New York Music Daily

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Tag: folk-pop

Everybody’s Favorite Americana Harmony Trio, Red Molly, Make a Triumphant Return to City Winery

Is there another Americana band with as individualistic and spine-tingling a blend of voices as Red Molly? Actually yes – Bobtown, who played the Brooklyn Americana Festival on Saturday. More about them later.

Red Molly’s first New York show in two years last night at City Winery was epic. The harmony trio of dobro player Abbie Gardner, guitarists Molly Venter and Laurie MacAllister really give you a lot of bang for your buck. In two long sets, bolstered by bassist Craig Akin and Roosevelt Dime guitarist/percussionist Eben Pariser, they played a wickedly fun, dynamic mix of originals and a bunch of choice covers.

Each group member has a solo album in progress: MacAllister fretted about how the trio would be able to “shoehorn the songs into a Red Molly show,” but everything worked seamlessly. As usual, the women took turns on lead vocals, often in the same number. Venter took centerstage on one of the best of the new songs, Cold Black Water, a portrait of an indomitable single mother making a new start on the rugged Oregon coast, rising from an enigmatic, quiet suspense on the verse to a ferociously anthemic payoff on the chorus. Another standout was a hauntingly muted ballad by Gardner, told from the point of view of a war veteran’s wife who’s watching her wounded warrior trying to keep himself together.

And the voices were sublime. Gardner has jazz bloodlines and Venter is a connoisseur of Texas Americana, with blue notes peeking out from every secret corner. MacAllister contrasts with a disarmingly direct delivery. And while there was plenty of the usual banter between the group and what seemed to be a sold-out crowd, MacAllister came across as the ringleader in this merry band. Introducing a rousing number inspired by a gig in Alaska that wound up with a dude in the crowd throwing a taxidermied fox onto the stage, she related how, for a woman in a state with a gender imbalance, “The odds were good, but the goods were odd.”

The best song of the night was When It’s All Wrong. Gardner’s dobro slid and slithered through every macabre passing tone in the scale as her voice channeled a bitterness and menace that Lana Del Rey and all the other wannabe noir pinups would die to have written.                   

The covers were choice, beginning with the famous Richard Thompson tune from which they take their name. Gardner drew lots of chuckles with a sly little dobro lick on the intro to Crazy, which Venter sang with a nuance that would have made Patsy Cline proud. The three-part harmonies, backed by just bass, on The Fever were a lot of fun, while the group’s most calmly rapturous moment was their a-capella take of their original May I Suggest. As long as Red Molly are still together and touring – something that didn’t seem likely a couple of years ago – maybe, despite the madmen in the White House, we are truly living in the best years of our lives. The darkest times sometimes produce the greatest art. Red Molly’s current tour continues on Oct 6 at at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, CA; advance tix are $25.

Next month is a particularly good one at City Winery, Just for starters, Willie Nile – the world’s most obvious choice to sing Dylan – does that on the 10th at 8 PM: tix are expensive, $30, but this could be an awful lot of fun. And then there’s a killer twinbill on the 15th at 8 with blue-eyed soulstress and fiery guitarslinger Miss Tess followed by one of the great songwriters in noir Americana, Eilen Jewell, for $20.

And Gardner has a solo show at Pete’s on Oct 17 at 8:30 PM

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A Rare Brooklyn Show and a New Record From the Great Aimee Mann

You know that voice: cool, reserved, minutely nuanced. You know those melancholy major/minor changes and Beatlesque melodies. You know that withering cynicism, that jaundiced eye, those double entendres you wish you’d written. If you don’t, Aimee Mann’s latest album Mental Illness is as good a place to start as any. Not bad for somebody who’s been making music since the 80s.

She doesn’t play Brooklyn a lot – although she did record a live DVD there. A future daily New York music blog owner brought a date to that one, at St. Ann’s Warehouse in the summer of 2004. The date didn’t go anywhere – Mann probably would have seen that coming a mile away. Or maybe she’d say it was just as well.

Believe it or not, you can bring a date to see Mann in Brooklyn, because for some reason her June 26 show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg isn’t sold out as of today. Which is even crazier since fellow cynic, Silicon Valley satirist/songwriter Jonathan Coulton is opening the night at 8. It won’t be a cheap date since general admission is $35 –  in order to avoid the embarrassment of spending even more you’re going to have to pick up your tickets at the cash table at the Mercury Lounge before 7 PM on a weeknight. But it could be worth it.

