New York Music Daily

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Tag: indie pop

Rachael Kilgour’s New Album Transcends Trauma

Rachael Kilgour is the rare artist who sounds perfectly good in the studio, but onstage takes her formidable vocal skills to a level that few singers even attempt, let alone reach. Her Lincoln Center show last year was absolutely shattering. She cried during one of that evening’s saddest songs – that’s how deeply she inhabits her characters. And she’s hilarious, too: few songwriters can be so much fun, and so insightful, pillorying rightwing hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance.

But most of the material at that show wasn’t the political satire she’s best known for. The majority of the set was Americana ballads from her latest album Rabbit in the Road, streaming at her webpage. She’s bringing that harrowingly melismatic voice and alternately plaintive and biting tunesmithing to a couple of New York shows this month. On May 12 at 7 PM she’s at the Commons Cafe, 388 Atlantic Ave.in Cobble Hill; take any train to Atlantic Ave; The following night at 8, she’s at Caffe Vivaldi preceded at 7 by another eclectic songwriter with a sense of humor, Orly Bendavid & the Mona Dahls.

And now that you know how ferociously political Kilgour’s previous output is, now’s the time to tell you that her latest release is far more personal. It’s a breakup album.

Aie aie aie.

Michael Franti used to write brilliant political songs and raps back in the day. Then he decided that schlocky top 40 love ballads were his thing – and fell off the map. Paul Weller once fronted one of the best and most political punk rock bands ever, the Jam…and never wrote a song worth hearing after they broke up. Did Kilgour run out of gas too?

As it turns out, no. Her lyrics on the new album can be just as incisive and edgy, and she can still write a catchy hook and an anthemic chorus with the best of them. It’s just her focus that’s changed direction. It seems that Kilgour got blindsided in a particularly messy divorce. She’s been outspoken about how she wants to break down the barriers between audience and performer, and that she sees the new material as being therapeutic for both sides of that equation.

So it’s comforting on more than one level that she’s succeeded at what she wanted to achieve: this is the rare heartbreak narrative that doesn’t come across as mawkish or cliched. The album opens with a soul-tinged, somewhat stunned miniature that sets the stage. Deep Bruises is where the shock sinks in, Kilgour trying to talk herself through an endless cycle of despair: It’s the one song that best evokes her soaring, Orbison-esque angst when she slides up to a note to drive a chorus home. Steve Wynn’s Tears Won’t Help You Now is a good point of comparison.

Ready Freddie is the ballad that Kilgour had the hardest time getting through at the Lincoln Center gig. It’s an attempt to cheer up her adopted daughter, someone she’s obviously close to and missed terribly when she wrote it. it’s a theme she revisits almost as fervently later on the record. By contrast, Up From Down is a kiss-off anthem, if a muted one, set to a pleasant if innocuous full-band folk-pop arrangement.

Anger rises in Still My Wife, the homey imagery that Kilgour opens with giving way to a cheating tale straight out of a classic country ballad. The dismissive patronizing title track is songwriter vengeance at its most subtle and satisfying: in case you haven’t already figured it out, never, EVER mess with one, they always get even in the end

Don’t Need Anyone echoes the defiance of Kilgour’s political work as much as her vocals echo Neko Case. “You think I need a lover to save me from my grief? I don’t need distractions, I don’t need your second hand relief,” she insists. Likewise, Hit By a Bus balances mixed feelings with vindictiveness: guess which one wins.

Kilgour has had great fun mocking Christian extremists (some people mistake her for a born-again because they don’t get the joke). So I Pray might seem like quite a departure, but it’s a wish, rather than a call to some patriarchal force, and a launching pad for vocal pyrotechnics in a live setting. Even here, Kilgour can’t resist a delicious dig: “I pray, to no one in particular, that they’ll help you find your way.” The album’s concluding cut, Break Wide Open is the only place where it feels overproduced: it doesn’t really add anything. Needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see what direction Kilgour goes in after this. We could use her stiletto wit and inclusive vision right about now.  

