New York Music Daily

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Tag: honkytonk music

The Cactus Blossoms and Dwight Yoakam Capture New York in 2016

“I want to dedicate this to a son of Bakersfield,” Dwight Yoakam told the sold-out crowd at this year’s concluding Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival concert Sunday night. “I don’t mean Buck,” Yoakam explained, referring to iconic Telecaster player Buck Owens, who transformed the sound of country music in the early 60s. “He’s great, but Merle was such a mentor to me.” And then led his high-voltage, expert hard honkytonk band through a brief, poignant set of Merle Haggard tunes. There was an aptly airy, wistful version of Silver Wings, a bouncy take of Mama Tried…and a singalong on Okie From Muskogee, the widely misunderstood early outlaw-country anthem where everybody in the crowd knew the words. If you grew up a fan of country music, obviously you know them by heart. But you might not expect several thousand New Yorkers (and a smattering of tourists) to know them as well. And they did. Folks, this is what New York is listening to in 2016. Festival producer Jill Sternheimer and her crew were definitely not asleep at the wheel this year.

In a marathon, nonstop, tireslessly workmanlinke two hours onstage, Yoakam crooned as strongly as he did back in 1985, when, as he related, he opened for the Blasters at the old Ritz (now Webster Hall). He thanked anybody “still ambulatory” from that era who might have come out for this show – and a handful of folks apparently did. He kicked things off with Guitars Cadillacs, from his first album from a year after that, when he was one of the great new hopes in purist country music, along with Steve Earle, Ricky Skaggs and Rodney Crowell. But Yoakam rocked harder than any of those guys, at least at the time, as he did here. Alternating between electric and acoustic guitars, Yoakam showed off some snazzy flatpicking chops, no surprise since his forthcoming album takes a turn into bluegrass (he’s another guy who has his finger on what kids these days are listening to).

Behind him, drummer Mitch Marine and bassist Jonathan Clark put down a swinging backbeat, a platform for lead guitarist Eugene Edwards’ sizzling, resonant Telecaster and hollowbody Gretsch work. Behind them, multi-instrumentalist Brian Whelan dazzled the crowd with his dexterity on – are you ready – guitar, pedal steel, piano, organ, percussion and fiddle. When Yoakam mentioned the word “Grammy,” there was a predictable dip toward generic New Nashville, and the material from his latest album didn’t hold up alongside his earlier stuff. Putting everything in context, he and the band covered the early psychedelic Beatles as expertly as fat Elvis. It was like being at a Oklahoma county fair, but better.

Minneapolis five-piece opener the Cactus Blosoms stole the show with a brooding, often mesmerizing set of originals and a couple of covers, one a low-key reworking of an early Kinks hit and another that sounded like the Black Angels, whose moody resonance blended in well with the rest of the material. Frontman Page Burkum and his stagenamed rhythm guitarist brother Jack Torrey joined voices with similarly bittersweet high-lonesome sensibility that vividly evoked the Everly Brothers. Burkum also turned out to be an excellent guitarist, channeling Tal Farlow and an army of mid-50s pickers with his judicious, morosely twangy riffs and fills, bolstered by a Les Paul player whose similarly tasteful, spare lines lingered over the slow, echoey rimshot beat of drummer Chris Hepola in tandem with bassist Andy Carroll.

Their best song of the night was Powder Blue, a slowly swaying Nashville gothic number that used the opening notes of the Twin Peaks theme as a springboard. “We have some sad songs for you,” Burkum had cautioned the crowd as the group took the stage, and he meant it. Although there were a couple of jaunty Tex-Mex flavored numbers in the set, most of the material was slow to midtempo: as he explained, even the set’s lone lovestruck ballad had a similarly terror-stricken undercurrent, its protagonist dreading the moment his girl might leave him just as the others did. On one hand, what this band does is retro to the core, which might have something to do with their popularity. On the other, it’s cutting edge. It looks like we’ve come full circle, back to Nashville and Bakersfield, 1963. Which isn’t such a bad thing.

