New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Tag: guitar music

An Album That Puts Your Kids to Sleep But Doesn’t Bore You to Death

Just about the worst thing you can say about an album is that it’s good to fall asleep to. Yet there’s a ton of great, lulling music that will do the job. Just for starters: Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp, Philip Glass’ String Quartets, and pretty much anything by Brian Eno.

But is there an album that will help a baby fall asleep, so YOU can finally get some rest? Sure, there are a million easy-listening playlists on Spotify. But they’re saccharine and they’ll give you a headache.

So Kurt Leege sat down with his Strat and his pedalboard, came up with a bunch of instrumental lullabies, roadtested them on his infant daughter – and they worked like a charm. So well, in fact, that the great guitarist decided to release these dreamy nocturnes as an album aptly titled Sleepytime Guitar – streaming at Bandcamp – for the sake of saving the sanity of sleep-deprived parents everywhere.

Kid wakes up in the middle of the night? Pull this up, hit play and everybody will drift off sooner than later. It’s a long album, a total of fourteen tracks to keep you and the little one in REM mode for as long as you need. Most of the songs are lushly enveloping new arrangements of familiar folk tunes, along with a couple of gospel numbers and two Leege originals that bend in seamlessly.

Some of the arrangements draw on Bill Frisell’s most atmospheric adventures in gentle, rapturous loopmusic. Eno, and the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie also seem to be obvious influences. And Leege doesn’t play like he’s falling asleep – it seems like he’s having a lot of fun, quietly. His formula pretty much all the way through is to build gentle waves and washes in the background, add some thoughtful fingerpicking over that and put the melody and variations front and center. He plays most of it way up the fretboard: this is a twinkly, trebly album.

If you’re making your own playlist with it, start with the rapt, Frisellian take of Down By the Riverside, segue with the wistful version of Danny Boy and then Wild Mountain Thyme, which Leege anchors with subtly polyrhythmic deep-space pulses. The other tracks are just as warmly enveloping, but the guitar is livelier.

He does Shenandoah as David Gilmour might, with lots of long-tone bends, if not the anguished screams of Pink Floyd. There are all sorts of neat little flourishes in Wayfaring Stranger: a couple of funny Gilmour quotes, and a little Bill Withers, maybe. Leege finds the doo-wop stashed away deep within the calmly lilting melody of the old Welsh tune Ar Hyd y Nos, and reinvents Swing Low, Sweet Chariot as a waltz.

A Curvature of Shadow, the first Leege oriiginal, is a one-chord jam, series of hypnotic variations that drift further from a folk-flavored theme toward spacerock. Scarborough Fair circles around, Leege having fun playing the melody with his volume knob – the effect is similar to a talkbox. Peter Frampton would approve – at least until Leege distantly channels Pink Floyd.

Leege transcends cheesiness in Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star by playing harmonies and then implying the melody: a lot of moms are going to be singing karaoke to this one. Down to the River to Pray is much the same, as Leege works variations on the verse over what sounds like a vocal drone.

He cuts loose just a little bit with some spare, purist, bluesy playing and then some charming glockenspiel-like tones in the Irish folk song Bonnie Lass o’Fyvie. The Brahms Lullaby sounds more like the Tennessee Waltz; the album closes with a slow, enigmatic instrumental version of Riverbed, the title track of his current funky Americana jamband the Sometime Boys’ second album. 

Fun fact: since now you know how peaceful and calming Leege’s compositions can be, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. He is renowned in New York rock circles as one of the most diversely tuneful, and most assaultive players around. His celestial moods here, and his elegantly eclectic virtuosity in the Sometime Boys don’t offer a clue to his past as co-leader of the gloriously acidic, pummeling, aptly named System Noise.

Innovative, Intriguing New Guitar Sounds From Lucas Brode

Lucas Brode is one of New York’s most individualistic guitarists. Rather than picking or strumming, he typically taps the strings. Because he uses a lot of pedals, the sound is a lot more varied and dynamic than you would think. Most of the compositions on his new solo album I Lick the Kerosene of Progress – streaming at Bandcamp – are on the short and cinematic side. He’s got an intriguing gig tomorrow night, Nov 19 at around 9 with brilliant drummer Kevin Shea (of Mostly Other People Do the Killing) at the Glove, 885 Lexington Ave. just off Broadway in Bushwick. Sepulchral string band Whispers of Night follow at around 10; violist Jessica Pavone, who’s as iconic as you can get in improvised music circles, headlines. Cover is $8; be aware that there are no J or M trains this weekend, but if you can find a way to get to Broadway, maybe you can catch a bus.

Train whistle effects and echoey Lynchian sonics pervade the brief prelude that opens the album: it’s impossible to tell how Brode is working the strings. On Ankles & Elbows, the technique is obvious – at least until he hits his backward-masking pedal. It’s an interesting new spin on what would otherwise be a bluesy stroll.

Brode segues from there into We’ll Burn that Bridge When We Cross It, an upbeat, loopy lattice of bluegrass-tinged riffs that grow more mininal as it goes on. Dedicated to the Memory of Lilith Fair turns out not to be a nostalgic lesbian folk-pop song but an Eno-esque railyard soundscape – or at least something that evokes early morning in the switching yard.