Cello Songstress Meaghan Burke Brings Her Uneasily Amusing Phantasmagoria to Joe’s Pub

Cello-rock songwriter Meaghan Burke’s new album Creature Comforts – streaming at Bandcamp – spans from stark art-rock, noir cabaret, and phantasmagorical theatre music to frequent departures into the avant garde. She has a cynical sense of humor and an often menacingly dramatic presence. She’s playing the album release show with a full band including the Rhythm Method String Quartet on May 11 at 9:30 PM at Joe’s Pub; cover is $16.

The album’s opening track, Methadone Friend begins torchy and sparse over a low drone and then goes wryly waltzing up to a menacing circus-rock peak:

I like your arms better than no arms
Prosthetic limbs are not where I’m from…
I like your voice better than no voice
Though silence is golden…

Hobo Doreen, a shout-out to a dangerous character who still manages to be “the prettiest bag lady I have ever seen, a wine-chuggin’, whiskey bottle-huggin’ diamond of disruption,” sounds like a mashup of Rachelle Garniez and the Roulette Sisters, fueled by Zeke Healy’s dobro.

Careening haphazardly around Simon Usaty’s circular banjo riff, Butterface paints a surreal, jazz-infused picture of a shallow trophy wife type. The bouncy, kinetic Spirit Animal is one of the album’s funnier numbers:

Don’t take me on a vision quest
I’m not your spirit animal
I think you’ve confused me with someone else
I think you’ve confused me with yourself…
I hope you find your heart amid the alligators and the lions

The buzzy, growling cello metal anthem Everyone Sleeps Alone in the Funhouse reminds of Rasputina at their loudest and most surreal:

I am a beached whale caught in the fish pond
Throw me a rat tail that I can hang on to….
It’s over it’s over we die

Yikes!

Wedding Song starts out aptly gloomy and atmospheric and then picks up with a strolling snarl:

You were the rusty nail in my head
You were a father figure…
I was a loaded gun with no trigger

Gowanus, a shout-out to infamously toxic Brooklyn canal waters, is the album’s most haunting track, awash in flickering cello against a plaintive string quartet backdrop. “Do you know how much I thought I loved you?” Burke rails. By contrast, When You´re Gone is the album’s torchiest number, Burke’s vocals channeling angst and cynicism.

Ornithology is not the Charlie Parker tune but an original, a sideways salute to a birder, Carlos Cordeiro’s elegantly spiraling clarinet contrasting with Burke’s shivery cello. There’s also a secret track, Pigeontoes, a twisted sideshow of a banjo tune: it could be a Carol Lipnik outtake. Lots of flavors, good jokes and storytelling on this strangely enticing album.

Brilliant Bassist Bridget Kearney Releases a Catchy, Purist Keyboard-Driven Debut Album

Bridget Kearney is the rare bass player you want to hear more of. From day one, she’s been the groove on the low strings and the source of innumerable, tersely tasty solos as the bassist in popular blue-eyed soul group Lake Street Dive. But she’s also a solo artist, and a multi-instrumentalist. On her new album Won’t Let You Down – streaming at Bandcamp – she plays guitars and keys as well. It first took shape as a studio side project, and it’s been several years in the making. Taking a momentary detour from the never-ending Lake Street Dive tour (which this year includes a stop at Prospect Park Bandshell on June 13 at 8:30 PM), Kearney leads her own band playing songs from the new album at Rough Trade on April 21 at 10 PM. Advance tix are $12.

Vocally, Kearney works the same turf as her Lake Street Dive bandmate Rachael Price, but with an airier, more breathy delivery evocative of Holly Miranda. As a tunesmith, Kearney is very eclectic, blending elements of vintage 60s soul, garage rock, Beatlesque pop, psychedelia and glam, among other styles: this is a very keyboard-driven record. It opens with the playfully scampering garage rock title track: with its cheery layers of keys, it sounds like the New Pornographers covering the Friggs. The piano ballad What Happened Today is a catchy mashup of 70s John Lennon and classic soul, sprinkled with starry keyboard textures. With its blend of swirly roller-rink organ, twinkling electric piano and blazing guitars, Serenity brings to mind Ward White’s recent adventures in Bowie-esque glamrock.