A Rare Midtown Show by Americana Songwriting Icon Joe Ely

Joe Ely may be iconic in Americana music circles, but he’s hardly resting on his laurels these days. Joe Strummer’s favorite country singer has seen the cult favorite debut album by his early 70s supergroup the Flatlanders reissued, along with his hard-to-find 1983 solo record B484, one of the first releases to utilize what was then state-of-the-art computer technology. Earlier this year, a previously unreleased duet by Ely and Linda Ronstadt was rescued from the vaults. His thinly veiled autobiographical novel Reverb: An Odyssey is out, and is as brilliant and understatedly surreal as you would expect from an eloquent pioneer of what would become known as alt-country back in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. If that isn’t enough, Ely is the Texas State Musician of 2016. And his latest darkly relevant, immigrant-themed album, Panhandle Rambler – streaming at Spotify – employs a wide and distinguished group of talent from his Austin circle. It might be the best solo album he’s ever done. His most recent gig here was with the Flatlanders at Carnegie Hall several months back, but he’s making a rare return to NYC with a gig on July 27 at 8 PM at B.B. King’s. Advance tix are $27.50.

The album’s first cut, Wounded Creek builds from an ominous thicket of acoustic guitars and bass into a darkly bluesy southwestern gothic ballad, Ely at the top of his game as purposefully imagistic storyteller. The similarly uneasy, tiptoeing Magdalene also works an allusive, haunted storyline, an outlaw couple on the run. “I don’t know what comes next,” Ely confides, “Your guess is as good as mine,” Joel Guzman’s accordion wafting in the distance. Coyotes Are Howling keeps the border-rock suspense going, a gloomy American narcocorrida of sorts:

Bright lights are flashing
Both red and blue
It’s nowhere near Christmas
But it’s long overdue

When the Nights Are Cold sardonically nicks a famous Pink Floyd riff for a somber portrait of illegal immigrant angst. Early in the Mornin’ follows a similar, more enigmatic tangent, blending elegant Mexican folk touches into late 70s outlaw honkytonk. Southern Eyes works a sarcastically shuffling western swing groove, followed by the folk noir hobo tale Four Ol’ Brokes.

Wonderin’ Where is a bittersweetly nostalgic William Carlos Williams-ish tale with Memphis soul tinges. Ely goes back to outlaw balladry with the brooding, ghostly Burden of Your Load, arguably the album’s best song:

State prison? Don’t get distracted
Keep your eyes on the road
The weight will be subtracted
From the burden of your load

Then the band picks up the pace with Here’s to the Weary, a populist anthem referencing Woody Guthrie, Bob Wills and George Jones. Jim Hoke’s ghostly steel keens icily in Cold Black Hammer, a darkly wry, Tom Waits-style story of a real femme fatale. The final cut is the unexpectedly hard-rocking You Saved Me, drawing a straight line back to Buddy Holly. Throughout the album, there’s all kinds of tasteful, often Spanish-tinged picking, contrasting with Guzman’s echoey, 80s-style synth lines, in the same vein as the Highwaymen records. Ely’s voice is a little more flinty now, which suits him fine since subtlety and stories have always been his thing. It’s another release that really should have been on last year’s list of best albums here.

Revisiting a Rare Gem by Jen Starsinic

Talk about working up a sweat: Jen Starsinic recorded her debut album, The Flood & the Fire (streaming at her music page) in hundred-degree Boston heat, with neither air conditioning nor fan, in the summer of 2013. The Nashville-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is hardly unknown – she toured extensively with David Mayfield, and is a staple on the folk festival circuit – but she deserves a wider audience. Vocally, she brings to mind the unselfconscious, plaintive depth and nuance of a young Erica Smith. Likewise, her songs run the gamut of Americana both old and new, from newgrass, to oldschool honkytonk, to more psychedelic pastoral sounds.

The album’s opening track, Time to Lose, an upbeat blend of newgrass and ethereal Americana pop, has a disarmingly down-to-earth bitttersweetness: ”Bones regrow but our heart doesn’t heal,” Starsinic explains, with just a millisecond of hesitation that packs a wallop. Ultimately, her message is  that there’s no shame in doing a second take if the first one doesn’t come out the way you want it. Likewise, the fiddle-fueled indian summer ballad Stay, a gentle nudge at a restless spirit who might just be happier in a relationship than in her “long years chasing boys around the block.”

