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Tag: hank williams

The Year’s Best Americana Triplebill at Hank’s This Thursday Night

The best Americana triplebill of the year so far is happening this March 8 at Hank’s.  Kasey Anderson, whose gritty populist narratives bring to mind a young Steve Earle, opens the night at 8. Eric Ambel, proprietor of the dearly missed Lakeside Lounge and an even more spectacular, surreal guitarist and songwriter – who played lead in Earle’s band back in the day – follows at 9. Cliff Westfall  – whose aphoristic songs and soulful C&W baritone will take you back to 1956 at warp speed – headlines at around 10. Cover is $10.

Westfall, whose album Baby You Win is streaming at his music page. is as strong and memorable a retro songwriter as Pokey LaFarge – no joke. It takes you back to an era of neon-lit jukeboxes, tailfins, beer cans that you could crush in one hand only if you were really strong…and ten-cent drafts. And Westfall matches the honkytonk ambience with innumerable clever musical and lyrical details that fill out the picture. The opening track, It Hurt Her to Hurt Me is sort of Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen with even more clever wordplay, done by Hank Williams with a sizzling electric band behind him. The shuffling title track gives the group a chance to show off everything they’ve got: Scott Metzger’s tasty reverbtoned vintage tube amp sonics, a wry surf riff when least expected, a little Merle Haggard to kick off the song and colorful period vernacular. This guy’s “giving back the Crackerjack box I got from a so-called friend.”

Westfall croons bittersweetly over Charlie Giordano’s rippling honkytonk piano in the sad barroom ballad Til the Right One Comes Along. Then the group channel Orbison over a luscious web of twanging, jangling, echoing guitars in the Lynchian anthem More and More (as in “I think I love you more and more less and less”). With Metzger’s morosely tremoloing guitar solo, it’s a standout among many here.

With its chugging layers of twelve-string guitars – that’s Metzger and Graham Norwood – Off the Wagon is the missing link between Johnny Burnette and the Byrds –  the 1967 psychedelic Byrds, and the 1969 country Byrds as well. “We go together like booze and pills!” Westfall announces; those stampeding, twangy Bakersfield guitar multitracks on the way out are a straight shot of adrenaline.

The worn-out, defeated ballad Hanging On paints a vividly grim picture of a guy who’s just about had it with being strung along. By contrast, the boisterous I’ll Play the Fool comes across as a mashup of Subterranean Homesick Blues Dylan and Buck Owens.

The gorgeously clanging The Man I Used to Be paints a picture of a guy with “a little less size and a lot less wear…dusty 8X10s out in the hall, but I don’t recognize that guy at all.”

“I live in your world since I left my own,” Westfall admits in the sad waltz A Lie If You Must, over Dan Iead’s pedal steel.  “A lie calculated to appease and disarm, tell me what’s self-deception compared to your charms?” Elvis Costello would be proud to have written this one.

The End of the Line, the album’s hardest-rocking track, wouldn’t be out of place on a Wayne Hancock album, right down to that searing Metzger guitar solo midway through. The retro 50s shuffle ballad Sweet Tooth gives Westfall a chance to have fun with food and drug metaphors. The album winds up with similarly sly swamp-rock of The Odds Were Good. You’re going to see this on the best albums of 2018 page at the end of the year.

Hauntingly Vivid Nocturnes and a Couple of Intimate May Shows from Hayes Carll

If Townes Van Zandt hadn’t drunk himself to death – or if he was born in the 80s – he’d be doing what Hayes Carll is right now. Pretty much everybody’s favorite outlaw Americana songwriter has a two-night stand coming up at Joe’s Pub on May 16 and 17 at 7:30 PM. Advance tix are $25 and as of today are not sold out, which is especially weird since he usually plays Bowery Ballroom or the Bell House when he’s here in town.

His spare, unselfconsciously haunting latest album, impeccably produced by Joe Henry, is Lovers & Leavers, streaming at Spotify. It kicks off with the aptly desolate Drive, spacious tremolo guitar and organ looming distantly over elegant, skeletally fingerpicked guitar and brushed drums. If the Highwaymens’ albums had an organic feel instead of all those cheesy sythesizers, they would have sounded like this. It’s a bittersweet lament for a restless spirit who can’t be corralled: “Burning both ends of the candle and you pretend that you don’t care.”

