New York Music Daily

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Tag: highway rock

Eric Ambel Brings His Expert, Purist Tunesmithing and Sizzling Lead Guitar Back to Brooklyn

If a clinic in spine-tingling, dynamic. expert lead guitar is your thing, you could spend hundreds of dollars and make Ticketbastard rich and go see Richard Thompson at a place like City Winery. Or you could go see Eric Ambel and his band for free this Saturday night at 9 upstairs at Hill Country Brooklyn. The Brooklyn branch of the bbq franchise is 180 degrees the opposite of the Manhattan location. The staff are friendly and seem happy to be there, the crowd is local and multicultural, and while they don’t nceessarily come to listen, a lot of them do. That way, the band doesn’t have to try to drown out the touristy din like they do in Manhattan. And the Brooklyn branch’s sound system is better, too.

Ambel has been on tour this summer with his band – Brett Bass on bass, Phil Cimino on drums and Spanking Charlene‘s Mo Goldner on second guitar – so they should be stoked to be back on their home turf. Ambel’s most recent New York show was here on this same stage at the end of June, and it was amazing, one of the year’s best. Switching between his custom Telecaster and Les Paul, “Roscoe” delivered searing, string-bending intensity, judicious jangle and clang, choogling four-on-the-floor grooves, a couple of stomping detours toward punk rock, even some plaintive wee-hour C&W. All that in two sets, about two hours of music where the band finally ran out of rehearsed material and blasted through a couple of old R&B covers to close the night.

There were so many high-voltage moments, it’s impossible to separate one from the rest. The band opened the second set with a searing take of Song for the Walls, the first track on Ambel’s second solo album, Loud & Lonesome, part psychedelic Beatles, part acidic Kevin Salem rock. Lou Whitney’s defiant Thirty Days in the Workhouse (“If I’d been a black man, they’d have given me thirty years”) resonated especially with this audience. There was roadhouse rock like Scott Kempner’s Here Come My Love. country-flavored material like Jimbo Mathus’ Let’s Play with Fire, and a couple of snarling, Ramones-influenced numbers, the best of them being the snide Hey Mr. DJ. Introducing that one, Ambel told a hilarious story about the first time he saw the Ramones, as an eighteen-year-old party animal in Illinois. That story’s too good to give away here.

Spanking Charlene frontwoman Charlene McPherson came up to duet on a swampy take of Have Mercy, which she co-wrote with Ambel. Mary Lee Kortes – Ambel’s wife and an equally skilled tunesmith, whose long-awaited forthcoming full-length album The Songs of Beulah Rowley is awe-inspiring – lent her crystalline voice to a couple of numbers too. The night’s longest and most darkly simmering epic, Buyback Blues – a bittersweet look back at Ambel’s well-loved and dearly missed East Village venue, Lakeside Lounge – was as good as anything Neil Young & Crazy Horse could come up with. If memory serves right, the band ran through just about everything from Ambel’s latest solo album, also titled Lakeside.

Later in the second set Ambel entertained the crowd with his funniest song, I Love You Baby – if you don’t know it, the lyrics are also too funny to give away here. The show this Saturday night should be something like this, who knows, maybe even better. If we get lucky they’ll play Garbagehead, the ultimate Lakeside Lounge Saturday night party anthem.

A Long-Lost 90s Psychedelic Blues Treasure Rescued from Obscurity

Guitarist Hugh Pool is sort of a New York counterpart to Stevie Ray Vaughan. Obviously, that’s not a completely fair comparison, considering that Pool outlived Vaughan the day he turned 36. He’s more versatile than Vaughan ever was, tackling everything from the fiery electric blues he’s best known for, to the spare, antique, otherworldly sound of his Mulebone collaboration with multi-instrumentalist John Ragusa. Then again, Vaughan didn’t live to see himself inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame – alongside both B.B. King and Eric Clapton, go figure – like Pool did last year.

Pool has also just re-released a rare 1996 recording, Willsboro Sound Lab, available on cd for the ridiculously low price of seven bucks. Like so many deserving obscurities from the early days of the web, it hasn’t made it to Spotify yet. What’s most striking about this album is not necessarily how tight it is, but how tantalizingly brief Pool’s solos are. For a guy who’s made a name for himself on the jamband circuit, he really makes every note count. The album opens with What I Did, a swinging, wah guitar-driven update on Hendrix-inspired 70s hard funk. The rhythm section – bassist Mike Bernal and drummer Matt Mousseau – establish a groove that will stay in place throughout the rest of the session. The open-tuned Angel’s Hair blends subtle, soulful slide work alongside Mike Latrell’s similarly low-key organ: it has the purist feel of a late 80s/early 90s electric Hot Tuna number, albeit with bass that’s closer to the ground.