The Only One Who Can Break a Heart is a morose vintage C&W ballad worthy of Laura Cantrell: “I’m damned if I stay, I’m damned if I try to leave you where you belong,” Starsinic laments. Oh My Darling‘s Allison de Groot lends her banjo to the low-key, John Prine-esque surrealism of Six Foot Three, while Molly Tuttle, of the Tuttles with AJ Lee, flatpicks on the intricately bristling, trickily syncopated Ragdolls.

With its stark blend of Starsinic’s fiddle and Eric Law’s cello, the understated escape anthem It’s a Foreign Thing puts a lushly textural spin on an antique Appalachian style. Mining its canary imagery for all it’s worth, Birdie in a Cage is just as allusive, and absolutely chilling despite the tune’s bluegrass warmth. The reverb on Starsinic’s voice in the lingering, woundedly pensive waltz Move in Time with Me matches the tremolo on her guitar.

Dive a Little Deeper sets Starsinic’s charmingly aphoristic yet characteristically brooding oceanic metaphors to an oldschool bluegrass stroll: “You can wait like a fool all sticky with sand for the water to wash your limbs, or you can wait like a fool all night and all day instead of wading deeper in.’

Charlie Rose’s atmospheric pedal steel hangs in the back throughout the even more disquieting Wildfire and its calm tale of a forest fire gone out of control. The gently but purposefully swaying Since You’ve Come Around winds up the album on a quietly shattering note, Starsinic pondering where the good times went “When it was dangerous you and cynical me.” Such a strong debut effort portends even better things for Starsinic: she’s somebody to keep an eye on.

The Sweetback Sisters Make a Long-Awaited Return to Their Favorite Brooklyn Honkytonk

The Sweetback Sisters don’t play as many New York shows as they used to, which means that the badass twin-female-fronted oldschool honkytonk and Americana band should draw an especially good crowd to their June 17, 9 PM show at the Jalopy. Cover is $15; get there early. It’s the Jalopy, after all, so the pre-show hangout comes without all the hassles and high prices you get at so many other venues.

The last time this blog caught the band, it was almost a couple of years ago – damn, how time flies – out back of City Winery. Co-bandleader/singer/multi-instrumentalist Zara Bode had relocated to San Francisco, away from her counterpart, fiddler/guitarist Emily Miller, so this was a heartwarming reunion of sorts. Bode took the smoky low harmony against Miller’s soaring high one on a spirited, syncopated western swing number to open the show. Then they took that style, and the energy, to redline with the scampering, catchy Texas Bluebonnets, packed with all sorts of neat tradeoffs between fiddle and electric guitar. Looking back, it’s impossible to remember exactly who the personnel onstage were, other than the frontwomen; previous lineups have featured bassist Peter Bitenc, drummer Stefan Amidon, fiddler Jesse Milnes and ferocious lead guitarist Ryan Hommel.

Bode again took centerstage on a defiantly jazz-tinged strut through It’s All Your Fault, with a simmering rockabilly solo from the lead player. Miller took over lead vocals on You’re Gonna Miss Me, an energetic, poignant, swinging 1950s-style C&W number: the Jingle Bell Rock quote from the lead player was pricelessly funny. Then they swung their way through a snarling take of Looking for a Fight, the title track to their 2012 cult favorite album.

Next on the bill was a slow, vengeful, blue-flame waltz, followed by a brisk Texas shuffle. It Won’t Hurt (When I Fall Down from This Barstool) was as irresistibly fun, and just as pissed-off, a salute to both the curative and destructive powers of whiskey. They swung a high-energy take of Hank Williams’ Lovesick Blues by the tail, then scampered through a lickety-split kiss-off anthem. Then they brought things down with the morosely echoey, clangingThe King of Killing Time, bringing to mind early Willie Nelson. The Sweetback Sisters’ take on honkytonk isn’t cry-in-your-beer music: it’s a middle finger smack in the face of bad times, bitter lemons distilled into spiked lemonade. It’ll be awfully cool to see what else the band has come up with since then.

