New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: gutter blues

The Grasping Straws Set the Mercury Lounge on Fire

The Grasping Straws packed the Mercury Lounge for the album release show for their debut full-length cd a couple of nights ago, treating the crowd to a performance that even by their standards was pretty pyrotechnic. Intense singer/guitarist Mallory Feuer’s band, which began as a collective with a rotating cast of characters, has solidified with a tight, dynamically shifting rhythm section of former Beast Make Bomb bassist Sam Goldfine and drummer Jim Bloom. This time out, they had Feuer’s brother Harrison – of Nobody Takes Vegas – snarling and wailing and machinegunning his way through volleys of metallic menace, then descending to a suspenseful jangle that he’d explode out of in a flash for more fireworks. Meanwhile, the bandleader didn’t even play guitar on the first number, wailing and shrieking, twisting and undulating, eyes closed, a shaman either banishing or mind-melding with some mysterious demon, finally ending with a slinky flip of the mic cable behind her back and then back around. It was dangerous in a lot of ways, not the least being that she might have spent all her bullets in the first four minutes of the show. Was she going to be able to keep that up for a whole set?

As it turned out, pretty much. As a singer, Feuer sometimes wields her vibrato like a metal guitarist, shivering and bending through the wall in the least likely places to max out the otherworldly factor. When she does that, she’s the blues valkyrie that Robert Plant always wanted to be. But more often, she just bends the notes a twinge – and then holds them there in a strange purgatory, letting the unresolved, enigmatic ambience linger, ramping up the suspense. The band took their time building to a sunbaked sizzle from rainy-day jangle in Going Going Gone. They followed with another jangly one, On the Line, from their more jazz-oriented early days, then took a volcanic stomp through the wickedly catchy Just a Memory, part minor-key Randi Russo menace, part early Iron Maiden, maybe – with Heart’s Ann Wilson out front, outraged.

From there they stampeded through State of Affairs, a surreal, distantly terrorized Hurricane Sandy tableau, then took a vividly overcast detour into Home, which began as brooding Laurel Canyon psychedelia and then exploded in shards of distortion and reverb on the chorus. Enjoy the Trip and Sunshine balanced bittersweetly nebulous jangle and clang with jaggedly noisy crunch. They closed with Who Do You Think You Are, taking a long climb upward to a blissfully mighty payoff on the chorus.

They also played a cover, an aptly insistent, hard-hitting cover of White Rabbit, Bloom leading the band through some deliciously subtle, tricky syncopation at the end – as one astute longtime LES music maven observed, it wasn’t Elena Zazanis, but it was pretty close. The Grasping Straws kick off their North American tour on July 11; dates are here.

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The Sideshow Tragedy Bring Their Visionary Apocalyptic Blues to the Rockwood

The last time this blog caught up with the Sideshow Tragedy, it was a couple of years ago late on a Friday night in the red neon backroom at Zirzamin, and the Austin noir blues band was killing it. Really killing it. Guitarist Nathan Singleton was airing out his bottomless bag of jagged minor-key licks, drummer Jeremy Harrell had a murderous stomp going and there were some special guests, if memory serves right – it had been a crazy night up to that point. Fast forward to 2015: Zirzamin is sadly gone, but the Austin band has a new album, Capital, streaming at Continental Record Services‘ site, and a similar small-room, Friday night show, in this case at the Rockwood on May 22 at 11 PM. This usually sedate space is in for a serious jolt of adrenaline, tempered slightly by the fact that the new album is somewhat more spare and haunting than the band’s previous, often unhinged gutter blues attack. It’s a concept album, a sinister, brilliantly metaphorical portrait of a nation gone off the rails in an orgy of greed and mass desperation. Fans of Humanwine will love this.

“Summer’s here, and the tramps are on the move, ten to a trailerbed from Chicago to LA…you can taste the decay,” Singleton broods in Number One, a corrosively relevant, cynical portrait of haves versus have-nots over a riff-rock groove that other bands would have turned into metal, but these guys do as a shuffle. Likewise, Blacked Out Windows, with some harmonically offcenter multitracks, could be Sonic Youth, but instead Singleton runs the riff over and over for an ominously hypnotic vibe: “Smoke and mirrors closing in…his carnival calm is easy to believe,” Singleton warns. “The palms of the priest are easy to grease.”