The gracefully bouncing, understatedly moody When the Well Runs Dry mingles spare jangle, and clang along with keening, shivery slide work. Pool’s ominous, distantly Detroit-tinged solo could have gone on for four times as long and nobody would be complaining. “You can feel the cold when you open the door,” he intones broodingly.

Pool finally cuts loose, but still choosing his spots, with wrist-shattering tremolo, lightning Hendrix hammer-ons and some big crunchy stadium chords in the funky, dynamically shifting, psychedelic I Forgot Where I Was. The ep winds up with the quietly menacing nocturne Big Ol’ Moon, Pool’s lingering, hypnotic acoustic and electric multitracks anchored by Mousseau’s spare, deep-space boom.

Fans of rootsy psychedelia, from Jorma’s many projects, to current-day New York artists like Eric Ambel and Lizzie & the Makers should check this out. Pool’s next New York gig is July 27 at midnight at the Ear Inn, the final stop on his current US tour. In addition to his own projects, Pool plays lead guitar in Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons, who have a birthday gig coming up at 10 PM on July 15 at Sidewalk, followed a set by downtown siren Carol Lipnik, who will be airing out some of Leckie’s most haunting art-rock songs.

 

 

Texas Art-Rock Jamband and Neil Young Collaborators Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real in Williamsburg Tonight

If the idea of blowing off work or school today to wait for hours in the suddenly scorching sun for this evening’s free MOMA Summergarden event – where the new Neil Young album is being premiered over the PA at 6 out behind the museum – doesn’t appeal to you, there’s a relatively inexpensive alternative tonight at Brooklyn Bowl where Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, who back Young on the record, are playing their own stuff at around 9. Cover is a reasonable $15. That a band that packs stadiums coast to coast hasn’t sold out this comparatively smaller venue testifies to something really troubling as far as live music in New York is concerned.

The group’s latest album Something Real is streaming at Spotify. The opening track, Surprise, is exactly that, kicking off with a wry Pink Floyd quote and then hitting a bluesy metal sway over an altered version of the hook from Sabbath’s Paranoid .Then they make a doublespeed Blue Oyster Cult boogie of sorts out of it. The title track is a straight-up boogie: “I got tired of trying to please everybody…you’re just a name in a picture frame,” the bandleader rails, then bassist Corey McCormick, percussionist Tato Melgar and drummer Anthony LoGerfo take it down for a searing, blues-infused solo. These guys don’t coast on their bloodlines: Lukas and Micah Nelson play like they really listened to their dad…at his loudest.

Set Me Down on a Cloud has a pretty straight-up, growling Neil-style country-rock sway. Don’t Want to Fly has a similar groove, a dark stoner blues gem that David Gilmour would probably love to have written. Ugly Color is an unlikely successful, epic mashup of Santana slink, Another Brick in the Wall art-pop and BoDeans highway rock. Speaking of the BoDeans, the ballad Georgia is a tensely low-key ringer for something from that band circa 1995.

This brother outfit goes back to boogie blues with the strutting I’ll Make Love to You Any Ol’ Time. Then they blast through Everything Is Fake in a swirling hailstorm of tremolo-picking. The album winds up with an amped-up cover of Scott McKenzie’s famous 1967 janglepop hit San Francisco, Neil Young cameo included. It’s sad how so few children of noteworthy rock musicians have lived up to their parents’ greatness – on the other hand, it’s heartwarming to see these guys join the ranks of Amy Allison (daughter of Mose), the Wallflowers’ Jakob Dylan and Sean Lennon. And these guys rock a lot harder than all of them.

The Dirty Rollers Pick Up Where Americana Rock Cult Favorites American Ambulance Left Off

American Ambulance seem pretty much finished at this point. But what a ride they had. The New York Americana rockers burned hard for the better part of fifteen years before finally going on hiatus at the end of last year.With a fearlessly populist political sensibility in reaction to the terror of the Bush/Cheney years, they became a lot less country and a lot harder-rocking as the past decade went by.