A LMFAO New Album and a Union Square Show by Honkytonkers Trailer Radio

Right off the bat, the opening track of New York honkytonk band Trailer Radio‘s new album Country Girls Ain’t Cheap tells it like it is:

Out here in podunk
We aren’t very metro
Everybody’s drunk
Everybody’s hetero…
We don’t like it in the blue states
We can live without…
Sister bought a trailer
‘Cause she’s selling crystal meth
Brother aced his driver’s test
Bourbon on his breath…

And the story gets even more amusing from there. On one hand, Trailer Radio are a really funny cowpunk band whose lyrics are packed with jokes too good to give away here. On the other hand, they really nail a classic 60s honkytonk vibe, adding a corrosively cynical lyrical edge: urban country, 2016. The twin guitar attack of David Weiss and Mike Dvorkin combines for classics riff from the 60s on forward while frontwoman Shannon Brown channels a genuine West Virginia twang over the swinging rhythm section of bassist Joel Shelton and drummer Kenny Soule. The new album – streaming at the band’s music page – is characteristically sardonic, hilarious, and they’ve got a show on April 24 at 6 PM at Brother Jimmy’s Union Square, 116 E 16th St. (bet. Union Square East and Irving Place). Then on April 30 they’re at An Beal Bocht Cafe, 445 W 238th St. (near Graystone) in the Bronx at 9.

The album’s title track, an electrified bluegrass tune, skewers good ole boy machoness as much as it pillories the gold-digging women they chase. Set to a tasty, Rickenbacker guitar-fueled Sweetheart of the Rodeo shuffle, Dirt Queen offers a shout-out to an outdoorsy type who’e inseparable from her ATV. Then the band brings it down for the wry ballad Woe Is Me, where Brown explores the various ways women self-medicate.

One of the guy duets with Brown on Jimmy Jack’s Diner (located adjacent to a landfill), a sad reminder that not all mom-and-pop joints with “authentic country charm” are an improvement over Mickey D’s. Three Diamond Rings is one of the funniest numbers here, a shuffling honkytonk chronicle that revisits the gold-digger theme, but as a kiss-off anthem. Another electric bluegrass tune with some bristling banjo work, Jesus Loves You (But I’m on the Fence) is another really funny one: this dude can’t even keep his shit together on his wedding day.

The album’s hardest-rocking cut, The Bottom of Her Boots tells the tale of one vengeful ex who really goes on the warpath: not only does she throw her boyfriend’s stuff out, she paints his AK-47 pink and sells his twelve-point buck on Ebay. A spot-on Moe Bandy-style hard honkytonk hit, Tar Beach pays tribute to rooftop rednecks who“don’t fit in with those Jersey Shore Italians or the Hamptons and their snooty finery” and who are plenty content to hang out on the roof. The album winds up with a droll murder ballad, Big Day for Steffie, a Chuck Berry/Stones rocker with some ferocious, vintage Keith/Mick Taylor twin lead guitars. Shelton’s Eric Ambel-style purist production enhances the vintage sonics. Not only is this a great counyry and roots rock album, Brown’s sense of humor will have you in stitches whether or not y’all grew up surrounded by rednecks.

A Fantastic Honkytonk and Twang Triplebill at the Jalopy on the 31st

Country singer Katie Brennan has an interesting backstory. She’s also a virtuoso concert harpist with a classical background. She got her start in New York leading a nebulously funky indie rock band, the Holy Bones, before going deeply into Americana with her vastly underrated 2008 countrypolitan album Slowly. Then she went back to her native Washington State for a spell. But now she’s back, leading a first-class honkytonk band, the Bourbon Express. They’re playing the album release show for their deliciously oldschool new album, One Big Losin’ Streak – streaming online – on a killer triplebill on May 31 at around 9 PM at the Jalopy. As a bonus, brilliantly guitar-fueled, period-perfect 1964-style twang and surf instrumentalists the Bakersfield Breakers open the night at 7 followed by the Country Provisions Band at 8. Cover is $10.

