New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Tag: james mastro

Prolific Britrock Polymath Edward Rogers’ Latest Album Is His Best Ever

In 1976, the face of the next decade, if not the decades after was profoundly altered by the UK punk rock explosion. But does anybody remember what the bestselling UK album of 1976 was? It sure wasn’t by the Sex Pistols. And it wasn’t by David Bowie, or Pink Floyd, or Led Zeppelin either. It was a compilation by Americana hack Slim Whitman sold exclusively via tv infomercial. That paradox capsulizes the thought-provoking, sweepingly elegaic esthetic of Edward Rogers’ latest album TV Generation, streaming at Soundcloud. The epic fourteen-track collection chronicles the grim decline of a society that ignored digital intrusions on their privacy and their freedom until it was too late.  He’s playing the Cutting Room on Feb 22 at 7:30 M, opening for the world’s foremost twelve-string guitarist, Marty Willson-Piper, a similarly brilliant, acerbic songwriter and former member of Australian psychedelic legends the Church. Cover is $20.

Originally a drummer, Rogers narrowly escaped a grisly death in a New York City subway calamity that cost him the use of two of his limbs. But he persevered, reinvented himself as a crooner and songwriter and nearly twenty years down the line,  has built a formidable body of work that draws on classic glam, art-rock and psychedelic styles from the 60s and 70s. This latest album is his tour de force: in context, it’s his Scary Monsters, his Message From the Country, his London Calling, simply one of the best and most relevant albums released this decade.

“Are you wake it awake yet…let’s move along! Turn ont the tv!” Rogers hollers as the album’s tumbling, hypnotic, Beatlesque opening track,gets underway:

So many stories
Too many black holes
Keep you hypnotized
As they take their toll

With James Mastro’s simmering Mick Ronson-esque guitar paired against terse sax, 20th Century Heroes could be the great lost Diamond Dogs track, an enigmatic chronicle of corporate media archetypes whose fifteen minutes expired a long time ago falling one by one as the years catch up with them. Rogers follows that with No Words, a Bowie elegy set to a lush, elegantly fluttering  contrapuntal string arrangement.

The savage kiss-off anthem Gossips, Truth and Lies chimes along on a gorgeous twelve-string guitar arrangement capped off by a tantalizingly brief solo. By contrast, it’s easy to imagine ELO’s Jeff Lynne singing Wounded Conversations, a sunny, jazz-tinged 70s Stylistics-style soul-jazz ballad grounded by fluid, resonant organ.

The album’s centerpiece – and one of the most haunting songs released in the last year – is Listen to Me. Over a brooding wash of mellotron and moody acoustic twelve-string guitar, Rogers offers a challenge to the distracted millions to escape the surveillance-state lockdown:

Voices we hear all around us
Are out to control
Don’t wait for a postmortem
No one wants to know about
Isn’t too long til lost promises
Is this what you want for your future
More lies than we can count
…written by me through your own peephole

Rogers goes back to rip-roaring Stonesy early 70s Bowie for Sturdy Man’s Shout. On This Wednesday in June begins spare and reflective and then explodes, recalling the 1989 Montreal Ecole Polytechnique mass shooting – how sad that this song would be so relevant at this moment in history.

The austere baroque-tinged Terry’s World sends a shout-out to one of Manhattan’s last newsstand owners – an endangered job, “a life denied.” Rogers follows that with The Player, a sardonic, Kinks-style ba-bump portrait of an old codger who can’t take his eyes off the girls he probably wouldn’t have kept his hands off a half-century ago.

The Kinks in baroque-psych mode also inform Alfred Bell, a brisk stroll through a burnt-out schoolteacher’s drab day. The question is, should we be feeling sorry for this poor sap, or the kids who get stuck in his class?

With its gloriously acidic lead guitar, the album’s catchiest and hardest-rocking number is She’s the One, a portrait of a girl who gets what she deserves since she nothing’s ever good enough for her. The album closes with the wryly titled TV Remixxx, a goofy psychedelic mashup of themes from the title track. If you wish that Bowie was still alive and making great records, get this one.