These days lead guitarist Scott Aldrich is in Rhode Island, and bassist Tim Reedy is plenty busy with his own music. But frontman/guitarist Pete Cenedella and drummer Joe Dessereau are keeping things going as the core of their new band the Dirty Rollers. They’ll be playing a characteristically marathon set starting at 7:30 PM at Hifi Bar on May 18 with plenty of special guests including darkly transcendent singer Erica Smith. Cenedella also promises a number of deviously chosen cover tunes.

Last October at the Treehouse at 2A, American Ambulance played what might have been the band’s final Manhattan show. And it wasn’t sad – it was a pretty wild night. They didn’t waste any time opening with one of the evening’s best numbers, a pouncing blue-flame late-night outlaws-on-the-run scenario, with a long, uneasily minor-key organ solo from guest keyboardist Charly Roth. Cenedella opened the next tune with just vocals and guitar, all tension and expectancy, fueled by Dessereau’s spring-loaded beat,  Aldrich blasting through a couple of terse, vintage Keith Richards-style solos.

Reedy sang the next number, a mashup of classic four-on-the-floor barroom rock and restlessly opaque 90s Wilco: “So many things to forget about,” he intoned sardonically. They shifted gears after that, Roth on piano with the witheringly sarcastic Hey Richard Nixon, the political track that the Stones should have recorded on Exile on Main Street. Memory is a little sketchy on this one – listening back to an audience recording, that similarly smoldering backing vocal section sounds like Smith and her friend in belting soul intensity, Lizzie Edwards.

Down in the Basement, a fond look back at a 70s adolescence spent raising hell back when Brooklyn was a lot grittier, was slower than the band usually did it, Roth’s river of organ adding an extra tinge of pensiveness and soul. He did the same with the number after that after that, a towering, Stonesy soul ballad, Shimmering Rain, fueled by the explosive, gospel-infused crescendos of the backing choir as they took a turn out front. Cenedella went back on the mic as the band ripped through a blistering take of the Beatles’ She Said She Said; later Reedy led the group through a lickety-split, raging cover of Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.

Aldrich’s unhinged bent-note attack against the lush washes of Roth’s organ drove the big anthem after that, a deliriously fond reminiscence of escaping Long Island suburban anomie for Manhattan revelry, a Yes concert (who knew?) and good weed. With the organ at full throttle, Mary Ann Is Hanging On sounded like the Wallflowers on steroids. Then they went back to the honkytonk-inspired flavor of the band’s early years, Roth adding an oldschool Nashville edge on piano behind Aldrich’s slinky lines: :”Silence is the worst thing of all,” Cenedella railed. It’s a good bet they new band will pull out some of these on Wednesday night.

Gill Landry Makes a Night Out Among the Tourists Actually Worthwhile

When’s the last time a song absolutely ripped your face off? Gill Landry‘s Waiting for Your Love will do that to you. It’s a kiss-off anthem, but it’s also a requiem for a relationship gone irreparably wrong. Via a travelogue worthy of Kerouac, the Old Crow Medicine Show guitarist recounts a long downward spiral, with an ending that will give you chills. Not to spoil anything, but this time around, only death brings closure.

The rest of Landry’s solo album – streaming at Spotify – isn’t quite up to that level of haunting, but it’s excellent all the same. He’ll be playing plenty of this material tonight, May 7 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood. Cover is $15; if the idea of spending a Saturday night dodging crowds of beer pong types seems dubious, consider that Landry’s solo stuff is more likely to draw a listening crowd rather than those people That’s not to say that Old Crow play beer pong music, just that some of those types gravitate to it. As a bonus, Landry is followd eventually at around 11 by the mighty gospel-rock orchestra Jesus on the Mainline, co-fronted by one of the most spectacular voices in town, Mel Flannery.

Over a matter-of-fact inteweave of acoustic flatpicking, the chilling Funeral In My Heart sets up the rest of Landry’s album:

Regret is by your coffin, can’t do anything but cry
The bloodless face of Used to Be is looking cold and grim
As the pallbearers of My True Love sing a silent hymn

Just Like You, like the rest of the songs here, is a gorgeously jangling, bittersweet update on a well-traveled sound, the angst-fueled highway rock of 80s and 90s bands like the BoDeans. Landry’s resonant baritone brings to mind that band’s former frontman Sam Llanas, sonically as well as thematically: Llanas mines a lot of the same existential angst as Landry does here.