The new album is the best thing Brennan’s ever done. In keeping with the mid-60s vibe, the songs are short, typically around the three minute mark or less with brief, incisive solos by guitarist Brendan Curley – who also doubles on mandolin – and steel guitarist Jonny Lam. Bassist Andrew Dykeman and drummer Andrew Hodgkins keep things tight. Vocally, Brennan’s pulled back a little on the wide-angle vibrato that’s been one of her signature traits and soars to some pretty spectacular high notes, bolstered by Sarah Kinsey’s harmonies.
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The album’s opening track, Don’t Turn Me Down has a touch of western swing, spiky lead guitar paired off against lingering steel. Upward Track opens with a classic mid-60s C&W riff straight out of the Don Gibson playbook, Brennan’s cheery, chirpy delivery bringing to mind vintage Dolly Parton. Last Dance features a tasty handoff from mandolin to steel midway through.

Party Girl, which is more or less the album’s title track, will hit the spot for anybody whose work week feels like one long losing streak. Which Wine Goes with My Heartache follows a droll, Amy Allison-style storyline: Brennan might not be the most likely person to answer that question, considering that she’s a whiskey drinker.

The Texas shuffle I’m Not Ready is a period-perfect 60 Tammy Wynette bad girl honkytonk number. Let’s Say ‘I Do,’ told from the point of view of a girl who likes “Roping old cowboys in smoky old bars, turning their pickups into getaway cars,” has a trick ending: like the music, Brennan’s lyrics look back to an earlier era when Nashville songwriting was full of all kinds of puns and one-liners. But the funniest song here is Your Love Is Better Than Nothing: the joke is a musical one tha goes back and forth, and is awfully tricky to play, and too good to spoil here. Slippin’ Around brings back the western swing sophistication; the album winds up with Those Days Are Gone, a gorgeously bittersweet love song that turns out to have a happy ending.

The Bakersfield Breakers have an amazing debut album of their own streaming at Bandcamp. If memory serves right, their most recent show around these parts was upstairs at 2A back in March, where guitarist Keith Yaun put on a clinic in just about every instrumental country and rock style from the 50s and 60s, with a harder-rocking and more surf-oriented edge than you’d guess after hearing the album. Some pretty volcanic Dick Dale and Ventures covers were part of that, but the best song of the night was a sad, wistful original that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Duane Eddy playbook.

Maynard & the Musties Put Out a Cool New Album of Wry, Surreal Country Songs

Songwriter Joe Maynard is one of New York’s urban country pioneers. He got his start here back around the turn of the century, fronting a funny band called the Illbillies, then went in a more trad direction, at least musically, with the Millerite Redeemers, who morphed into Maynard & the Musties. When not playing music, Maynard’s gig is dealing in rare books, which explains the band name. Although his songs can be LMFAO funny, they’re just as likely to be poignant or even haunting, sometimes with a defiant political edge. And unlike so many of the recent transplants here who call themselves country but are as country as Blake Shelton, Maynard originally hails from Nashville. That might have something to do with how oldschool his mix of honkytonk anthems, cry-in-your-beer ballads and brooding Nashville gothic tales can be. And as much as the band can channel a vintage C&W sound, they can also really rock out when they want. They’re headlining an excellent Americana triplebill on March 11 at the Way Station, with brassy, female-fronted rockabilly band Rocket J & the 88s opening at 9, followed by Dr. Bluegrass and the Illbillies (no relation to Maynard’s old band) at 10 and then Maynard himself at 11.

Their latest album, Fall On In – streaming at Bandcamp – was produced by Americana maven and ex-Lakeside Lounge honcho Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who also contributes some of his signature guitar. This band went through a million drummers: none of them worked out until they found Pierre Scoffini, who’s absolutely brilliant, and Ambel obviously had a lot of fun capturing his offbeat cymbal swooshes and counterintuitive snare hits.