The new album came out earlier this year and is streaming at Spotify. Even by Mann’s standards, it’s a subdued, gloomy affair. It’s mostly acoustic. Mann plays guitar and bass, Jamie Edwards filling the Jon Brion role on keys and guitar, with Jay Bellerose on drums and longtime sideman Paul Bryan on bass along with a lavish string section that gives this album genuinely epic grandeur in places.

The opening track, Goose Snow Cone paints a bleak, wintry chamber-pop picture of holding on by one’s fingernails. “Always melt at the feet of the devil I know,” Mann laments. “I just wanted a place but I ended up gone.” There are more drug metaphors here than on any Mann album since 2002’s iconic Lost in Space.

The  stately, waltzing Stuck in the Past, with its major/minor Beatles changes, is classic Mann, Richard Dodd’s stark cello rising to take centerstage: “Like drawing rings around Saturn,  a shadow is cast, but now it falls a pattern.” Another waltz, You Never Loved Me is all the more disconsolate for how sparse and direct it is: the tumbling Spectorian drums as the song winds out are an apt touch

Rollercoasters, a slowly swaying, fingerpicked ballad awash in fairground images, is one of the great drug songs ever, and maybe the best one on the album. White powder isn’t something Ward White has ever written about, but if he did, the song might sound like this.

Slow and lush, heavy like a thunderstorm, Lies of Summer doesn’t reveal whether the narrator is addressing a prisoner or a dead person until the very end:

Saw you at the fall
Picture on a closed circuit
Boy you lost it all it
Thinking you could rework it

The dancing string arrangement can’t mask the wrath in the art-rock anthem Patient Zero – consider,  just for starters, what that title implies.

News filtered over the transom
That a villain ended up with a part
You paid your respects like a ransom
To a role that was doomed from the start

The title Good for Me, with its shivery ELO stings, is sarcastic – of course, right? It’s about self-deception:. “What a waste of a smoke machine,” Mann intones, and then immediately launches into a litany of powder drug metaphors. She follows it with Knock It Off, a kiss-off anthem and the album’s most opaque number.

Mann revisits the doomed boxing imagery she worked so inimitably on 2005’s The Forgotten Arm in Philly Sinks, yet another waltz. Then she picks up the pace – just a little – with Simple Fix. Three guesses as to what this one’s about. After all this pain, you can hardly blame her for setting her sights on “prizes of adrenaline.”

The album winds up on a catchy and surprisingly simple note with Poor Judge (as in “my heart is a poor judge”). If Magnolia is Mann’s commonly acknowledged masterpiece and Lost in Space a less common one, this is in the same league.. You’ll see it on the best albums of 2017 page along with recent releases by Ran Blake and Dominique Eade, Alice Lee and Ward White.

Rachael Kilgour’s New Album Transcends Trauma

Rachael Kilgour is the rare artist who sounds perfectly good in the studio, but onstage takes her formidable vocal skills to a level that few singers even attempt, let alone reach. Her Lincoln Center show last year was absolutely shattering. She cried during one of that evening’s saddest songs – that’s how deeply she inhabits her characters. And she’s hilarious, too: few songwriters can be so much fun, and so insightful, pillorying rightwing hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance.

But most of the material at that show wasn’t the political satire she’s best known for. The majority of the set was Americana ballads from her latest album Rabbit in the Road, streaming at her webpage. She’s bringing that harrowingly melismatic voice and alternately plaintive and biting tunesmithing to a couple of New York shows this month. On May 12 at 7 PM she’s at the Commons Cafe, 388 Atlantic Ave.in Cobble Hill; take any train to Atlantic Ave; The following night at 8, she’s at Caffe Vivaldi preceded at 7 by another eclectic songwriter with a sense of humor, Orly Bendavid & the Mona Dahls.

And now that you know how ferociously political Kilgour’s previous output is, now’s the time to tell you that her latest release is far more personal. It’s a breakup album.

Aie aie aie.

Michael Franti used to write brilliant political songs and raps back in the day. Then he decided that schlocky top 40 love ballads were his thing – and fell off the map. Paul Weller once fronted one of the best and most political punk rock bands ever, the Jam…and never wrote a song worth hearing after they broke up. Did Kilgour run out of gas too?

