn, Foucault spins off one image after another; where Earle heads for the country, Foucault goes off into growling Neil Young territory. He’s playing the big room at the Rockwood on March 5 at 7 PM on an intriguing doublebill with another lyrically-inclined Americana guy, Peter Mulvey.

Foucault’s most recent album Horse Latitudes doesn’t sound anything like the Doors, nor does it have artwork by Turner. Recorded in a whirlwind three-day session, it has some absolutely brilliant playing from an all-star cast: the ubiquitous Eric Heywood on pedal steel and lead guitar, Morphine’s Billy Conway on drums, Jennifer Condos on bass, and Van Dyke Parks, of all people, on keyboards.

The title track opens on a slowly swaying, dusky note  anchored by fingerpicked guitar and Conway’s meticulously ominous, boomy rhythm, with a simmering Heywood pedal steel crescendo on the way out. Foucault drawls a litany of doomed, surreal imagery:

Singing into the belly of a whale
Leviathan’s ribs, a drowning jail
The desert at the bottom of the sea
The devil with his finger on the scale

Pretty Girl in A Small Town makes it clear that Foucault spent some time listening to Nirvana at some point: “You used to walk to get away, there was nowhere you could stay,” begins this chronicle of frustration and isolation, themes that recur throughout his work. Starlight and Static sways moodily as Foucault eulogizes a nameless rocker he felt a kinship to: “They all thought they knew you, and I wanted no one to know me too.” He follows the bleakly skeletal acoustic vignette Heart to the Husk with the brooding nocturne Last Night I Dreamed of Television, with more Turner imagery over  marvelously stygian drumming.

Goners Most evokes Richard Buckner at his most minimalist as Foucault memorializes a teenage romance that never had a prayer. Everybody’s Famous contrasts Parks’ surrealist organ with Heywood’s casual savagery: with its enigmatic, Leonard Cohen-esque anger, it’s the best song on the album :

Everybody knows it, they saw your billboard in the rain
They heard your mama crying and you forgot your own real name
And she voted for your heartbreak and she smiled at your shame
Everybody’s famous
Everyone’s the same

Idaho paints a wintry tableau as Heywood’s steel sizzles and burns; then, on Passerines, Foucault juxtaposes considerably more ominous imagery over a slow, minor-key Tonight’s the Night groove. The album ends with the gently fingerpicked two-guitar reminiscence Tea and Tobacco and the unexpectedly upbeat, honkytonk-flavored road song Real Love. Foucault’s popularity is a welcome reminder that there’s still a sizeable audience for low-key, lyrically-driven rock that requires close listening. It also raises the question of how many other Jeffrey Foucaults there might be out there, battling their demons in song and pondering where the hell they’ll get the money to go out there on the road so they never have to come back.

Elegantly Pensive, Purist Americana Songwriting from Susan James

Concept album about a breakup: what springs to mind? Cliche after cliche from some self-absorbed singer-songwriter? Cheesy, weepy lyrics and wimpy acoustic guitars? Something you’d most likely click off in a nanosecond? In that case, it might be dangerous to let you know that Susan James‘ new album Driving Toward the Sun is a concept album about a nasty breakup. Then again, an element of danger, emotional or otherwise, is a frequent presence in James’ music. If depth and intensity and a lush mix of both oldschool and alt-country and elegant chamber pop are your thing, there’s plenty of all that here. The whole album is streaming at James’ Bandcamp page.

The title pretty much says it all: it cuts any way you might imagine, and it gives you a clear indication of how smartly James writes and sings. Her imagery is plainspoken but potent, her clear, uncluttered, direct voice unselfconsciously affecting. James hails from Los Angeles, and there are a ton of musicians backing her. Notable among them are brilliant, ubiquitous pedal steel player Eric Heywood, purist drummer and Amy Allison collaborator Don Heffington and guitarist Neal Casal, whose terse, bitingly incisive leads cut through the lush bed of acoustic rhythm and soaring steel lines, usually over a steady, resolute backbeat. James’ songs evoke both the pensive Americana purism of Tift Merrritt as well as the clarity and edgy, confrontational directness of Penelope Houston. Tom Petty producer Ryan Ulyate deserves a shout-out as well for fleshing out these songs with a rich mix of textures without falling back on any easy 70s pop or 21st century corporate cliches: it sounds like the record he always wanted to make if left to his own devices.

The pensive title track has a Merritt-like determination in the face of adversity: the way Heywood’s floating steel contrasts with Jason Chesney’s anxious bass solo as it kicks off the final chorus is a characteristically smart, subtle touch. Wandering, a brisk, bluegrass-tinged shuffle is more optimistic: James’ protagonist has a “compass for a heart and a pickaxe mind” and isn’t about to let anybody get in the way.

Aqua Dulce Tears is sort of a schlock-free take on what Linda Ronstadt was doing in the 70s, Casal’s terse, echoey leads foreshadowing James’ chronicle of disappointment and dissolution. Just from the title, you know where U-Haul in the Driveway is going, but it’s bittersweet rather than maudlin, gorgeously flavored with Heywood’s low, moody swells, mandolin and a clave backbeat.

Despite all the pain, all the miscommunication, James is not ready to pack it in: “Any fool can see, I’ll be here come next anniversary,” she intones quietly on the next track: “I wanna scream and shout…quiet, the kids are in the room.” The slow, jangly ballad House of Love has both the tersely poetic sensibility and catchiness of Mary Lee Kortes‘ recent work, not to mention James’ nonchalantly chilling vocals. John McDuffie’s neat twelve-string guitar break toward the end sheds a little light that you just know is going to disappear, and it does.

The closest thing here to Penelepe Houston is Tule Fog, especially as the wickedly catchy, metaphorically-charged chorus kicks in: “When the the Tule fog comes rolling in, it’s a dangerous road my friend, when you can’t see around you…”  The album ends with Mission Bells, up with a spash of cymbals, twin acoustic guitars, a wash of pedal steel in the background. It’s both a requiem for lost hopes as well as a tentative stab in an opposite direction: the Eagles only wish they had material like this to use to connect with a current-day audience. This is the rare album that will resonate with people who are looking for substance and depth as well as listeners who will never hear this as anything more than something pleasant in the background.