The stately waltz Emily mashes up Tex-Mex, indie nebulosity and mid-70s Willie Nelson:

Flashing in foreign tongues to now-dead melodies
I tried to exalt you as you crucified me

Laura Marling adds her elegant voice to the duet Take This Body over a low-key acoustic countrypolitan backdrop. Odessa Jorgensen‘s uneasily soaring fiddle lines spice up the dark border-rock-shuffle Fennario. Over a bed of burning electric guitars, Lost Love evokes the blue-flame intensity of the mid-90s BoDeans, circa Joe Dirt Car, than anything else here. And while the organ-infused soul ballad Lately Right Now – as in, “Lately I need you right now” – at first sounds like an oxymoron, consider how many different directions, wry and otherwise, that phrase could go in.

Landry keeps the organ up in the mix through the ominously swaying, regret-laden Long Road. The final cut is the haunted outlaw country waltz Bad Love: “Hard looks and cold words, they kill by degrees,” Landry intones biterly, a sobering look at how quickly something good can decay, bringing this hard-hitting, emotionally raw collection of songs full circle with a real wallop.

A Clinic in Purist Guitar Rock from Eric Ambel and Esquela

“Who needs pedals?” Eric “Roscoe” Ambel asked the party people in the house at a private event at Bowery Electric last week. His pedalboard was acting up, so he pulled the plug on it. Running straight through his amp, switching between a vintage black Les Paul and his signature Roscoe Deluxe Tele model by Stonetree Custom Guitars, Ambel put on a clinic in lead guitar, playing a mix of old favorites and material from his new gatefold vinyl album, Lakeside. Behind the guitar icon and head honcho of the late, great Lakeside Lounge were Brett Bass on bass, Phil Cimino on drums and Spanking Charlene‘s Mo Goldner taking on a Keith Richards role on second guitar. They kicked off hard with Song from the Walls, the angry, acidic riff-rock opening track on Ambel’s 1995 Loud and Lonesome album.

It’s amazing how few notes Ambel uses, considering what kind of chops the guy has. Everything counts for something: the lingering bends on the simmering, amped-up Jimmy Reed groove of Here Come My Love; the gritty, enveloping roar of the anti-trendoid broadside Hey Mr. DJ; the sunspotted, precise blues bite of Don’t Make Me Break You Down. Spanking Charlene frontwoman Charlene McPherson lent her powerful pipes to the vocal harmonies on Have Mercy, a soul-infused number that she wrote with Ambel. They sent a shout-out to the Ramones with Massive Confusion, then chilled out with Gillian Welch’s Miss Ohio. Ambel’s playing the album release show on April 29 at around 8:30 PM at Berlin (in the basement under 2A). He’s doing double duty that night: after his set, he’a adding “power assist guitar” with the ferociously funny Spanking Charlene.

The opening act, Esquela – whose album Canis Majoris Ambel recently produced – were excellent too. They work a country-oriented side of paisley underground twang and clang. The push-pull of the two guitarists, Brian Shafer’s snaky, sinuous leads against Matt Woodin’s punchy, uneasily propulsive drive had an intensity similar to great 80s bands like True West and Steve Wynn‘s Dream Syndicate. They also hit hard with their opener, Too Big to Fail (as in, “too rich for jail”), frontwoman Becca Frame’s big, wounded wail soaring over the twin-guitar attack and the four-on-the-floor drive from the band’s main songwriter, bassist John “Chico” Finn and drummer Todd Russell.

From there they hit a wry Del Shanon doo-wop rock groove with It Didn’t Take, went into stomping mid-70s Lou Reed territory and then rousing Celtic rock with Need Not Apply, a snarling look back at anti-Irish racisim across the ages. Their best song was a bittersweetly swaying dead ringer for mid-80s True West, but with better vocals and a careening, shoulder-dusting Shafer solo. Or it might have been an echoey psychedelic number that they suddenly took warpspeed at the end. They brought up harmony singer Allyson Wilson, whose soulful intensity was every bit the match for Frame’s – which made sense, considering that she usually can be found singing opera and classical repertoire at places like Carnegie Hall. Her most spine-tinging moment was when she tackled the Merry Clayton role on a slinky cover of Gimme Shelter.