As it turns out, no. Her lyrics on the new album can be just as incisive and edgy, and she can still write a catchy hook and an anthemic chorus with the best of them. It’s just her focus that’s changed direction. It seems that Kilgour got blindsided in a particularly messy divorce. She’s been outspoken about how she wants to break down the barriers between audience and performer, and that she sees the new material as being therapeutic for both sides of that equation.

So it’s comforting on more than one level that she’s succeeded at what she wanted to achieve: this is the rare heartbreak narrative that doesn’t come across as mawkish or cliched. The album opens with a soul-tinged, somewhat stunned miniature that sets the stage. Deep Bruises is where the shock sinks in, Kilgour trying to talk herself through an endless cycle of despair: It’s the one song that best evokes her soaring, Orbison-esque angst when she slides up to a note to drive a chorus home. Steve Wynn’s Tears Won’t Help You Now is a good point of comparison.

Ready Freddie is the ballad that Kilgour had the hardest time getting through at the Lincoln Center gig. It’s an attempt to cheer up her adopted daughter, someone she’s obviously close to and missed terribly when she wrote it. it’s a theme she revisits almost as fervently later on the record. By contrast, Up From Down is a kiss-off anthem, if a muted one, set to a pleasant if innocuous full-band folk-pop arrangement.

Anger rises in Still My Wife, the homey imagery that Kilgour opens with giving way to a cheating tale straight out of a classic country ballad. The dismissive patronizing title track is songwriter vengeance at its most subtle and satisfying: in case you haven’t already figured it out, never, EVER mess with one, they always get even in the end

Don’t Need Anyone echoes the defiance of Kilgour’s political work as much as her vocals echo Neko Case. “You think I need a lover to save me from my grief? I don’t need distractions, I don’t need your second hand relief,” she insists. Likewise, Hit By a Bus balances mixed feelings with vindictiveness: guess which one wins.

Kilgour has had great fun mocking Christian extremists (some people mistake her for a born-again because they don’t get the joke). So I Pray might seem like quite a departure, but it’s a wish, rather than a call to some patriarchal force, and a launching pad for vocal pyrotechnics in a live setting. Even here, Kilgour can’t resist a delicious dig: “I pray, to no one in particular, that they’ll help you find your way.” The album’s concluding cut, Break Wide Open is the only place where it feels overproduced: it doesn’t really add anything. Needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see what direction Kilgour goes in after this. We could use her stiletto wit and inclusive vision right about now.  

Sofia Talvik Brings Her Poignantly Original Americana to Manhattan

One of the most distinctively memorable Americana albums of recent years was made by a tirelessly touring, talented Swedish songwriter. Sofia Talvik‘s next New York show is at Scandinavia House at 58 Park Ave, south of 38th St., at 8 PM on April 27. Cover is $15. The following night, April 28, she’s playing Lara Ewen’s prestigious Free Music Fridays series at the American Folk Art Museum at 5:30 PM.

Talvik’s 2015 album Big Sky Country – streaming at her music page – couldn’t be more aptly titled. Its wide expanses and purist, rustic playing explore themes of regret, disillusion, guarded hope. Talvik has obviously drunk deeply at the well of American and British folk music, adding her own fresh, distinctive voice to the tradition.

The album’s opening track, Aha-Aha is a more wide-angle take on the kind of open-tuned original Britfolk that groups like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention were doing in the early 70s, lushly arranged but tersely played by Talvik and dobro player Marcus Högquist, bassist Janne Manninen, and drummer Joakim Lundgren.”It’ll make you stronger, take a deep breath now,” Talvik encourages, airy and pensive. She does the same with an American bluegrass shuffle, Fairground, later on.

Driven by John Bullard’s banjo, the towering, waltzing title cut, a band-on-the-run anthem, is absolutely gorgeous. it wouldn’t be out of place in the Hungrytown songbook:

I left my heart in a dirty old bar
Laramie, Wyoming, I slept in my car

Burning dobro and spare banjo pair off with Mathis Richter-Reichhelm’s violin at the center in Dusty Heart, Empty Hand, a wistful Nashville gothic tale of abandonment. The album’s most riveting and most parlor pop-oriented cut is Lullaby, a distantly elegaic waltz. “It’s summer and everything is beautiful, still you wish you were dead,” Talvik intones in her precise, clipped delivery.