Wash Up has a brisk new wave beat, a hypnotic swirl and a couple of tantalizingly brief lead guitar breaks. Kearney makes echoey, nocturnal trip-hop out of oldschool soul in Who Are We Kidding , then multitracks her own edgy bass and guitar harmonies in the Lynchian Nashville gothic pop of Living in a Cave. It’s the album’s strongest song.

Love Doctor isn’t a seduction theme: it’s a kiss-off anthem that looks back to Bowie in his Young Americans period. Kearney breaks out her acoustic guitar for the flamenco-tinged intro to the bitterly simmering minor-key noir soul ballad Nothing Does: the Motown chorus comes out of nowhere, and is absolutely delicious.

Kearney pushes the upper limits of her voice on Daniel, a Penny Lane pop number: it’s the only place on the album where it sounds like she’s really straining to hit the notes. The final cut is the ethereal, Lennonsque ballad So Long. It’s impossible to think of a better debut album released this year so far.

Carsie Blanton Charms and Provokes at the Mercury

Tuesday night at the Mercury, New Orleans bandleader Carsie Blanton was at the top of her hilarious game. She makes good albums, but nothing compares to seeing her onstage. The woman is devastatingly funny, and politically spot-on, and charismatic to the extreme. Decked out in a sassy vintage red dress, fronting her skintight four-piece group, the inventor of the sexy board game Bango kept the audience in stitches when she wasn’t taking requests or running through a mix of torchy soul, swing and retro rock from her latest album So Ferocious.

One of the funniest moments of the night was when she explained the backstory for the bouncy kiss-off anthem Fat and Happy. As you would expect, she’s an Ella Fitzgerald fan, but she winced at how cheesy some of the choir arrangements on Fitzgerald’s albums from the 40s were. “So I thought, what if I took a song and ended it with the band going, ‘Oooohhh, FUUUUUUCK,” Blanton grinned. The band – keyboardist Pat Firth, bassist Joe Plowman and drummer Nicholas Falk – did exactly that, slowly and in perfect three-part harmony. The crowd roared.

“My friends said take the high road, turn the other cheek,” Blanton elaborated with a grin, “But I’m a revenge-taking kind of person.” So the tale of a selfish dude hell-bent on piggybacking on Blanton’s success resonated even more: “Will you still be whining like a suckling pig, or will you be trying to get on the gig?” she sneered.

She’d opened with a simmering blue-flame soul song that Amy Winehouse would have traded her stash to have had the chance to sing. “You don’t scare me,” was the refrain: no joke. Blanton followed that with Scoundrel, a bouncy early 60s-style John Waters soul-pop number and then the hazy, summer-evening soul of Hot Night. She explained that she’d written most of that one in Madrid on vacation, sulking in her unairconditioned B&B, serenaded by street noise until she realized how lucky she was to be there at all.

Throughout the set, Blanton worked the dynamics up and down, more than a tinge of smoke in her voice, through the gentle 6/8 torch-soul ballad Loving Is Easy to a wryly propulsive number from her Idiot Heart album, a typical surreal/crazy/creepy New Orleans moment when a guy tried to pick her up with the line, “Why not, we’re all gonna die one day.”

The first of the audience requests, Chicken grew out an idea that had stuck in her head, she said, which she’d dismissed as silly until she wrote the song…and it turned out to be one of her biggest crowd-pleasers. She followed Money in the Bank – a slinky mashup of sly, low-key Lou Reed and oldschool soul – with another novelty song, Moustache, a newschool Motown number. Blanton revealed that she actually has no issues with facial hair on dudes – it’s just that this one particular fuzzy upper lip turned out to be a big mistake.

Twister, a brand-new number, brought back the sultry/icy vibe of the night’s opening song. inspired by the recent tornado that hit her hometown, contemplating how a new romance could be altered by that sort of calamity. To Be Known made a poignant change of pace, part vintage BeeGees angst, part Jimmy Webb art-song. She kept pretty low-key with The Animal I Am, inspired by a badass canine friend who chews her underwear and, like her owner, is a general hellraiser. Then the group picked up the pace a little with Backbone, a snide dis at a sappy guy who’s probably too lazy to show a little gumption.