Lead player Mike Randall doesn’t waste any time throwing off some restlessly growling six-string lines on the opening track, the swamp-rock flavored Evil Flower. The C&W shuffle Smart Ass, spiced with Jonathan Gregg’s rippling pedal steel, offers a sardonic look at the value of higher education. The fiery Americana rock tune Chinese Jail is Maynard – who’s never sung more vigorously than he does here, over a backdrop of slowly phased Exile on Main Street guitars – at his surrealistic, twisted best.

With its gorgeous web of jangling, twanging guitar from Randall, Mo Botton, Gregg and Maynard himself, Road to Ruin paints an even more twisted urban picture, and has an absolutely hilarious line about sex with a woman of a certain age. Death is a departure into creepy circus rock, bassist Chet Hartin adding accordion over the vaudevillian pulse of Dikko Faust’s trombone. The gently swinging, wistful Broken Angel dates back to the Millerite Redeemers days.

The slow, uneasily misty Waiting on a Train brings to mind John Prine – a guy Maynard often evokes – at his most wryly allusive, fiddler Naa Koshie Mills adding stark, bagpipe-ish textures. Part honkytonk, part western swing, Boozy Memory is the album’s funniest track. The weirdest track is another older tune, The Beef Trade in Suede, reinvented here as a Tex-Mex number. The scariest one is Caroline and Danny, a tale of obsession and cheating gone horribly wrong. The album winds up with the joyously careening We Are The People!, which could be an Occupy anthem, and the morbid miniature Everyone’s Dead. Fans of the lyrical side of Americana from Alex Battles to Steve Earle ought to check this out.

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.

Mark Sinnis Brings His Gloomy Honkytonk Songs Back to His Old East Village Haunts

One consequence of the brain drain continuing to pour out of this city’s five boroughs is that in order to see some of the best musicians who’ve been priced out by the real estate bubble, you have to go where they are. So it was good to be able to catch longtime downtown NYC presence and charismatic Nashville gothic crooner Mark Sinnis playing a marathon gig at the refreshingly laid-back Mohansic Grill & Lounge in Yorktown Heights, up in Westchester, back in November. The show was like one of those old-fashioned tent revival style C&W extravaganzas from the 1950s, except with just one band, serenading an enthusiastic Saturday night crowd for well over two hours. Sinnis and his group 825 return to his old East Village stomping grounds, upstairs at 2A at 10 PM on Feb 15 as part of impresario/bandleader/genius guitarist Tom Clark‘s weekly Sunday American shindig.

The Yorktown Heights gig was on the back porch of a restaurant overlooking a golf course, not such a strange place to see a band up that way as it might seem. And the band was tremendous. Lead guitarist James “Smokey Chipotle” Brown locked in on some classic honkytonk harmonies with pedal steel player Brian Aspinwall when the two weren’t involved in high-voltage musical banter. Other times, Aspinwall would anchor the sound with high lonesome washes and wails as Senor Chipotle spun from wry hillbilly boogie licks, to eerie David Lynch twang, to chicken-scratch Johnny Cash rhythm or ringing, clanging Bakersfield riffage. Bassist John Goldberg held the rig to the road as drummer Michael Lillard kept the wheels spinning with every classic country shuffle beat ever invented, trumpeter Lee Compton adding both mariachi flair and a mournful, funereal New Orleans touch, often in tandem with a bluesy harmonica player who was new to the band.

Sinnis delivered the songs in his brooding baritone. Much as this band can hold their own with any other classic honkytonk crew out there, what distinguishes his Nashville gothic from, say, Nick Cave, or Roy Orbison, is that he really lets the band cut loose: several of the numbers went on for a solid six or seven minutes, with plenty of time for solos from pretty much everybody in the group. His lyrics mine a classic Americana vernacular full of doom and dread: funeral trains emerging into the dawn, ill-fated relationships, ghosts and faded memories of fleetingly good times now gone forever. And love affairs gone straight to hell, taking shape via slow, opiated dirges, bitter shuffle grooves or grimly romping numbers like one of the centerpieces of the early set, Mistaken for Love.