Bonfire has echoes of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, although it’s a lot more brisk. Talvik’s bright, lilting vocals downplay the sober lyrics of the banjo waltz Jasmine, Rose & Sage. Jozsef Nemeth’s piano ripples uneasily in tandem with David Floer’s cello in the late-Beatlesque ballad Give Me a Home, building to an understatedly windswept, orchestrated crescendo. The album winds up on an optimistic note with the airy love ballad So. There’s also a cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s American Indian freak-folk tune Starwalker. It’ll be interesting to see what else Talvik has come up with since this came out.

Rachael Kilgour’s Soaring Lyrical Brilliance Holds a Lincoln Center Crowd Rapt

“This is satire,” Rachael Kilgour grinned as she launched into He’ll Save Me, the spot-on, searingly funny centerpiece of her most recent ep, Whistleblower’s Manifesto: Songs for a New Revolution, at her headline debut earlier this month at Lincoln Center .She explained that there have been instances where booking agents heard snippets of her music and passed on her, thinking that she was a Christian songwriter. Testament to the power of that satire.

“Mothers on welfare? Healthcare? Don’t you think I know better than to hand out rewards to sinners?” she sang as laughter broke out everywhere. And the punchline,“I know I’ll get my way, when it comes to Judgment Day,” was as subtly sinister as Kilgour possibly could have made it. Considering that she was following a brief performance by a generic folkie from Philadelphia whose own brand of corporate Prosperity Christianity that song lampoons, it made even more of an impact. It’s hard to think of a more deliciously subversive moment on any midtown Manhattan stage in 2016.

.While there are echoes of both Tift Merritt and Loretta Lynn in Kilgour’s resonant, nuanced mezzo-soprano, the closest comparison is Roy Orbison: Kilgour soars upward into the same kind of otherworldly, angst-ridden melismas. And she has the material to match that transcendent voice. The ache and anguish as she hit the chorus of Round and Round – which she sang a-cappella at the end, to drive it home – held the crowd rapt. Likewise, I Pray, a tender wish song for a lost soul, gave Kilgour a platform to swoop up into her most Orbisonesque chorus. Later she went back to simmeringly savage mode for a number that was ostensibly about forgiveness but turned out to be more of a kiss-off anthem. And In America, another satirical one where she finally dropped the smiley-faced Republican ingenue act for reality, drew the night’s most applause.

The two most heartwrenching numbers were dedicated to her stepdaughter. Kilgour herself teared up during the first one, and by the time she was done, there probably wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. Kilgour explained that she’d gone through a divorce a couple of years ago, “And that sucked!” She related how her earlier material has a populist, global focus, and that writing herself through the pain was a new experience, one that she’s still getting used to. Kilgour wants to break down the barriers between performer and audience, which harks back to a hallowed folk music tradition, where pretty much everybody in the village was in the band. Ultimately, that leads to the kind of community-building Kilgour has focused on thus far in her relatively young career.

In context, the gallows humor of the catchy, swaying Will You Marry Me took on new and unintentionally ironic resonance. The rest of the set mixed low-key, simmering ballads with the kind of anthemic acoustic rock Kilgour does so well, many of the numbers drawn from her brand-new album Rabbit in the Road.

These free Lincoln Center Atrium shows, as the space’s program director, Jordana Phokompe explained beforehand, are designed to offer something for everyone. And she’s right – they do. Tonight’s performance at 7:30 PM features ecstatically fun Colombian-American psychedelic cumbia band MAKU Soundsystem. Considering how well their previous Lincoln Center performances have drawn, you should get to the space on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd early if you’re going.

Sharon Goldman’s Brave New Art-Rock Album Weighs the Richness and Gravitas of Jewish Heritage

Since the early zeros, Sharon Goldman has made a name for herself as one of the world’s great tunesmiths. Although she sometimes gets pigeonholed as a folksinger, and she plays that circuit, her music has always had more of a classic pop sensibility. The Brill Building and the 80s – think, Elvis Costello – are frequent reference points. Until now. Goldman’s new album Kol Isha – A Woman’s Voice (streaming at Spotify) finds her going deeper into art-rock, as well as the musical roots of her Jewish heritage. As a lyricist, Goldman says a lot in very few words, crystallizing her imagery just as she does her anthemic verses and catchy choruses. The new album is a song cycle, and it’s as dark as anything she’s ever written. While the suite explores Goldman’s conflicted roots as a secular – and fearlessly individualistic – Jewish artist raised in the Modern Orthodox tradition, her tale of gentle resistance, and angst, and ultimately transcendence will resonate with anyone raised in any strict, traditional culture.