Brode’s fingers get busy again in All is Based in Basic Truths, an airy, echoey rainy-day web of sound. The World Is Strip Malls & Parking Lots – Brode is awfully good with titles – shifts abruptly from spare and spacious to frenetic and allusively bluegrass-inflected, until it starts to go haywire. A metaphor for McMansion devastation, maybe?

Brode sets skronk and disquietly swooping Jeff Beck-style slide work over loopy mechanical ambience in Recession, followed by Intermission, a surreal miniature. He builds raindrop-like variations on an insistent, echoey theme in the album’s title track and then gets busy again in Today is a Long Uphill Battle I Will Stalemate at Best.

Sudden Subtle Shift is sort of a mashup of early 80s Robert Fripp and Bill Frisell. Git is a rapidfire fret-tapping take on blues and boogie-blues riffage, while Either Hemisphere (In Two Dimensions) is  the simplest and maybe catchiest set of variations here.The album comes full circle with the industrial ambience of Epilogue. Dare you to make something this trippy and interesting alone at night in your bedroom with your guitar and Protools.

Acoustic Guitarslinger R.D. King Brings His Richly Intertwining, Melodic Instrumentals to NYC

First there was B.B. Then there was Albert, then Freddie. And now there’s R.D., the latest in a line of first-class guitar-playing Kings. Difference is that R.D. King plays acoustic, and that his style is not blues but his own intricate, meticulous instrumental material that could be called pastoral psychedelia or cinematic folk. Either way, it’s a hell of a lot more energetic and epic than most music for the acoustic guitar.

King is bound to get comparisons to a whole slew of fingerstyle players who use unorthodox or open tunings – John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Adrian Legg, Leo Kottke and John Fahey are all in the mix – but if there’s any current-day artist he brings to mind, it’s David Grubbs, who’s more of a Strat guy. This particular King’s album RD King vs. Self  is streaming at Soundcloud, and for anybody who wants to see his fingers fly up and down the fretboard, he’s playing the small room at the Rockwood on August 19 at 6 PM. Then the following night he’s at Pine Box Rock Shop at 9:30.

His technique is spectacular, employing all kinds of harmonics, hammer-ons, pull-offs, flurrying upper-register clusters and contrastingly terse, precise basslines – and as many notes as this guy plays, he doesn’t waste them. The album’s first track is Lightness of Being, set to a rapidfire triplet rhythm. With its web of overdubs and subtly shifting center, it’s as if Fahey and Renbourn conspired to write their own Twin Peaks theme, but closer to waterfalling folk than noir cinematics. The Precipice is a stormy blend of flamenco and a 60s hotrod theme, while the pensive, propulsively waltzing, attractively summery title track hints at acoustic Pink Floyd, 60s American folk and Scottish highland balladry.

Heartstring, a gorgeously wistful song without words, brings to mind what Richard Thompson could do turbocharging a sad Jimmy Webb ballad. There Are No Young Forests comes across as a verdant, enigmatic counterpart to Grubbs’ vast electric deep-space tableaux. The uneasy Vertigo continues on a long, subtly crescendoing tangent, sparkling with harmonics, followed by the tight, emphatic variations of Luminescence.

The album winds up with the tidally shifting vamps of Twilight, rising to a bristling peak, and then the sparkly, cascading An End to Wandering. If you play guitar and feel stuck in a rut, listening to this guy will get you unstuck in a hurry.

Darkly Bittersweet Guitar Themes from Don Peris

The Innocence Mission’s Don Peris has a side project where he plays gorgeously nocturnal, elegant guitar instrumentals. Some of the tracks on his album The Old Century resembles John Fahey at his most bucolic and focused, as well as Bill Frisell’s most straight-ahead work. Peris doesn’t waste notes or ideas: most of the songs clock in under the three minute mark. The album title is apt. Peris’ themes have a timeless, blue-sky feel: they could easily be classic folk songs from the Civil War era. His fingerpicking is meticulous and dynamically rich, with a persistent air of suspense: these songs may be gentle, but they’re hardly light. For all its beautiful, bittersweet rusticity, the album has a persistently creepy undercurrent. It would make a good soundtrack to a future Coen Brothers film: Midwestern setting, trouble lurking just around the corner.

Peris likes waltzes, lots of them. There’s the title track, a wistful country theme – you keep waiting for the orchestra to come in and sweep everything away, but Peris plays this one close to the vest. There’s PennyLand, which builds from a nebulous intro to a lush lullaby. Concertina has both concertina and string synth that looms in as the chorus rises to a cinematic anthem. Catalonia has a distantly Spanish tinge, as does the slow, elegaic History in G Minor. Holiday Beach pairs gently resonant electric guitar against a classically-tinted acoustic background; it could be Theme from a Summer Place At Night.