Edward Rogers Brings His Epic, Witheringly Relevant Britrock Masterpiece to Murray Hill

Quietly and methodically, Birmingham-born, New York-based songwriter/crooner Edward Rogers has established himself as a major force in retro Britrock tunesmithing. Over his four previosu albums, he’s earned comparisons to Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, Bowie, Kevin Ayers (whose work he saluted with his previous album, Kaye) and – this isn’t an overstatement – Ray Davies. Rogers’ latest album, Glass Marbles – streaming at Spotify –  is a bitter, doomed, epic nineteen-track masterpiece: it’s his Sandinista, or Blonde on Blonde, or Here Come the Miracles. He and his brilliant band -whose core includes James Mastro on lead guitar, Don Piper on rhythm, Konrad Meissner on drums and Sal Maida on bass – to a killer twinbill with Marty Willson-Piper – the Richard Thompson of the twelve-string guitar – at the Cutting Room on June 21 at 7 PM. Advance tix are $20.

Rogers has an acute political awareness, whether casting a cold eye on how gentrification has devastated his beloved East Village, or here. The catchy World of Mystery opens the album, bringing to mind the Byrds version of Dylan’s My Back Pages. It’s an upbeat tune but it’s far from a happy song, the eyes of a clairvoyant “Now resigned and forced to be blind…the art of seeing is now dead, no more futures, no more futures can be read.”

Rogers revisits that theme on the toweringly crescendoing Denmark Street Forgotten, building out of spare, uneasily lingering guitars over mutedly ominous tom-tom syncopation:

You say it’s history
Please hear my plea
Not another robbers’ block for you and me

Welcome to My Monday Morning paints a vivid, grey-sky folk-rock portrait of working-class drudgery – and then picks up with a bounce as the weekend approaches. The Letter has an echoey, surreal blend of early 70s Bowie and vaudevillian Sergeant Pepper pop. The understatedly savage Jumbo Sale is one of those echoey, atmospherically psychedelic mood pieces Rogers is so adept at.

The entire band, especially the rhythm section, do a spot-on Stones impersonation throughout Bright Star, which could be a long-lost outtake from, say, the Black and Blue sessions. My Lady Blue – a droll Harry Chapin reference? – builds a pensive Hunkiy Dory Bowie-esque feel, just guitars and vocals, looking back bittersweetly on a late-night barroom hookup that predictably ended pretty much where it started. The glarmock/psychedelic stomp Olde House on the Hill is another bitter reminiscence: “The garden’s been replaced by thorns from hell,” Rogers rails.

The band goes back to pensively purposeful folk-rock for Broken Wishes on Display, then returns with a vengeance to withering social commentary with Blckpool Nights, a hauntingly vivid minor-key portrait of seedy resort-town dissolution and anomie. He and the band absolutely slayed with this last year at Rough Trade and did the same at Hifi Bar a couple of weeks ago.

Rogers evokes the Byrds again, both lyrically and jangle-wise, in I’m Your Everyday Man, a guardedly hopeful populist anthem with some nimble neo-baroque keyboard work. The band goes further down the psychedelic rabbit hole toward Indian exotica with Fade Away, its enveloping sonics contrasting with Rogers’ starkly straightforward tale of class disciminiation. Likewise, the easygoing baroque-rock sway of Seconds Into Minutes masks a bitter account of time gloat forever.

The albums best and catchiest track is Looking for Stone Angels, a dead ringer for a 1965 Byrds twelve-string janglefest: it’s Rogers at his elegaic best: “Not sure you want to live tomorow as your hopes fade away.” The band descends into broodingly artsy, Strawbs-isn folk rock with Just Like That It Came N Went, mellotron fluttering sepulchrally behind a web of acoustic guitars while Rogers’ scarecrow imagery completes the gloomy picture

Burn n Play is the album’s most sarcastic number, a thinly veiled anti-yuppie broadside that nicks a familiar 80s yuppie cheeseball anthem. Stars in Your Eyes, with its deep-space, minimalist piano, makes a striking contrast. The album’s title track is an even more unexpected departure into apocalyptic, scattergun no wave funk, boiling with nails-down-the-blackboard guitar multitracks. The End Moments offers muted, resigned closure: “I want to go out more quitely than I came in,” Rogers intones soberly.

Behind Rogers’ uncluttered, down-to-earth, weathered vocals, the entire band channels fifty years of smart UK songcraft. Where does this fall alongside the other albums released in 2016? It’s definitely the best nineteen-track release of the year…and the century, so far.