The band closed with Freebird, a sardonically funny, Stonesy original that Finn wrote to satisfy all the yahoos who scream for it. Perennially popular indie powerpop road warriors the Figgs – who haven’t lost a step in twenty years – were next on the bill. Which was where the whiskey really started to kick in – this was a party, after all. Sorry, guys – for a look at what they sound like onstage, here’s a snarky piece from Colossal Musical Joke week, 2012.

Eric Ambel’s New Lakeside Record Captures the Guitarmeister at the Top of His Game

Eric Ambel is well known in Americana rock circles and something of a legend in New York. He’s played with everybody. He did a lengthy stint as Steve Earle’s lead guitarist back in the zeros. Before that he fronted the influential Del-Lords. For more than a decade, he ran the East Village’s coolest bar and music venue, Lakeside Lounge. And he continues to produce artists at his Williamsburg studio, Cowboy Technical Services.

He’s also got a new album, also called Lakeside, a fond over-the-shoulder look at the kind of edgy, purist retro sounds that could be found onstage during his old venue’s heyday. Interestingly, rather than producing this himself like his other solo albums, Ambel brought in Jimbo Mathus. formerly with the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who also contributes guitar and bass – and drums on one track. The result is a gatefold vinyl album (that comes with a couple of download cards), available in a limited edition of 500 copies, signed and numbered. This is one of those records you’ll probably want to tape and then play the caasette til it self-destructs. Seriously – if you own a turntable, you probably own a tape deck too.

Ambel’s longtime rhythm section, bassist Keith Christopher and drummer Phil Cimino show up on most of these tracks. As dirty and messy as Ambel can get, there’s a level of craft in what he does that’s rarely seen these days. That isn’t to say that there aren’t guys dedicatedly spending hours hunched over their laptops trying to get the right sound or the right mix, just that Ambel does it with quality gear. And while he’s known first and foremost as a guitarist, he really hit the vocals out of the park here. Other guys get old and reedy and raspy; Ambel sounds about 25, full of piss and vinegar.

The opening track is Ambel’s old Del-Lords bandmate Scott Kempner’s Here Come My Love. It’s a ba-bump roadhouse rock number with that band’s signature sardonic, surreal sense of humor and a tasty acoustic/electric backdrop. Mathus’ first number, Hey Mr. DJ is a sludgy, coldly amusing look at groupthink among the entitled sons and daughters of the idle classes on the demand side of the current plague of gentrification.

Have Mercy, a co-write with Spanking Charlene frontwoman Charlene McPherson, revisits that theme, an update on Creedence swamp rock with plenty of Ambel’s signature, offhandedly savage riffage. Let’s Play with Fire, another Mathus number, mashes up shuffling C&W and Orbison noir, with an absolutely Lynchian lapsteel solo by the bandleader. Side 1 concludes with Don’t Make Me Break You Down, an Ambel/Mathus co-write with a glowering Neil Young/Crazy Horse vibe.

Side 2 opens with the Ramones-tinged Massive Confusion, a Mathus tune. Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio, which always seemed to pop up somewhere during Ambel’s shows on his old East Village turf, gets a lingering, nocturnal Sticky Fingers treatment that builds to a mighty psychedelic peak. Ambel does the old soul hit Money as a haphazardly prowling Neil/Crazy Horse burner. The album’s best track is the slow, brooding minor-key Buyback Blues, drenched in an ocean of reverb and guitar multitracks.”It takes a special kind of understanding for a man to live in the nighttime,” Ambel sings dryly and knowingly. The record winds up with Ambel’s twangy, bittersweet, distantly Lynchian instrumental Crying in My Sleep.

Is this Ambel’s best solo record? It’s definitely as good as any of the other three. From the perspective of having caught the cult classic Roscoe’s Gang album back in the day when every bar in what used to be a happening neighborhood was playing it, it’s hard to tackle that question with any real objectivity. Ambel’s next show is at Berlin (in the basement space under 2A; enter through the door on the right, midway down the bar on the first floor) on April 29.