Many of the night’s hardest-hitting numbers – the angst-fueled funeral train anthem Cold Night in December, the booze-drenched Wine and Whiskey and the Devil Makes Three, and It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter – appear on his latest album with this band. Some of the unexpectedly quieter material, strangely enough, was taken from his extensive back catalog with dark art-rock band Ninth House, a unit Sinnis has fronted since the late 90s and has pulled deeper and deeper into Americana in recent years. He also brought out a couple of excellent new songs, one a brooding, manic-depressive bolero, another a morose honkytonk breakup ballad. All this gives you an idea of what to expect this Sunday: classic ideas and riffs updated for the here and now, with an unending gloom. Tom Clark’s Sunday nights at 2A draw a decent crowd and an A-list of NYC Americana talent – Amy Allison played a rare full-band show with LA cult favorite Don Heffington there last week, for example – but deserve an even wider audience and a better night than they have. Sinnis and 825 ought to bring it this Sunday.

The Sweetback Sisters Beat the Heat

“You people are the tough New Yorkers, coming out in this hundred degree heat,” the Sweetback Sisters’ Emily Miller told the crowd at Madison Square Park yesterday. She was right – sort of. For a lot of New Yorkers, being in Manhattan on the Fourth of July is weird, but a whole lot of people were out and working. This year’s Fourth falling in midweek meant that a whole lot of retail was open and hoping to lure the small percentage of tourists who’d ventured out of their airconditioned rooms. The only places that weren’t open seemed to be the dollar pizza places, which are obviously rolling in dough and can well afford to lose a sleepy holiday’s worth of traffic. And while the crowd watching the Sweetback Sisters was pretty heatstruck, the half-Brooklyn, half-West Virginia band shook it off and turned in a typically gorgeous, soaring show.

The band’s frontwomen, Miller – who switched between fiddle and guitar – and Zara Bode, who played both guitar and tenor banjo – model themselves on popular 50s act the Davis Sisters (the group that springboarded the career of the legendary Skeeter Davis), putting an energetic, purist update on oldschool honkytonk and pre-rockabilly sounds. The two women have very similar voices, harmonizing and trading lines throughout the show to the point where it was hard to tell who was singing what if you weren’t paying close attention. Miller has a crystalline Laura Cantrell clarity; Bode’s voice is a little lower-pitched, sometimes growly and seductive. Jesse Milnes, the band’s main songwriter, took most of the solos on fiddle, switching to guitar on a couple of tunes, alongside Peter Bitenc on bass, Stefan Amidon on drums and the latest edition to the band, the amazing Ryan Hommel on electric guitar. They opened with Texas Bluebonnets, the irrestistible western swing-flavored opening track on their latest album Looking for a Fight and followed with Thank You, a swaying kiss-off song with a nice, trad guitar solo from Hommel and then a straight-up version of Patsy Cline’s Honey Do. Those songs were great: purist, soulful, fun to hear, but they gave no indication of the fireworks in store. Those started with the briskly shuffling Walking in My Sleep, where Hommel took his first opportunity to fire off an unreal, wild, psychedelic solo, half Radio Birdman, half bluegrass. Later on he would take more of those, most exhilaratingly on a couple of new tunes, the energetic, bluegrass-infused Trouble’s Gonna Get You – where Bode went into totally sultry mode, a cruel thing to do on such a hot day – and the lickety-split, aphoristic, Buck Owens-flavored I’ll Cry Cry Cry, where Amidon traded off with the women in his sly, tongue-in-cheek baritone.

Not everything was that fast and ferocious. Two of the afternoon’s best songs were a casually stinging, beautifully harmonized version of Jimmy Martin’s Don’t Cry to Me, and a new one, The King of Killing Time, Hommel taking it up out of sad, slow, honkytonk into psychedelic rock and handing it off to Milnes, who took it back to Nashville circa 1955. There were other bands on the bill, including the popular, oldtimey Spuyten Duyvil, and the prospect of sticking around for them would have been a lot more tempting if the shadows had stayed where they were as the scorching sun crossed the sky.

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