Blanton warned the crowd that she’d save the best for last, and she sort of did. It was a brand-new song where everybody in the band changed instruments. Pandemonium ensued as she railed about how everything went completely haywire at an election-night party, and how history reminds that back in the early 30s, lists of forbidden nations and ethnicities were being compiled just like they are now. The crowd begged for another encore but didn’t get one. Blanton’s tour continues at the Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival at the Ware Center, 42 N Prince St. in Lancaster, PA tonight, Feb 25 at 7:45 PM.

A Playful Change of Pace for New Orleans Chanteuse Carsie Blanton

On one hand, for Carsie Blanton to put out a record of Lynchian retro rock is kind of like the Squirrel Nut Zippers making a heavy metal album. But the Zippers are great musicians – who knows, maybe they’d pull it off. Turns out Blanton is just as adept at allusive, nocturnal early 60s Nashville pop as the oldtimey swing she made her mark in. Her latest album, So Ferocious, is streaming at her webpage and available as a name-your-price download, the best advertising she could possibly want for her upcoming show at 7 PM on Feb 21 at the Mercury. Cover is $10.

Although it’s a switch for her, Blanton is just as badass and funny as she is out in front of a swing band. She sings and plays uke here, backed by guitarist Pete Donnelly, keyboardist Pat Firth, bassist Joe Plowman and drummer Jano Rix. One of the funniest tracks is Fat and Happy, a return to Blanton’s oldtimey days: the theme is “just wait and see,” and the way it turns out is too LMAO to give away.

Fever Dream builds a surreal New Orleans after-the-storm scenario, darkly spare bass paired against sepulchral toy piano. Hot Night offers a bouncy, energetic contrast, spiced with a distant brass chart; if Springsteen really wanted to write an oldschool soul song, he would have done it like this. Another nocturnal soul ballad, Lovin Is Easy pairs a spare string section against similarly low-key electric piano and Blanton’s unselfconsciously matter-of-fact, tender vocals.

Ravenous, a chirpy look back at adolescent friskiness, has a roller-rink charm that brings to mind both the Kinks and the Cucumbers, a mashup that Blanton revisits on the understatedly biting title track.. She turns the clock back anothe twenty years in Scoundrel, a coy Phil Spector pop tale about a couple of troublemakers.

Musically speaking, the album’s best track is probably The Animal I Am, a defiant individualist’s anthem set to artsy Jeff Lynne-style Nashville gothic pop. The album’s darkest track is To Be Known, part brooding Jimmy Webb chamber pop, part early BeeeGees existentialist lament. “Isn’t it al you ever wanted, to be alone?” Blanton ponders. Or is it “To be known?”. There’s also Vim and Vigor, a funnier take on what Amy Winehouse was up to before she self-destructed. Download this irrepressibly fun, dynamic mix and get to know one of the real genuine individualists in retro rock and many other styles as well.

Art-Rock Bandleader Hilary Downes Releases a Searingly Metaphorical New Solo Album

From the late zeros to the early part of this decade, pianist Hilary Downes was frontwoman for the Snow, who rank with Changing Modes and Botanica as one of the greatest art-rock bands to call this city their home. Since then, Downes has hardly been idle, and she’s finally releasing her similarly brilliant debut as a solo bandleader, Secrets of Birds – streaming at Bandcamp – at Barbes this Saturday night, Jan 28 at 8 PM. Folk noir standout Jessie Kilguss guests on vocals; eclectic A-list accordionist Will Holshouser leads one of his many projects to open the night at 6. After the Barbes show, most of the crowd are heading over to Freddy’s for Robin Aigner‘s Leonard Cohen tribute night.

Downes has a distinctive voice – a crystalline, often swoony yet precise delivery – a laser-like sense for a mot juste and a penchant for grim metaphors and multiple meanings. Meaning, she doesn’t stop at double entendres. The band behind her rises to the occasion to create a lush backdrop for her sometimes elusive, sometimes crushingly direct narrratives.

The opening track is Caldera, an elegant but venomously interconnected series of mythological scenes: “One could predict that the love they felt was equal to the harm they could inflict,” Downes intones, hushed and deadpan. Jeffrey Schaeffer’s waves of cymbals and sardonic swoops from the string section – violinist Karl Meyer and cellist Sara Stalnaker – drive the point home at the end with piercing accuracy.