Ike Reilly Brings His Down-to-Earth, High-Energy Lyrical Rock to the Mercury

Ike Reilly is sort of the Midwestern Willie Nile. Their big four-on-the-floor rock anthems have a lot in common: catchy riffs, purist arrangements, first-class playing and heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics. Like Nile, Reilly looks back to Highway 61-era Dylan a lot, but also draws on the most dramatic side of Celtic balladry. He and his excellent band the Ike Reilly Assassination are in the midst of their summer tour, with a couple of Mercury Lounge gigs coming up. On July 16 they’re playing at 7 PM, and then at 10:30 PM on the 17th. General admission is $15.

Reilly’s latest album, Born on Fire, is streaming at Spotify. The opening, title track sets the stage with its meat-and-potatoes Irish rock tinges, hitting a jaunty, dancing 70s Springsteen groove fueled by Adam Krier’s piano and organ and the tersely intertwining, soul-infused guitars of Phil Karnats and Tommy O’Donnell. Job Like That (Lasalle and Grand) blends Blonde on Blonde sway with arena-soul bombast, a characteristic blend of sardonic humor and irrepressible blue-collar charm.

Underneath the Moon gives Reilly a ragtime-inflected launching pad for him to work a rakishly surrealist come-on with some unnamed girl. Do the Death Slide! is a goodnatured, riff-driven spoof of 60s soul dance numbers, infused with bluesy harmonica and sax. With its torrents of aphorisms and subtle political subtext, the folk-rock anthem Am I Still the One for You brings to mind Fred Gillen Jr. at his wordiest and most Dylanesque. Likewise, 2 Weeks of Work, 1 Night of Love builds a bleak teens New Depression milieu, with more of that honking blues harp:

Work clothes, party clothes, funeral suit
Got nowhere to, got nothing to wear them to
I think I’ll put on my father’s shirt
And think of the days I used to have work
I don’t need no mercy
From your heaven above…

Hanging Around is one of the album’s best tracks, making organ-driven garage-psych rock out of what’s essentially Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons, a snide tale of a rank-and-file guy trying to seduce a devil in disguise from human resources. Notes from Denver International Airport sets a harried, harrassed post-9/11, pre-flight narrative to bluesy Highway 61 rock, with a droll faux-gospel interlude.

The album’s garagiest number is Black Kat, springboarding a feral solo from one of the guitarists. Let’s Live Like We’re Dying kicks off with a darkly oldtimey New Orleans blues sway, then takes on a Thirteenth Floor Elevators slink and rises to a mighty gospel crescendo. Upper Mississippi River Valley Girl segues out of it, a vividly twisted Midwestern carnival tableau. The album’s most noir moment is another subtly political number, Good Looking Boy, bookended around a searing fuzztone guitar solo. The album winds up with wryly amusing character study Paradise Lane, with whiplash guitar from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. If a clever turn of phrase set to a catchy hook is your thing, go see this guy.

No Ricolas for John Mellencamp

One of the fringe benefits of going to Carnegie Hall is the baskets of Ricolas they have outside the exits to the various spaces there. If you’re, say, a budget-conscious college kid, you can make enough of a haul of those things to get through a couple days’ worth of a nasty cold. For John Mellencamp‘s show there tonight, there were no Ricolas in sight. Although the gravelly-voiced arena rocker could have used a handful.

Busy ushers were quick to tell ticketholders that “John doesn’t like cellphones,” and that flash photography during the show would be verboten. Looking up from the orchestra level, it seemed that barely half the seats in the hall were taken. But all those people, or most of them anyway, were down on the floor, on their feet. And though it happened to be 4/20, the smell on everybody’s breath, it seemed, was booze rather than weed.

If the accents in the crowd were any indication, the former Johnny Cougar is more popular on Long Island than he is in New Jersey. It was a blue-collar demographic whose lives had gone on long after the thrill of living was gone. And a smart piece of booking for the venue, considering that few if any of those in attendance had ever been there. “There isn’t a bad seat in the house,” was a familiar refrain in between selfies against a backdrop from a previous era of robber barons in Manhattan.

Mellencamp played that song solo acoustic, reinventing it as he did many of the other radio hits, an unexpected and rather impressive move considering that he and the band could have phoned them in and probably no one would have complained.  Is that song actually sarcastic, a clever dig at the white trash Mellencamp grew up with? Probably not, but the snide Reagan recession anthem Little Pink Houses definitely is…and just like Springsteen’s Born in the USA, went over everybody’s head, at least as far as this crowd was concerned.