The core of the band is Goldman on acoustic guitar and piano, Stephen Murphy on guitars, Craig Akin on bass, Cheryl Prashker on percussion and Dan Hickey on drums. Goldman has never sung more strongly or dynamically: this album contains both her sultriest song ever – the lush piano ballad Rose of Sharon – and also one of her most hushed. That number, Three Stars, concludes the album, an uneasy recollection of a childhood Saturday night waiting impatiently for nightfall and the end of the Sabbath.

Is that an oud on Pillar of Salt, the witchy Lot’s Wife ballad that with electric instrumentation would make a killer heavy metal anthem? Yesssss! Brian Prunka adds ominous touches with that instrument there, as he does on the album’s title track

Red Molly’s Abbie Gardner adds a surreal but strikingly effective Americana touch on Lilith (Goldman has a thing for Talmudic hussies), just as Murphy does with his purist, bluesy slide work on Song of Songs, Goldman’s take on innuendo-fueled Old Testament erotica. She and Murphy do the same with their bluesy twin-acoustic work on The Sabbath Queen, a rather grim account of an Orthodox matriarch who’s about to pass out on her feet just at the moment that the celebratory weekly Shabbos meal begins. Middle Eastern blues, who would have thought?

Goldman returns to more straight-up bluesy terrain – through the gauzy prism of Mazzy Star, maybe – with In My Bones, pensively weighing the richness and joys of Jewish culture against  emotional and historical baggage. Similarly, The Bride awaits her impending nuptials not as the first day of a lifelong journey but “the beginning of the end,” awash in Laura Wolfe’s brooding violin and Goldman’s intricate fingerpicking.

She sings in both Engish and Hebrew in the enigmatic piano ballad Land of Milk and Honey:

The taste of blood and berries on my tongue as I wander ancient streets…
War overlooks fields of wildflowers, pieces buried in dreams…
There’s a soldier sleeping next to me with a gun on his shoulder
As we pass olive trees and barbed wire

Prunka’s opening taqsim on the album’s insistently anthemic title track might be the single most delicious musical moment, among many, here. “A woman’s voice is naked, forbidden, don’t raise that sweet sound in front of men,” Goldman sings with more than a hint of seduction. “It might arouse attention!”

Lest we forget, there are places in the world where a klezmer band with women in it wouldn’t be allowed to perform. Which seems to sum up the dichotomy Goldman is dealing with here: Biblical heroines defy the restrictions on them to do wonderful things, and thousands of years later, the theme repeats itself. While it helps to be a member of “The Tribe,” as Goldman reminds, to appreciate this, her narrative and anthems will resonate across cultures. And maybe generate some controversy, and maybe shift the cultural paradigm as much as she does the musical one, in the process. Goldman’s next New York show is Oct 13 at 6 PM at the Christopher Street Coffeehouse, in the basement of the church at 81 Christopher St. between 7th Ave. South and Bleecker.

The Hilariously Relevant Rachael Kilgour Makes a Highly Anticipated Lincoln Center Debut Next Week

This September 8 songwriter Rachael Kilgour makes her Lincoln Center debut. She’s hilarious, and her acerbic, catchy songs are witheringly relevant. Her latest album is a terse three-song ep, Whistleblower’s Manifesto: Songs for a New Revolution, streaming at her site. It’s hard to imagine a handful of tunes released in recent years that capture the state of the nation any better than these three. The folksinger who opens Kilgour’s show in the atrium space at Broadway and 62nd St at 7:30 PM is pretty generic, but Kilgour is worth getting there early for – and especially since this show is free, it’s likely to sell out, so getting there early will be worth it.