Sake of the Song is as much of a shout-out to any down-and-out songwriter as it is a salute to Carll’s brooding road-dog influences, from Hank Williams to Dylan and Elvis and Tom Waits, a gorgoeusly slinky Nashville gothic ballad:

Hitchhike and bus ride and rental cars,
Living rooms, coffeehouses, rundown bars
Ten thousand people all alone under the stars
All for the sake of the song

Good While It Lasted offers a bitter, more personal look at the downside of late-night barroom tunesmithing, part Waits, part Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan. That last muted cymbal hit will rip your face off.

The hushed waltz You Leave Alone is a vivid southern existentialist character study:

One conversation
One short-term destination
Can lead to a lifetime
Away from home
But no plan’s worth making
All the big dreams are taken
When you leave this world
You leave alone

Withs its lingering pedal steel and melancholy chromatics, My Friends could be John Prine, or the late-90s Jayhawks, or the Walkabouts doing their country thing. Carll brings back the subtle gospel tinges with The Love That We Need, a crushingly sardonic portrait of a marriage that’s lost its lustre. Love Don’t Let Me Down, the album’s title track more or less, has the feel of a lovelorn 60s Don Gibson ballad recast with the spacious, desolate ambience of the album’s opening cut.Likewise, Love Is So Easy is roller-rink soul done as Americana. The album winds up with an a final character study, casting a disconsolate, restless woman as a Jealous Moon. It’s no wonder why Carll likes small venues, considering how well these songs are suited to them.

Bluesmistress Mamie Minch Joins a First-Class Oldtime Americana Bill on the 24th

There’s a really fun show coming up on March 24 in the quaint old 19th century upstairs auditorium at Greenwich House Music School at 46 Barrow St. in the West Village, when a bunch of familiar faces from the Jalopy’s oldtimey Americana scene take over the space. Check out the lineup that Eli Smith of the Down Hill Strugglers put together: his Struggler bandmate John Cohen; badass resonator guitarist and bluesmama Mamie Minch; charmingly retro, low-key front-porch songwriter Joanna Sternberg; dark Americana songwriter and Jalopy mainstay Feral Foster; bluesman Wyndham Baird, and others. Cover is $15 and includes open bar. And you don’t have to go all the way to Red Hook to see all this. Not that the Jalopy isn’t always a treat just to be at, let alone see a show at, but as messed up as the trains have been this past week, this makes things infinitely easier.

Minch is the star of this show. She played a set at Barbes a week ago Friday that was funny, and poignant, and full of razorwire repartee between her and Kill Henry Sugar drummer Dean Sharenow. Minch writes her own songs, springboarding from fingerpicked blues and folk styles that go back to the 20s and before, but she’s also a fierce advocate for the unsung women of the blues, mostly African-Americans from that era. Midway through the set, she and Sharenow pondered the question of changing lyrics if someone of the “original gender,” as she put it, sings a song written for a man’s voice (she’d just done a bristling, swinging, defiantly existentialist cover of Hank Williams’ Ramblin’ Man). That led into a brief discussion of how misogyny insinuates itself into language itself. “You notice how the word ‘woman’ has ‘man’ in it?” she needled him.

Sharenow wasn’t phased, but also didn’t offer anything to improve on that. “Maybe we can change the spelling, you know, like w-o-m-y-n or something,” Minch offered.

Sharenow cringed. “No!” he insisted. “How about…O.G.?”

“I like that,” Minch grinned back.

There’s nothing more original or gangsta than the blues, and there was plenty of that in this set. As she did on her debut album, she sang Pallet on Your Floor not as a come-on, like so many other would-be blues singers do, but as a haunting, plaintive plea, from the perspective of a low-rent hooker. Sharenow gave the song a jaunty shuffle groove with his brushes, throwing in the occasional unpredictable snare hit or swipe at the cymbals, especially when Minch would throw a mean upstroke from her guitar his way.

Minch asked Sharenow if he’d sing harmonies on Blues, Stay Away from Me, an old Delmore Brothers tune. “You want me to take the low one?” he asked her.

Minch laughed and turned to the crowd. “You don’t always do that when you sing with an alto!” But she’s been airing out more of her upper register lately, really stretching her voice to places she’s never gone before.