Much as Mellencamp has been tagged as a poor person’s Bruce, he’s actually been through several phases. It would have been cool to see him revisit his Ain’t Even Done with the Night days as a powerpop guy, but he didn’t go there. But he left no doubt that he’s a formidable bluesman, with an impassioned take of Robert Johnson’s Stones in My Passway, lead guitarist Andy York playing with his usual counterintuitive verve with a slide on a hybrid electric National steel model. Mellencamp also roared and wailed his way through some newer, similarly bluesy, gospel-tinged fire-and-brimstone Midwestern gothic anthems.

And much as this was a nostalgia trip for the crowd, Mellencamp’s still putting out new material, mostly competent if formulaic highway rock that rises to a vamping two-chord chorus with a singalong tagline. You gotta admire the guy for what he does: he’s a consummate pro. And there were moments that reminded that when he puts his mind to it, he can write a damn good song. The roar of the band’s three guitars subsumed the annoying violin-and-accordion hook on the late 80s hit Paper in Fire, an unanticipated breath of fresh air. The minor-key Human Wheels, with the night’s one interesting bassline slithering out of the chorus, was another. Too bad their version of Rain on the Scarecrow, on record one of the most excoriating Reagan-era populist broadsides, was so rote: York waited til the very end to fire off that searing, aching hook that made the single so powerful.

By the end of the show, Mellencamp had also run through some faux Waits, some secondhand Stones, a halfhearted detour into Land of a Thousand Dances and a boisterously bluesy cover that the Del-Lords did better back in the 80s. That being said, he probably could have retired a decade ago, and here he is, still out there doing what he’s always done, and finding ways to keep it from getting stale. May we all be that inspired when we hit sixty.

Waylon Speed Play Their High-Voltage Americana At a Rare Intimate Show

Waylon Speed do interesting and original things with old ideas from south of the Mason-Dixon line, from highway rock to hard honkytonk to Molly Hatchet. And they personify the dilemma facing so many nationally touring bands when it comes to playing here. They make their living on the road at decently midsize venues like Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, Kung Fu Necktie in Philly, the works. Where are they playing in New York on Dec 12 at 11 PM? Bowery Ballroom? The Bell House? Nope. The Rockwood – not even the big room there, but the little one. Which should at least make for an intimate show for the exuberant Vermont quartet. In fact, if Dub Trio hadn’t done a residency there awhile back, it would be safe to say that Waylon Speed would definitely be the loudest group ever to play that little space. Rockwood peeps, you have been warned.

The band’s latest album, Kin, is streaming at Spotify – if you’d rather avoid the hassle of flipping the volume down for the between-song ads, a lot of it is up at the band’s webpage and also at soundcloud. Americana guitar maven Mark Spencer – of the late great Blood Oranges – produced, giving it a warm, analog feel and purist values: Chad Hammaker and Kelly Ravin’s guitars and vocals front and center, Noah and Justin Crowther’s bass and drums in back where they belong. It sounds more like it was fueled by Maker’s and good hydro than by Caldwell’s (it’s a Vermont thing) and dirtweed.

The opening track, Coming Down Again – an original, not the Stones obscurity – is a twangy country tune fueled by some sweet slide guitar. The album’s title track reaches for a funky sway with Skynyrd tropes like sludgy bluesmetal and wry wah riffage, and a stampede to the finish line. Smooth the Grain juxtaposes hotrod baritone guitar and honking harmonica over a twangy shuffle that wouldn’t be out of place in the Wayne Hancock catalog.

“There’s a ghost in the corner blowing smoke in my face,” Hammaker complain on the similarly shuffling Until It All Ends, “Take your grain of salt and rub it in your wounds.” On a Wire, like the janglier songs here, recalls New York’s long-running, consistently excellent highway rockers the Sloe Guns. Tally-Ho puts a scrambling Buck Owens edge on early alt-country, like a less punk Uncle Tupelo. And you might think that a mashup of 70s redneck rock and Blue Oyster Cult might be a complete mess, but Shakin’ proves it’s possible to pull off.

In Your Mind, the most straight-up rock tune here, has a stomping beat and winds up with a long, searing metal guitar solo. “It looks like you’ve been ashing on your dashboard…you wake in the asscrack of noon,” Hammaker relates casually on the twangy, steel guitar-fueled kiss-off anthem Days Remain the Same. They take a detour toward garage rock with Union and close out on a counterintuitive note with with the slow, brooding ballad Demons.