A Catchy, Pensive, Compelling New Album and a Cake Shop Show from the Aquanettas’ Debby Schwartz

Debby Schwartz is one of the most distinctive, compelling singers in rock, with a coolly expressive alto voice that can be sultry one moment and then quirky and funny the next: Dawn Oberg comes to mind. Back in the 90s, Schwartz fronted cult favorite powerpop band the Aquanettas. Since then, she’s pursued a solo career. She’s got an excellent new album, Garden of My Own (streaming at Bandcamp), with an all-star cast of players and an album release show coming up on Sept 24 at 10 PM at Cake Shop. Cover is a reasonable $8.

The album’s dostamtly George Harrrison-tinged opening track, Hummingbird, comtemplates bitterness and regret, Kate Gentile and Claudia Chopek’s stark violins paired agianst Schwartz’ own elegant fingerpicking. “You’ve learned to play on the tolerance of those too kind to call you on the fact you’ve overturned, go if you want to you, know you’ve beeen found out if you get burned,” Schwartz warns.

The second track, Ambivalent, is much the same, elegant electric guitar accents intermingled with the acoustic – Bob Bannister. Pat Gubler and James Mastro play the electrics here, with Peter Stewart on bass. Dreaming New York City in the Middle of LA is a classic example of East Coast angst coming unraveled on the other side of the continent, set to a gorgeous paisley underground backdrop, twang and jangle and resonant washes from the electrics contrasting with Schwartz’s spiky acoustic. “The roaches on my kitchen wall hang flaccid and serene while my neighbors ram their door through with a car,” Schwartz bemoans, “Please get me out of here.”

London brings back a lingering rainy-day atmosphere: “Something vile has been haunting me for days now…flashing eyes and words that burned into your ears, did you cry?” Schwartz broods. Arise has a moody gravitas not unlike the Church, a band the Aquanettas once toured with, in folk-rock mode: on the last verse, we get funereal drums from Robert Dennis.

The album’s drollest track is the ambling Satan You Brought Me Down. The album’s longest track, Bulldozer, is also its most hypnotic: Schwartz might be addressing the evils of gentrification here. To Become Somebody keeps the hypnotic atmosphere going, Gabler’s hurdy-gurdy adding a distinct Scottish folk flavor. The next track, My Hope comes across a more soaring second part of that song.

That’s What Johnny Told Me on the Train balances a bouncy pop melody against more of that 4AD, rainswept open-tuned guitar ambience. The album ends with the bittersweetly anthemic Sitting in a Garden of My Own. Schwartz also has an ep out recently comprising several of these tracks along with the lushly luscious folk noir anthem Hills of Violent Green, a showcase for some literally breathtaking, swooping upper-register vocals.

Ian Hunter Never Gets Old

Ian Hunter’s new album When I’m President is the good rock record that the Stones should have made this year (or around 1986, for that matter) but didn’t. It’s hard to believe that the former Mott the Hoople frontman, somebody who’s collaborated with everyone from John Cale to Mick Ronson to the Clash’s Mick Jones, is now past seventy. But Hunter is absolutely undiminished as both a frontman and a songwriter. On the mic, his rasp is as relentless as ever, and his poison pen still kills: as a stinging, surrealist wordsmith, Hunter still has few rivals. As usual, he plays acoustic guitar and piano here, backed by the Rant Band: Mark Bosch and James Mastro on guitars, Paul Page on bass and Steve Holley on drums, with Andy Burton on keys and Andy York (of John Mellencamp’s band and Mary Lee’s Corvette) adding subtle shades of guitar, some keys, and instruments like baritone guitar and dulcitar.

The music here chugs along with a familiar, Stonesy growl: if Keith Richards could be cloned, he’d sound like them. Mastro plays in the left channel, Bosch in the right, firing off the occasional solo with expert command of five decades worth of rock styles. The catchiest song on the album is the title track (available from Hunter as a free download). With its familiar janglerock melody and an irresistibly funny allusion to a certain “classic” rock riff, Hunter defiantly takes a stand with the 99% against the fat cats: “Still whining about your bonus? Man up, you’re ridiculous…” But as much as trying to buck the system may be like “the pit and the pendulum,” it ends optimistically.