The duo took a turn in a funkier direction with a biting, sultry new one, looking back to the funny food metaphors of oldschool hokum blues but also the defiance of that era’s blueswomen. Minch’s churning guitar, blending with Sharenow’s rolling and tumbling attack, took her big audience hit Razorburn Blues – title track to her cult favorite 2008 debut album – into Mississippi hill country Then they did a slow, sad number about a guy who likes stuff like Mad Dog wine more than he ought to, then a whiplash new hill country song, like R.L. Burnside gone acoustic. And that was just the first set. Whatever much time she gets at the Greenwich House gig will be worth the cover. That, and the booze.

Girls Guns and Glory Bravely Tackle a Bunch of Hank Williams Classics

Why on earth would you want to do a whole album of Hank Williams covers? What could you possibly add to those iconic songs that could be better than the originals? OK, maybe you could completely reinvent them like Bryin Dall and Derek Rush did on their absolutely chilling Deconstructing Hank, transposing everything into a minor key and adding a layer of sepulchral atmospherics on top.

Or you could rip the hell out of them like George Thorogood did back when he was actually good. Girls Guns and Glory bravely tackle the challenge of amping up the songs while hanging onto a retro sensibility on their new album of Hank covers, most of which is streaming online. And it’s a rousing and improbable success. The Boston band recorded it on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day at hometown venue the Lizard Lounge in tribute to the last two shows he never got to play (he died in the back of that white Cadillac on January 1, 1953). The four-piece group – frontman Ward Hayden on guitar, Chris Hersch on lead guitar and banjo, Paul Dilley on bass and piano and Josh Kiggans on drums – are currently on East Coast tour, and would almost assuredly be making at stop at Rodeo Bar if it was still open. This time around they’ll be at the big room at the Rockwood on Feb 26 at 8 PM – kind of sad to see how the Rodeo scene has been dispersed, hasn’t it?

Most of the songs are pretty obvious choices, and they’re more bittersweet than sad. Hersch is the star of the show here: he spices Moanin’ the Blues with a nimble Chuck Berry-style solo as Hayden alternates between a high lonesome wail and a more exuberant bar-band delivery. Likewise, Hersch’s keening slide work soars over fiddler Jason Anick’s spare, oldschool lines on Hey Good Lookin. And an unexpected rampage down the fretboard steals the show from Miss Tess and Della Mae‘s Celia Woodsmith, who add exuberant harmonies on an otherwise straight-ahead take of Move It on Over. They do the same a bit later, on My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.

The two Americana songstresses also lend their voices to a steady, wistful take of Your Cheatin’ Heart, then the band gives So Lonesome I Could Cry an almost stalking, swaying, suspenseful groove. Honkytonk Blues is yet another showcase for Hersch’s uncanny ability to impersonate a pedal steel.

Rockin’ Chair Money is an unexpected choice, and a good one: the hypnotic, jangly, resonant sway absolutely nails Hank’s understated desperation. Anick’s wild spiraling on I Saw the Light is arguably the album’s most exhilarating moment. There’s also a more-or-less obligatory version of Jambalaya; a liquored-up take of Dear John where everybody gamely takes a turn on vocals despite there being no mic in back with the drums; and a stark, vividly elegaic bonus version of Old Log Train with Lake Street Dive’s Mike Calabrese on bass.

Fun Oldtime Pre-Rock Sounds from Woody Pines

It’s been pretty harrowing and intense around here lately, so today it’s time for fun. How about some upbeat, oldtime Americana swing? That’s what Woody Pines does. He got his start in Oregon (with a name like that, figures, huh?) around the turn of the century with the popular jugband the Kitchen Syncopators. Since then he’s led his own band; he’s got a new ep, You Gotta Roll which seems like something fresh for the merch table when he’s on the road (which seems to be pretty much all the time – that’s the new paradigm in music these days). And he’ll probably move a bunch of them: it’s a good party mix.

Like Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co., Woody Pines mines the late 40s/early 50s pre-rock era when all the country guys were getting into jazz. His not so secret weapon is eclectic lead guitarist Lyon Graulty, who also turns in a nifty clarinet solo on the jaunty proto-rockabilly tune Long Gone Lost John. Zack Pozebanchuck’s standup bass and Mike Gray’s simple, straight-up drumming keep a steady swing beat. The songs are a diverse mix of styles: Dock Boggs’ Red Rockin Chair gets a lickety-split but brooding remake with eerie chromatic harp and a deliciously murky dobro solo. Leadbelly’s Ham & Eggs plays up the absolutely surreal, bizarre lyric; Hank Williams’ Can’t Keep You Off My Mind gets a casually swaying treatment with just a little swampiness. They wrap things up with a briskly fingerpicked take of the country blues Treat You Right. Pines’ vocals are unaffected and laid-back – he makes his way through this stuff without sounding like a caricature, which isn’t easy to pull off. The whole thing is streaming at Bandcamp; if retro is your thing, he’s worth getting to know.