Downes brings her torchiest nuance to the swing shuffle Deep Well, awash in chilly water metaphors and nocturnal unease:

Would that she could hold the night
Cold and without wind
To hold all of it oh so tight
Until it let her in

Her vocals bring calm and tenderness alongside Mike Cohen’s lingering guitars in contrast with Meyer’s stark violin throughout the optimistic Americana-tinged ballad Hearts Plateau. Then the band picks up the pace with the steamy, bossa-tinged Masters of the Table, a feast of imagery that gives the bandleader a slam-dunk opportunity to flip the script. She’s a master of turning the tables on what you might expect.

Dylan Nowik’s growling, stately lead guitar rises over darkly baroque strings and Cohen’s noir-tinged jangle on The Owl, a majestic and subtly sardonic portrait of a predator. Downes pulls out all the stops in Canon of Proportions, a purposeful, backbeat-driven anthem that’s the key to the album’s bitter central narrative:

Left long shadows in the sand
His arms, wings of a plane
He was Davinci’s man
His soul dwarfed by his frame

Matt Brandau’s boomy bass kicks off the album’s best and most cruelly vivid song, The Gist. It wouldn’t be out of place on Portishead’s Live at Roseland album:

Lady luck, she found her wealth
Took it from her former self
Queen of the sky, queen of the plain
She made herself a nest where birds could lay

The band take their deepest plunge into noir on album’s title track: “Save me from these thoughts, divebomb every part,” Downes laments, yet she’s just as defiant: “I’m not afraid of the darkness in my way.” She ends the album with the death-fixated psychedelic soul ballad The Word and then the waltzing, surprisingly optimistic Rainbow. It’s only January, but we have a real contender for best original album of 2017 here.

Jessie Kilguss Brings a Whole Slew of Great New Songs to Brooklyn

Nothing like a European tour to inspire you to write a whole set worth of new material, right? Freddie Stevenson had the good sense to bring Jessie Kilguss along as a harmony singer and keyboardist on his most recent tour there, and the crystalline-voiced songwriter brought back enough new songs of her own to keep an audience at the American Folk Art Museum rapt earlier this fall. That was her most recent Manhattan gig – her next one is in Brooklyn at Hank’s at 10 PM on Dec 16. Cover is $5.

With her clever wordplay and understatedly anthemic sensibility, Kilguss’ closest comparisons are Elvis Costello and Leonard Cohen, the latter being her biggest influence. Although she play both guitar and keys, she typically limits herself to vocals when fronting her own band, tall and resolute and swaying with eyes closed in front of a tight electric guitar/bass/drums backing unit. That voice is a magical instrument, with a reflecting-pool clarity and a soaring range matched by minutely nuanced attention to subtle details. And as much as her songs tend to be on the brooding side, she can be devastatingly funny when she wants to be.

At the museum gig, the new material turned out to be more upbeat as well, at least after Spain, a slow, allusively waltzing pastorale. Russian Roulette, a steady, elegantly driving backbbeat number with a typical soaring chorus, had a tricky surprise ending. Kilguss’ lithely leaping vocals on the slow, swaying, moodily plainspoken Rainy Night in Copenhagen brought to mind Linda Draper in a particularly animated moment.

The sparsely jangling, straightforward What Is It You Want From Me left no doubt that it was a frustrated kiss-off anthem. With its uneasily percolating bassline and a coyly quirky little modulation toward the end, Strangers came across like peak-era 90s Wilco playing new wave – but with an infinitely better singer out in front of the band. The show hit a peak with Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. one of the most bittersweely gorgeous, catchy janglerock anthems written this century.

Then Kilguss went back to the new mateiral with Edge of Something, which had the feel of a terse early Patti Griffin-style coffeehouse rock number, but with a more defiant edge. The band closed with the lilting, anthemic Over My Dead Body, a nonchalantly assertive reminder that you never, ever want to mess with a songwriter: they always get even in the end. The band wound it up with a savage flurry of guitar tremolo-picking. That’s about as loud as you can get in the museum: you can expect Kilguss and her crew to cut loose more at the Hank’s gig.