Singleton more or less talks the apocalyptic lyrics to Keys to the Kingdom as Harrell beats a frantic, funereal pulse on his tom-toms. The Winning Side, a similarly frantic, scampering anthem, sounds like Dylan’s It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding at doublespeed: “It’s not the thought that counts,” Singleton muses grimly. The title track works a dusky midtempo slide guitar groove, a caustically aphoristic parable of the 21 st century going back into the dark ages in a hurry. “You listen to the police scanner as your write your report, better fill your quota while you got time…you can’t see the horizon ’cause it don’t matter right now, so rob the beggars blind,” Singleton taunts. It’s arguably the best and most relevant song anybody’s released this year.

Two Guns pairs Harrell’s shuffling, misty cymbals against Singleton’s uneasily precise slide guitar and menacing stream of metaphors: “The rockets’ eternal red glare, the shooting off of lights and flares, it’s getting dark out there.” So when Singleton finally reaches the point where he works a song around a major-key hook – with the only slightly less troubled Animal Song, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Marcellus Hall catalog – there’s a sense of relief, however temporary.

Let the Love Go Down returns to a death-obsessed theme with a series of fire-and-brimstone metaphors over a relentlessly rolling and tumbling drive.The album ends with Plow Song, a spiky resonator guitar-fueled trip through a postapocalyptic landscape where you’re bound to end up with “a gun for all seasons and a bit in your mouth.” Powerful words from a Texas band. Best album of the year? One of the top handful, no question.

JD Wilkes Brings One of His Great Bands to the Knitting Factory

Isn’t it cool when a band lives up to the name they have the balls to call themselves? From the early zeros through about the turn of the past decade, high-voltage Nashville gothic band the Legendary Shack Shakers became a cult favorite and a popular draw on the midsize club circuit. Lately frontman JD Wilkes, one of the real mavens of punk blues and Americana, has concentrated on his other, more blues-oriented project the Dirt Daubers. Wilkes’ latest Cheetah Chrome-produced recording, Wild Moon, features that appropriately named band (a dirt dauber is a particularly vicious wasp native to the Bible Belt), but most recently he’s been back with the Legendary Shack Shakers for a couple of tours, with an upcoming show on 9/11 at around 10 at the Knitting Factory. Tix are $14.

The new Dirt Daubers album – which other than a single Youtube clip of the title track, isn’t due out til Sept 24 – opens with a brief, brisk instrumental, Rod Hamdallah’s frenetic guitar intertwining with Wilkes’ Little Walter-style chromatic harp. Wilkes’ wife Jessica sings the swinging, snarling, noir gutter blues Apples & Oranges, with its Iggy Pop references and vernacular lyrics:

You can follow me down, hold my feet to the fire
Turn my pockets inside out
You know I’m in for a penny, down for a pound …
I’m taking my debts to the afterlife

With its screaming, bent-note Hamdallah guitar and twisted fire-and-brimstone imagery, the album’s title track continues in a careening noir blues vein. Drive brings to mind New York gutter blues band Knoxville Girls, but with better production values, another droll Iggy quote and a brief, gritty Wurlitzer solo from the frontman. His wife sings the shuffling No Rest for the Wicked, her seductive lyric contrasting with all the creepy guitar chromatics.

Wilkes’ low, haphazard minor-key piano adds to the doomed ambience on the suicide ballad No More My Love. Angel Crown brings to mind early Jon Spencer in simmering, low-key mode, with a creepy lyric about a dead baby underscored by echoey chromatic harp and Hamdallah’s broodingly rustic series of chords. Let It Fly is much the same but faster, followed by the torchy, lurid Clairy Browne-ish shuffle You Know I Love You, with more of that red-neon piano and smoky baritone sax from Tom Waits sideman Ralph Carney.

The macabre stomp Hidey Hole is the album’s creepiest track – what’s down in that hidey hole, anyway? – an appropriate place for Hamdallah to fire off his most memorable, menacing guitar solo. Throughout the album, there’s more than a hint of hypnotically unwinding Mississippi hill country blues, especially on Don’t Thrill Me No More, which is basically a long, moody one-chord jam.

River Song brings back a punk blues bounce, like a more lo-fi take on what Dylan did on Love & Theft. The album winds up with God Fearing People, which sounds like Smokestack Lightning at triplespeed. Dark, offhandedly savage, lo-fi electric blues doesn’t get any better than this. It wouldn’t be out of the question to hope for some of this stuff at Wilkes’ show at the Knit with his old band.