Marisol hints at the baroque with plaintive strings and guitar. Speedwell Forge is the jazziest and most enigmatic track here; the Punch Brothers would do well to cover it. There’s also the steady, twinkling ElectroStar; the resonantly swaying Palos Verdes; the brief, atmospheric Operadio; Swansea, which puts an uneasy edge on Britfolk; Ranger, a full-band electric number, which could be Pat Metheny, the spikily jaunty  Bicycling, and Flight, with its dancing, airy upper-register picking. Put this on with the lights out and drift off to a land that time forgot.

Fun, Edgy Guitar Tunes from Isra-Alien

Israeli duo Isra-Alien – Oren Neiman on nylon-string guitar and Gilad Ben Zvi on steel string guitar – have a bristling, impressively eclectic new album coming out titled Somewhere Is Here. It’s just two guitars, no bass or drums, bringing a tight, sometimes flamenco-flavored, sometimes Middle Eastern-tinged bite to a generally upbeat mix of eclectic original songs without words.

The opening track, Schunah (meaning Hood, in the slang sense of the word) kicks off with a syncopated vamp and grows to a comfortably animated flamenco-spiked theme. Reah Tapuah (The Smell of an Apple), meant to evoke 1950s Israel, echoes the Grateful Dead as much as it does levantine folk. Eishes Chayil (Woman of Valor) is a stormy, gypsy-flavored new Neiman arrangement of an old Joseph Rumshinsky Yiddish theatre piece, followed by a mellow, stately, baroque-tinged love ballad by Ben Zvi

Tavas Hazahar (The Golden Peacock), an artsy rock song by Israeli composer Shem-Tov Levi, gets a bouncy, gypsyish arrangement. Neiman’s rather epic, Piazzolla-inspired Pnei Hayam (The Face of the Sea) develops from tersely contemplative, to a jazzy evocation of wave motion, to a series of warmly insistent dance themes. The album winds up on a similar note with a blistering gypsy jazz-infused medley of a hora, a brogez (the mother-in-law dance where both sides are expected to make peace) and a rousing freilach.

Fans of acoustic guitar music as accessible as the Gipsy Kings, as classic as Django Reinhardt and as cutting-edge as Stephane Wrembel will all find juicy nuggets here. Isra-Alien play the cd release show for this one at Drom on Nov 10 at 7 PM. There are plenty of $10 advance tix left.

Thad Debrock Makes a Mark at the Rockwood

Last night at the Rockwood Thad Debrock put on a guitar clinic. It was as much a clinic for the ears as the fingers. Debrock is a professional musician – he’s played in pit bands for musicals and is highly sought after as a sideman. He’s also a refreshing exception to the rule that the best sidemen often aren’t so good at coming up with their own material. There are plenty of players who can mimic one iconic style or another, but Debrock takes it to the next level. Not only did he evoke a little Chet Atkins, and Wes Montgomery, and John Leventhal (the cerebral, eclectic guitarist from Mojo Mancini and Rosanne Cash’s band), and a lot of Hendrix: he incorporated those ideas, and a whole lot more, into a style that’s all his own.

Debrock plays with great nuance, sharp precision and has blistering speed when he wants to use it, but he didn’t go past midtempo until late in the set. Instead, he shifted imaginatively through one texture after another: judicious jangle, a little distorted skronk, blithe jazzy octaves, twangy noir, graceful Nashville lines, boisterous Bakersfield and finally some screaming Dick Dale tremolo-picking late in the set. Like Marc Ribot, he can play pretty much anything, but where Ribot goes for creepy and sometimes noisy, Debrock tends to go for contemplatively incisive and atmospheric. He sang a couple of terse pop tunes early on and used his loop pedal to add hypnotic background. A bit later, a “tribute to Hendrix” was the furthest thing from what that idea generally conjures up: instead, Debrock went from Wes, to a couple of methodically bluesy verses of Summertime, to where he timewarped a famous Jimi riff and ended up in otherworldly Bill Frisell big-sky territory. Wow!

Another highlight of the show was a romp through a Buck Owens instrumental (doesn’t it kill you when the name of the tune is on the tip of your tongue, you plug in, call your surf music maven friend, play the hook into the phone and still end up without a title?). But instead of doing it straight-up country, Debrock did it with a biting, staccato, jazzy Chet Atkins edge. Then he hit his distortion pedal and launched into a biting salsa-flavored tune that pinned the intensity meter in the red when he started chopping at his chords furiously. Debrock’s rhythm section was tremendous as well. The bassist played with what looked like a gorgeous hollowbody Les Paul copy that provided a darkly snapping, trebly bite, and a drummer whose artful brush and mallet work included probably everything you can do with a pair of cymbals other than saw on them: the whooshy sonics, elegant boom of the toms and devious fills in some of the many spaces that Debrock left open were as fun to watch as they were to hear. There was a lull when a corporate singer-songwriter with one of those generically cheesy, hoarse, phony-sensitive vocal styles took a brief turn behind the mic, but even then Debrock stayed on task, adding a gorgeous country-flavored turnaround to the first song that wasn’t enough to rescue it, but at least it gave it a gentle splashdown instead of an awkward crash-landing. He’s been doing a Wednesday residency here on and off for several months now: if guitar is your thing, he’ll inspire you.