Ellen Siberian Tiger Bring Their Smartly Lyrical, Eclectically Artsy Rock to Fort Greene

Philadelphia band Ellen Siberian Tiger play an enigmatic blend of dreampop, growly early Pixies-style anthems, and more delicate Americana and chamber pop-oriented material, all of it with an uneasy psychedelic tinge. Most of the songs on their album I Can’t Help It – up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download – contain elements of all of those styles.They’ve got a gig at 10:15 PM (that’s what the calendar says) on Nov 29 at the Way Station in Ft. Greene. The venue, with its yappy gentrifier bar crowd and lousy sound, isn’t the most hospitable place to see a band, but since so many people are out of town this weekend, this might be the time to do it.

The album’s opening, title track risese from an elegant web of acoustic guitar fingerpicking to a swirly, crashing, electric dreampop chorus, a mashup of Linda Draper and the Cocteau Twins, maybe, with vocals closer to the former than the latter.

“I begin to end,” frontwoman/guitarist Ellen Tiberio-Shultz intones in her cool, clear voice in Sylvia, as the song rises from a swirly/jangly dichotomy crashing, anthemic heights. With the emphatic violins of Catherine Joy Parke and Drew Percy, I Smelled the Rain is a catchy mashup of newgrass and chamber pop:

You’ve got a heart like Cinderella but a curfew that you keep
Your love goes home at midnight but I’m losing sleep
But you have no glass slipper, no test for you to take
Even if the shoe did fit how long til it breaks

Likewise, Asleep in the River takes a brooding folk noir theme and takes it toward electric Jefferson Airplane territory, lit up with drummer John Cox’s hailstorm cymbal work: it brings to mind New York’s similarly eclectic Sometime Boys. “It only takes so many words to tell the truth and half as many to tell a lie,” Tiberio-Shultz reminds acidically. “Run to the river, throw me in, see if I float.”

Cuttlefish shifts back and forth between tempos,  Cox’s spiky banjo juxaposed against lush strings. Mrs. Pontellier is a blaze of haphazard cowpunk with a joyously fun Collin Dennen bass solo midway through, while Pine Needles comes acrosss as a blend of Surrealistic Pillow-era psych-folk and unsettled Little Silver jangle. When We Grow Up has dancing pizzicato violin to light up its moodily hypnotic Randi Russo-esque ambience and segues into the album’s final, most ornately psychedelic cut, Lion Hearted, rising out of deep-space ambience toward Radiohead majesty. This album is like an artichoke, with many tasty layers and also spines that will grab you if you stop paying attention for a second.

Jeanne Marie Boes Channels the Soul of a Troubled Time in New York

“I can’t take it anymore,” Jeanne Marie Boes intoned, hushed and low, standing resolutely behind her electric piano a couple of Fridays ago at the American Folk Art Museum. “All that’s left are roses underfoot.” She wasn’t talking politics: her big theme is heartbreak. And she takes it to the mountaintop, to forbidding heights, Wuthering, Wuthering, Wuthering Heights! Heathcliff, you bastard!

Yet much as Boes can bring the Kate Bush drama, and belt with anyone alive, she has incredible nuance, especially for somebody with such a big voice. As she moved effortlessly if vigorously between blue-eyed soul, brassy cabaret tones, saloon jazz and majestic art-rock, her mic technique wa a dead giveaway, from a close whisper to a distant wail. She may look like a typical sophomore on her way to, say, a Juilliard rehearsal room, but she’s been doing this a long time, starting as a pre-teen singing sensation in her native Queens. And her parents were cool, and encouraged her, and fifteen years down the line, she’s one of the most magnetic singers in town and a strong pianist as well. That song is the title track to her fantastic latest ep Holdin’ My Heart, streaming at her Bandcamp page. She’s probably doing that number along with plenty of others from a pretty deep catalog at LIC Bar on Nov 30 at 7 PM, where she’s opening for a drummer who used to play for Billy Joel and whose leadfoot thump has been sampled on a million hip-hop joints over the years.

“Look me in the eye, all I see is black,” was Boes’ opening line in the luridly desperate Strangers, which she took all the way up to an unexpectedly amusing trick ending. “Every time I fall in love, I fall hard,” she admitted as she opened The One, the ep’s darkly chromatic, suspensefully pulsing first track, part noir cabaret, part oldschool 60s soul, part towering Alan Parsons Project symphonic rock ballad.