Since the late zeros, Kilgour has made a name for herself as one of the smartest, most individualistic, and most rock-oriented acts on the folkie circuit. She’s a strong singer, a vivid lyricist with a populist streak and has a first-rate band. This little album is all about sarcasm. In a bright, cheery, soaring voice, Kilgour savages the kind of Prosperity Christians and related rightwingers that she may have grown up with her native Minnesota. The opening track, In America, sways along with a 90s trip-hop beat, although the layers of acoustic and electric guitars over an acoustic rhythm section gives the song a more organic feel than what you might expect:

It’s rags to riches, baby, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it
If you don’t make it big, you can’t claim the game is rigged
In America, you manifest your own destiny
Stack the deck and deal a hand and if your daddy’s rich
Every card you hold will be turned to gold
For a white man and his tricks
The bottom few could be privileged too
If they’d buckle down and try…

But at the end, Kilgour goes to the well for a punchline as devastating as anything the Clash or the Dead Kennedys ever put on vinyl.

He’ll Save Me is the centerpiece here. In this case, the sarcasm extends to the music, Kilgour’s blithely Bible-thumping protagonist chirping over a creepy, noir backdrop that’s Nashville gothic to the core:

As long as I pray I know I’ll get my way
When it comes to Judgment Day…
I don’t have to make nice
I know he’ll forgive me
Well, Jesus Christ, who do you think you are
Telling me I’ve gone too far?
…A three-car garage and a weekly massage,
I only take what I deserve
Healthcare? Don’t you know I know better
Than to hand rewards to sinners?
…She’s going to hell, another fetus killed
The Lord’s commandments say it’s true
But God bless my son as he aims his gun
At a cursed Afghani fool

The concluding, title cut is the most sarcastic of all mighty, swaying janglerock anthem, blending 90s Oasis clang with 60s Byrds jangle. The nagging, persistent cheer, delivered by the kind of know-it-all conformist we’ve all worked with (or worked for), is crushing:

There’s a man-boys’ club everywhere you look
From the Pentagon to your hippie neighbors
Keeping secrets, doing favors
‘Cause maybe in the end it’s easier to pretend
Than risk pissing off all your friends
Nobody wants a conflict
Nobody likes a tattletale
So keep your mouth shut, keep it to yourself
…Though you did what’s right
You’ll be the one to pay the price
Chances are you won’t be liked
They’ll never forgive you, Whistleblower
It’s on your shoulders
And you’re the only one to blame

The rest of Kilgour’s catalog is neither this grim nor this overtly political, but it’s just as tuneful. One suspects that Kilgour will be just as funny onstage as she is on these tracks.

Kelley McRae Brings Her Catchy, Lyrical Acoustic Americana to the Lower East

Kelley McRae is a darling of the Paste Magazine set. Aw, good grief, you say. Do we really need another fresh-faced rich white girl faking her way through a formerly blue-collar sound that’s been done to death? Actually, with her airy, unadorned soprano and catchy tunesmithing, McRae is the real deal, bringing some rare depth to the newschool Americana genre. She’s got a new record, The Wayside – her fifth – streaming at Spotify and a show at the big room at the Rockwood on May 10 at 9. Cover is $10.

The core of the band on the album comprises McRae’s guitarist husband Matt Castelein, with Jon Andersen on pedal steel and lapsteel and Spencer Caper on violin, mandolin and bouzouki. The opening track, Land of the Noonday Sun sets the stage over an elegant weave of fingerpicking:

Time goes by like a dream
No matter how hard you run
Some things are better left unsaid
Some things are better left undone

Driven by Castelein’s punchy dobro, the surprisingly hard-charging newgrass shuffle Hard Night has a full band with bass, drums and organ; it reminds of Jenifer Jackson‘s latest adventures in Americana. “It’s just one of those days,” McRae sighs with a wounded resignation as the bittersweetly swaying, subtly Tex-Mex tinged If You Need Me gets underway. The plainspoken Reach You offers a stark, telling look at how you can never count on someone staying on the same track with you: ” Too many nights feeling brokedown and bruised,” as McRae puts it..

The album’s title cut rises toward an unexpectedly ornate, majestic peak, awash in lingering steel guitar over a big thumping beat. The album’s best track is the broodingly scrambling Oklahoma shuffle Red Dirt Road, propelled by more crescendoing Castelein dobro work. By contrast, Andersen’s keening steel fuels A Long Time, a bitter lament for years wasted waiting for dashed hopes to come true.