Small Beast, May 7: Best NYC Rock Show of 2012 So Far

If memory serves right, the legend of Small Beast first took root during CMJ 2007, when Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch – arguably the greatest keyboard improviser in rock music – played a one-off solo piano gig at the upstairs space at the Delancey. That stage had been more or less mothballed after the club’s first few months in business, but the show was a memorable one, and it struck a chord – a whole lot of them, actually. Wallfisch would go on to do a couple more equally intense solo gigs on it later that year, and then in the winter of 2008 founded the Beast (named after the club’s 88-key spinet piano). Over the next two years, Small Beast would become the live music event of the week in New York: it was the closest approximation to a genuine rock scene in this city since CBGB at the peak of the punk era. That this all took place on a Monday night rather than on a weekend says more about the state of New York nightlife in this depression era than pretty much anything else could. Last night, after a two-year absence following his appointment as music director at the Dortmund (Germany) State Theatre, Wallfisch made a triumphant return to that stage, playing for over four hours, first in a duo performance with a longtime collaborator, noir chanteuse Little Annie, then backing another noir rock legend, David J, and finally capping off the night with a tireless, often exhilarating solo set that went on until after two in the morning.

The night began with Bryin Dall doing Hank Williams covers from his Deconstructing Hank album, in a duo performance with Derek Rush on acoustic guitar. What Dall has done is taken Williams’ lyrics and set them to his own noir minor-key and chromatic melodies. Dall isn’t a strong singer, and his electric guitar work in this project is limited to scraping at the strings – often with what looked like a giant linoleum knife – for menacing white-noise effects. But it turned out to be a concept that, repeated over and over, set a horror-stricken ambience that lingered long after the show was done. Rush varied his approach from song to song, raising the suspense with unresolved, lingering open chords as well as the occasional horror-movie tonality. Taken as a whole, it was one of the most evocative portraits of complete, anguished isolation in recent memory: in his own twisted way, Dall did justice to the power of Williams’ unflinchingly bleak vision.

Other than a single drama-ridden appearance together in Germany, Little Annie and Wallfisch hadn’t played together for a couple of years. It was obvious how much the two missed each other: Annie went light on her signature acerbic stream-of-consciousness observations and occasional audience-baiting and sang her heart out. It wasn’t just her usual punked-out, smoky contralto Eartha Kitt growl and purr: who knew she had so much upper register? She started with a blithe, deadpan a-cappella verse of the old gospel song Life is a Ballgame, then a little later a casually savage version of her anti-gentrifier broadside Cutesy Bootsies and then the two went deep into the gloom for a series of requiems. Wallfisch’s moody, resonant chords on the elegy Dear John were one of the highlights of the night; he gave another one, Beside You, Beside Myself an unexpectedly psychedelic interlude. They reinvented the Tina Turner easy-listening hit Private Dancer as a grim Piaf waltz and closed with If You Go Away, the English version of Jacques Brel’s Si Tu Dois Partir, one of the covers she used to do back in her Tonic days ten years ago when her career as a singer (she’s also a very affecting visual artist) had taken a turn to dark cabaret.

Beyond his role as bassist in Bauhaus and then Love and Rockets, David J’s best work has been his own noir cabaret songs, both as a bandleader and solo act. This time out he was the former, backed by Wallfisch along with current Botanica bassist Jason Binnick, with Heather Paauwe characteristically eclectic and intense on violin. There were some covers: they turned St. James Infirmary into a torchy, breathy waltz, did a briskly deadpan take on Lou Reed’s NY Telephone Conversation, an unexpectedly drama-infused version of Bauhaus’ Who Killed Mr. Moonlight – lit up by Paauwe’s eerie swoops – and wound up the set with gleefully macabre romps through Tom Waits’ Dead and Lovely as well as what might be the prototypical noir cabaret song, Boulevard of Broken Dreams and finally Whiskey Bar, which went straight back to Kurt Weill with a blithe Weimar swing without any reference to the Doors. But the originals were the best, especially the poignantly matter-of-fact dirge Not Long for This World, the title track to David J’s forthcoming album, underscored by Wallfisch’s stoically resonant chords. The band also made their way through equally plaintive takes on a couple of songs written for David J’s new play about Edie Sedgwick, which he’s looking to bring to New York (any potential backers out there?) The first was soul music through the prism of Lou Reed, its foreshadowing visible miles away; the second worked a bossa theme for a more bittersweet and subtle look at her impending doom. David J has been a formidable presence in the darkest corners of the rock world for a long time: at this point, he may be at his peak.