With another amusing allusion to a well-known song (this one from the new wave era), What For is a rant worthy of any other in Hunter’s vast back catalog, a slap upside the head of a clueless conformist, suggesting a break from the cellphone in exchange for “a little recreational skulldiving.” Likewise, the big, dramatic 6/8 anthem I Don’t Know What You Want takes a jaundiced look at generational dissonance.

Other tracks work a psychopathological vein over a roaring backdrop. Bosch channels David Gilmour with an searing, angst-fueled solo in Black Tears, a kiss-off to a psychic vampire, that faux melancholy being “just another weapon in your arsenal of fear.” There’s also a Pink Floyd influence in the suspensefully percussive Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse), the Indian warrior out for revenge anthem against those “paid by the rich to steal from the poor.” The down-and-out junkie in Saint, a pretty standard-issue garage rock number, rails that “I ain’t no saint but I could never be you.” And Fatally Flawed gets a crushing crescendo on the first verse and an all-too-brief, screaming Bosch solo: “Lookit that trainwreck, purring like a Cadillac,” Hunter snarls.

The other tracks include Just the Way You Look Tonight, a casually majestic anthem that’s a dead ringer for Willie Nile, lit up by Mastro’s mandolin ; The Wild Bunch, a bankrobber ballad with saloon piano by Burton and an unexpected gospel choir; the rakishly seductive Comfortable (Flyin’ Scotsman), with some cool syncopation to fit the lyrics at the end as the chorus stretches out; and the surprisingly upbeat, amusing closing track: “Did you blow it on Myspace, did you twitter when you was clean outta your face?” Hunter wants to know. At this point in his career, his greatest shining moment is still Rant, his savage 2001 response to creeping fascism in the wake of 9/11. But this is a clinic in good tunesmithing and good playing from a bunch of guys who’ve been there and done that, and are still there and still doing it as well or even better than before. One of the best albums of 2012: long live Ian Hunter.

Don Piper and Edward Rogers vs. the Sound

The Cutting Room’s new Curry Hill space isn’t officially open yet, which is a good thing: at this point in the renovations, the sonics at that unfinished industrial basement at Kent and South First in Williamsburg are better than they are here. Last night Don Piper and his band, and then Edward Rogers (playing the cd release for his new one, Porcelain) battled those sonics. Both played magnificently; both lost the battle. Piper has never written better than he’s writing now, equal parts smart Neil Finn purist pop, thoughtful Mumford & Sons Americana and blue-eyed soul. His superb seven-piece band included Gary Langol on organ, Ray Sapirstein on cornet, Konrad Meissner on drums and Briana Winter on vocal harmonies. After the show, Sapirstein likened this group to a chamber music ensemble, a spot-on comparison: they have the easy camaraderie and expert chops you’d expect from a string quartet. And Piper’s slow-to-midtempo songs leave plenty of space for those virtuoso players to add their own inimitably terse, thoughtful ideas. In just under an hour onstage, they swung casually and methodically from artsy pop songs, to a little further out into the country and back again, with a couple of Bill Withers-ish numbers to turn the heat up a little. Piper’s an excellent singer, especially when he uses the top of his range: too frequently, those frequencies got lost.

‘”We start out at about 1972 and end around 1976,” Rogers told the crowd as he took the stage with his band: Piper, Pete Kennedy and James Mastro on guitars, Joe McGinty on keys, Sal Maida on bass and Meissner on drums again plus a parade of singers. The new album pays homage to the glam era, especially the opening track, The Biba Crowd, a look back at a boutique that served as a focal point for British musicians of that era much as Malcolm McLaren’s Sex did in punk’s earliest days. The band gave it a Celtic-fueled stomp, Mastro’s blazing Mick Ronson-esque lines mostly lost to the sound mix. At the end of a careening, intense version of the apocalyptic Topping the World, Rogers backed off, intoning the song’s mantra, “Chaos rules your destiny” just a couple of times before letting the music fall away. Whether this was intentional, or only an indication that Rogers was sick of trying to holler over the band, the effect was powerful. They wrestled with a handful of big Bowie-esque rockers, as well as the plaintive drunkard’s lament No More Tears Left in the Bottle and then a real showstopper, Commodore Hotel, a poignant, unselfconsciously beautiful ballad sung by its author, George Usher over McGinty’s ornate yet judicious keyboards.