With McRae’s high lonesome avian metaphors, Rare Bird offers a bittersweet shout-out to a restlessly insatiable type. Driven by Castelein’s psychedelic acoustic fretwork, Tell It Again looks back to 70s Britfolk. The album closes with Rose, a Willie Nelson-esque, jazz-tinged lullaby and then the nocturnal ballad All the Days That Have Come Before, McRae’s narrator taking a decisive step away from the past. It’s an unselfconsciously intense way to wind up this mix of vividly melancholy tunesmithing.

Linda Draper’s New Album Adds to Her Hall of Fame Credentials

It’s time to head down to the quarry and hammer out a pedestal for Linda Draper. Eight albums into her career, not one of them anything less than brilliant: Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, Steve Wynn, Aimee Mann brilliant. Draper is in their league both as a tunesmith and lyricist, and she can sing circles around all of them. And she’s explored a lot of styles over the past fifteen years or so: straightforward acoustic pop, surrealistic psychedelia, Nashville gothic and now a richly tuneful jangle and clang. Producer Matt Keating gets major props for making a big rock record out of Draper’s latest album, Modern Day Decay. It hasn’t hit the web yet, although you can hear a lot of it at her album release show on April 29 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood.

Draper had the good sense to get the most out of Keating on this album. It’s arguably Draper’s strongest release to date, both lyrically and musically, and he really takes it to the next level, both as lead guitarist and keyboardist. Recorded mostly live in the studio in a single whirlwind 48-hour session, the songs have a bristling intensity, Draper’s strong but nuanced mezzo-soprano anchored by bassist Jeff Eyrich and drummer Eric Puente.

The gorgeously anthemic title track opens the album. With the layers of twelve-string guitar over piano and organ, it sounds like the Church with a woman out front:

In a world made for the masses
It ain’t easy to see
It all through rose-colored glasses
You know the thorns wait patiently
…Some say time is all we need
To heed, no matter the relevance
Or pick at the scab until it bleeds…

The matter-of-fact Keep Your Head Up has tinges of psychedelia and C&W and opens with a wry shout-out to Mary Magdalene. I’t s a prime example of Draper at her witheringly lyrical best:

We’re under the gun until one day we’re done…
Get on the latest medication
Join the rest of the brainwashed nation
Airport security, a little radiation
Stand in line, take a number
Don’t blame the stars for your lack of wonder
Like a wild tiger turned into a fur coat
We howl at the moon until we lose the fight

True Enough is another catchy, richly jangly 12-string guitar anthem, a rugged individualist trying to keep her cool under pressure:

Gone are the days of the heat and the haze
That once bled my eyes dry
They sensed in the place by the cold golden gaze
That a love almost passed me by
It’s just a blip on the screen, a switch in the scene
The rest is a big fat lie
Why can’t they just take me as I am…

Put Love In has some unexpected hip-hop tinges in the lyric over an uneasy acoustic-electric backdrop. The catchy, swaying Take Your Money and Run works on a whole slew of levels. On the surface, it’s an escape anthem of sorts:

I pawned my ring for everything and said let it ride
Now I’m here to tell you you reap what you sow
You sold me out, now you’d better let me go
Cause I’m done, all right, but I did it with love
Head for the hills tonight, no heaven above
Can stop me now
There’s nothing to slow down
There’s nothing to stop you
It doesn’t matter where you come from
That doesn’t mean that’s all you have to become
You have so much more love in your heart
Than the sum of your parts
So take your money and run

A slow, organ-infused soul ballad, the nonchalantly cajoling Lose with Me brings to mind Jenifer Jackson. “All my heroes are long gone, or sold their souls to some reality show,” Draper muses.

Awash in lingering, echoing psychedelic guitars, Burn Your Bridges sounds like the Church doing a late Beatles folk-pop number: “All hands on deck for the shipwreck, brace yourselves,” Draper warns.