Botanica has a poignant, brooding new album, What Do You Believe In, just out, inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s surreal Stalin-era parable The Master and the Margarita. Winding up the night with a long, extemporaneous set, Walfisch interspersed – and completely reinvented – some of its tracks along with a couple of older favorites and a dynamically charged, soul-infused version of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man (which several audience members had to beg him to play). Alternating from ragtime to Chopinesque chords and ripples, menacingly cinematic, Ran Blake-esque noir flourishes and psychedelic sostenuto soul, it was a master class in how to evince an entire spectrum of emotion from a battered keyboard. Wallfisch gave an unexpectedly minimalist insistence to the elegaic reminiscence Park Bench, imbued Ball in Hell with a theatrical sway and a pinpoint ragtime solo, turned the assaultive Manuscripts Don’t Burn into leapfrogging gypsy rock and blended high romanticism with oldschool soul on the brooding nocturne Past One O’Clock. The highlight of the set, and maybe the whole night, was the album’s opening track, Judgment: the studio version with John Andrews’ classical guitar is good, but this was transcendent, Wallfisch mimicking its original flamenco feel with flickering intensity in the upper registers and several jagged Erik Satie allusions. And after more than four hours behind the keys, he still had the energy to coax, eventually bribe and then endlessly vamp behind a woman in the crowd (who suspiciously seemed completely prepared for the moment) as she stripped on the bar; then he fired off the lickety-split downward torrents in How, a big crowd-pleaser from Botanica’s earlier gypsy-punk days.

Girls Guns and Glory – Don’t Let the Name Fool You

Don’t let the fratty name scare you away: Boston band Girls Guns and Glory have a lot of good things going on, if you like your powerpop with a country twang. Their album Sweet Nothings came out early last fall – it’s driving music with country-flavored vocals and tunes that evoke both C&W and Cheap Trick. Ballsier than Deer Tick and the Mumford clan, infinitely smarter than the Drive By Truckers, the album has fat, big-room production values – even the handclaps have a ton of reverb on them. This band is all about the tunes: sometimes the lyrics are surprisingly and memorably thoughtful, other times they’re pretty meh.

The opening track, Baby’s Got a Dream, sets the stage for the rest of the album, a big anthem with lusciously liquid organ and watery chorus-box guitar. And a wistful/bitter lyric:

She loves me not
Pick up the petals and watch them drop
Pick them back up, needle and thread
All stitched up, play the game again

The album’s title track is a shuffing boogie tune, followed by the beefed-up rockabilly song Nighttime (as in “nighttime is a hard place to be, that’s where the demons find me”). After that, there’s the slow ballad Last Night I Dreamed (nighttime is a recurrent theme here) with warm washes of steel guitar, then the snarling powerpop song Mary Anne with its artfully kick-ass layers of electric and acoustic guitars. As a kiss-off song, it doesn’t waste time getting to the point, and it’s the album’s strongest track.

Root Cellar sounds kind of like Creedence doing Hank Williams – but with vocals that are actually understandable. 1000 Times evokes the BoDeans, as does the bitter backbeat rock tune This Old House. Snake Skin Belt brings back the rocking Hank Williams vibe, with a cool, Brian Setzer-ish guitar solo, while Not a Girl Left in the World is wickedly catchy, purist highway rock that strongly reminds of the Del Lords (who have a long, long-awaited new album in the works). Some people will call this stuff bar-band music – and the band name won’t discourage anybody from making that assumption. But this is a style of music where everybody sounds a little (or a lot) like someone else – that’s why, when it’s good, like with this band, it’s a lot of fun. Fans of loud, energetic acts who bring a rock influence into country, or vice versa – the BoDeans, the Newton Gang, the late, lamented Hangdogs – should check them out.