Passing the Sunshine, a catchy 60s psychedelic pop gem from Rogers’ previous album Sparkle Lane, was especially biting, a metaphorically-charged amble through a neighborhood in the process of being priced out of itself. When Rogers brought up Don Fleming to play lead guitar on Separate Walls, it was as if the ghost of Ron Asheton had taken over the stage – to say that Fleming raised the energy level was an understatement, but there was only so much he could do to cut through the mix. After a deliciously raw version of the album’s title track, a song that would have fit perfectly on a late 80s Church album, they ended the show with drony, Syd Barrett-influenced, Black Angels-style murk-rock, which might have been a brave move at another venue; here, it simply seemed that they’d finally found something that made sense in the room. McGinty worked a harmonium furiously as the guitars howled and shrieked and Rogers railed against posers in newly gentrified neighborhoods everywhere.

Morricone Youth, who are always a treat, were next on the bill. But as it turned out, there was one single bathroom serving at least a few hundred people, a prospect discouraging enough to make it an early night.

Edward Rogers’ Porcelain Hits Hard and Pure

Edward Rogers has made a name for himself as someone who can write expertly in any retro rock style he wants, whether solo or with the artsy, jangly Bedsit Poets. The Birmingham, UK expat’s new album Porcelain is his hardest-rocking effort so far, and not only is it his best, it’s also one of best straight-up rock records of the last couple of years. Maybe it’s because he’s been so closely involved with the Losers Lounge scene, or maybe it’s just because he writes such good songs, but either way he always has an A-list band behind him. This time around the rhythm section features members of Cracker, Nada Surf or Graham Parker’s band, alongside Ian Hunter’s guitarist and a whole slew of other NYC talent. Rogers’ vocals are typically understated: he’ll snarl but he doesn’t usually scream. Rogers looks back fondly, sometimes bitterly; he looks to the future with extreme apprehension. The songs here range from blistering rockers to delicate chamber-pop laments.

The title track takes garage rock snarl, subdues it a little and turns it into insistent, propulsive new wave in the same vein as the Church, at least in that band’s early years, leaving its troubled intensity just below the surface to leap up when least expected. Likewise, the best track on the album, Topping the World, has the same fast 2/4 beat, a forest of burning, psychedelic guitar layers, and lyrics that capture a moment when the banks have repossessed everything, the temperature keeps climbing but still nobody questions the magic of the marketplace. “Chaos rules your destiny,” Rogers reminds over and over as it winds out.

Nothing Too Clever is gentle chamber-pop – it’s Kooks by David Bowie updated for the teens, with a stunning Claudia Chopek orchestral arrangement featuring Tim Dutemple’s oboe and Eleanor Norton on cello. Love with the World, a sarcastic eco-catastrope anthem, goes even more deeply into Thin White Duke territory, with some brightly wry Mick Ronson-esque slide guitar from James Mastro.

The opening track, a reminiscence about a hellraising bar crowd, is Irish-flavored glamrock that wouldn’t be out of place in the Black 47 reel book. Diamond Amour also has an Irish rock vibe and a ridiculously catchy, singalong chorus straight out of the Willie Nile catalog. “The world is changing from grey to black-and-white,” Rogers intones on the pensive ballad Link to the Chain – it’s the personal as political taken to its vividly logical extreme. Separate Walls is like Oasis with a Ph. D., a pummeling rocker with some memorable dueling between Don Fleming’s machete guitar and Chopek’s stiletto violin. Silent Singer also potently features those two contrasting savage/incisive attacks. The album closes with a hallucinatory, nightmarish psychedelic tone poem of sorts, Fleming’s axe-murderer guitar cutting its way through a hellish Lower East Side milieu that bears little resemblance to the once edgy, working-class neighborhood that Rogers has called home for years. “Take the train to Fancyland/My magazine well in hand,” he sneers at the fulltime tourists who’ve transformed his old stomping ground from a fertile incubator for bands into a Bernie Madoff style Florida shopping mall. Other bands – notably the Brooklyn What – have chronicled the destruction of New York by gentrification over the past ten years, few as memorably as Rogers. For people who like a good tune, this album’s a lot of fun – for New Yorkers, it’s also an important piece of history. The album officially releases next month; watch this space for news of the release show, most likely at Bowery Electric.