Yet as much as she loves minor keys – there’s Chopin, and Tschaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff lurking behind her fingers – and as much raw pain as there is in her tales of abandonment and loss, she doesn’t come across as a sad person at all. In between songs, she smiled and chatted with the crowd, unselfconscious and down to earth, hardly the diva you might expect after hearing her reach for the rafters and hold on for dear life. And that sense of humor came across in a couple of coy soul ballads that wouldn’t have been out of place in, say, the Bettye Swan songbook. Fun fact: onstage, Boes always rocks a hat. Has she ever been seen without one? Go to the show in Queens and find out.

Boes is typical of the acts that impresario Lara Ewen – a first-rate songstress herself – books for the free Friday evening series at the Folk Art Museum, arguably Manhattan’s best remaining listening room. The next show there is Dec 2 starting at 5:30 PM with the rousingly rustic guy-girl harmonies of the Piedmont Bluz duo.

Hauntingly Poignant Folk Noir and Phantasmagorical Rock From Thee Shambels

Thee Shambels have been one of New York’s best bands long enough to make it hard to believe that their new album, Lonely à la Mode – streaming at Bandcamp – is their first full-length release. Just in time for Halloween too! Frontman/guitarist Neville Elder’s wickedly literate, bleakly cynical existentialist narratives have never been more acerbically poignant, and the band behind him are onfire through a mix of noir cabaret, Nashville gothic, folk noir, retro soul and a Celtic-tinged ballad or two. Pound for pound, the album is somewhat less raucous than the band’s previous output. The production is lusciously lush, Claudia Chopek a one-woman string section floating behind Melissa Elledge’s accordion, Scott Kitchen’s bass, JJ Murphy’s drums and Sarah Mischner’s soaring harmony vocals. Matthew Dennis plays guitar, Alex Mallett plays banjo and CP Roth is on keyboards.

The opening track, Will There Be Women at My Funeral? has its beleaguered narrator costing out his own funeral over a swinging, Waitsish backdrop fueled by Elledge’s elegant accordion:

Will there be women at my funeral?
Will you press your sisters to attend?
How much do you think they’ll want for their time?
How much do you think I should spend…
Smudge your lips on my dead white face, add the cost to the bill…

And it just gets better from there.

Bad Timing is a slow, reverbtoned Lynchian soul epic set in a vividly detailed, seedy circus milieu where an acrobat’s “empty trapeze swings out in the dark,” as he falls to his death, Elder questioning:

Are the things we want
The things we need?
Are the things we need
The things we want?

With its subtle Brooklyn references, it could be a standout Joe Maynard song.

Caroline is more upbeat, a mashup of Blonde on Blonde Dylan and Walk Away Renee-style baroque pop. The album’s title track is a broodingly romping, masterfully orchestrated minor-key blend of noir cabaret and moody folk rock which wouldn’t be out of place on a Kotorino album. “Let’s throw stuff in the quarry,” Elder intones gleefully in the eerily shuffling Sister, “Maybe we can catch a stray cat.”

Elder punctuates the title of When Will We Be Lovers? with ominously tolling reverb guitar as the song gets underway, then the song build to toweringly majestic, angst-fueled heights. “I’m holding on for dear life,” Elder admits, building a vividly downcast East River tableau. in his characteristically flinty delivery. The slightly more optimistic, backbeat-driven nocturne Radio Down Low (Nashville) could have been a radio hit for the Wallflowers twenty years ago, complete with twinkling piano and mandolin solos.

Elder goes back to slow, moody, classic 60s soul for the breakup ballad Letting Go. Mallett’s banjo drives the sweeping, 6/8 ballad The Girl At the Bottom of the World, a love song that makes an apt companion piece to Roy Orbison’s In Dreams. Happy Birthday Baby (Going Down) takes an unexpected turn into wryly amusing lickety-split vintage R&B; the final cut is the surrealistic instrumental La Valse des Solitaires. Count this among the dozen or so best releases of 2016 and watch this space for an album release show.