Pedestal takes a careeningly successful detour into rockabilly: for that matter, it might be the most lyrically sophisticated rockabilly tune ever written:

Everyone’s listening to nobody else
The symphony sounds fine on the train
As we keep moving round in vain
Regurgitating joy and pain

Nashville builds from a stark, spare acoustic intro to a mighty cinematic sweep:

Into the evening
Out of my mind
What you call believing
I call dying
Can’t you see the bags under my eyes
Or the rags that I wore in disguise
The latest fashion, greatest curse
I don’t know which one should be worse….
Like cattle they packed us
Onto the bus
Eleven hours later we were in Nashville
The flames and the smoke followed me here
Ten years ago just seemed to disappear
Now I’m rnnning from the wind
‘Cause I know how fast it can blow
There ain’t gonna be a next time
All we’ve got is today
And all I see in my mind
Keeps driving away

The album winds up with a waltz, Good As New, another individualist’s manifesto

There’s nothing wrong if you don’t belong…
I spend my lifetime, I’ve made it a habit
Of staying on the outside, now why should I quit
“That’s just your way of hiding,” you say
You know, ’cause you see yourself in me

Just on lyrics alone – is Draper quotable, or what? – this is a strong contender for best release of 2016.

Two NYC Shows and a Brave New Project from the Tuneful Sharon Goldman

Sharon Goldman is one of this young century’s great tunesmiths. She gets pigeonholed as a folksinger, and she plays that circuit, but she’s more likely to go deep into elegant chamber pop. And every now and then she’ll dash off a country song, or an intricately fingerpicked guitar ballad. Much as a lot of her material has a very intimate feel – the title track to her 2013 album Silent Lessons is one of the most spot-on, shattering portraits of wee-hours despondency ever recorded – she doesn’t write a lot of autobiographical songs. Her latest project, which she’s about to begin recording, is a radical departure, and a genuinely brave move for her, an examination of her conflicted roots as a secular Jewish artist raised in the Modern Orthodox tradition. She’ll be unveiling some of those songs along with material from her substantial back catalog at a couple of upcoming concerts. Tomorrow night, March 18 she’ll be at the American Folk Art Museum at 5:30 PM for an early, free afterwork show. Then on April 7 she’ll be playing one of the First Acoustics House Concerts in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. Cover is $25, with dessert and coffee at 7 PM, show at 8; advance registration is required, email for info.

What’s most striking about Goldman’s new song cycle is that it’s as universal as it is rooted in centuries of tradition. Any individualist who’s come out of a strict religious background will find a lot in common with Goldman’s narratives. She played a fascinating set of some of them at Caffe Vivaldi last month, joined by a terse, melodic mandolinist/lead guitarist. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not she records these songs as a set of related vignettes, as she did that night, or in linear fashion. The night’s uneasily strolling first number, Sabbath Queen, captured the exhaustion and exasperation of a young Jewish matriarch trying to be all that’s expected of her, to keep herself together and remain a calm center of attention at yet another Sabbath dinner.

Set to an ominous descending riff, the darkly blues-tinged Don’t Look Back flipped the script on the Sodom & Gomorrah myth, casting the fate of Lot’s wife in a sympathetic new light. The gently fingerpicked song after that brought back a muted exasperation, a girl waiting for a sign in the night sky overhead to signal the end of the Sabbath…so she can go off and be herself, and search for spirituality by herself…or not.

Goldman kept the music delicate throughout the next number, building an eerily evocative tableau of a conflicted bride at a traditional wedding celebration, finally bringing in a bit of a hora and an aptly dark, rustic Middle Eastern-tinged riff at the end. As she did on more than one song, Goldman sang it in both English and Hebrew.

She built a wistfully catchy, elegiac portrait of a lost relative, then switched to the piano for a smolderingly understated minor-key ballad.“The ghosts of my ancestors haunt me, they speak a language that used to be mine,” she mused on the next number, a waltz, weighing the pros and cons of cultural baggage. Then she offered a soaring, bluesy tribute to Lilith, a villain in the Torah and the Bible but a heroine to feminists around the world.

The intensity kept up with another simmering, insistent minor-key number addressing the power of a woman’s voice, forbidden as a solo instrument in more than one religious tradition around the world. A vividly picturesque shout-out to Jerusalem, where Goldman has spent a lot of time, was gentler and more pastoral but also disquieted: Goldman made it clear that she felt like a stranger in a strange land. She wound up the set with a pensive, somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the pros and cons of membership in a “tribe,” and then a swaying blues: “The season of the songbird has arrived,” Goldman asserted.

This project is likely to generate a lot of controversy, considering that Goldman celebrates her roots in centuries of rich Jewish artistic tradition while carving out an individualistic path. Being aware of the rest of her body of work, one would expect no less.