New York Music Daily

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Tag: janglerock

Breathtaking Grandeur and a Feast of Guitars on Noctorum’s Latest Brilliant Album

Marty Willson-Piper is best known as this era’s greatest twelve-string guitarist, but he’s also a brilliant songwriter, an aspect that was often weirdly overlooked during his long tenure alongside another great tunesmith, Steve Kilbey, in iconic Australian psychedelic band the Church. Willson-Piper has also put out several great albums under his own name and with Noctorum, his project with Dare Mason. Noctorum‘s richly orchestral, mesmerizingly jangly latest album, Afterlife, is streaming at Bandcamp.

It opens with The Moon Drips, a slinky, seductive, bolero-tinged ballad: imagine Nick Cave at his lushest, with a brass section. The carnivalesque, hurdy-gurdy style bridge is delicious.

High Tide, Low Tide is a mighty, jangly, propulsive rocker that would have been a standout track on a late 80s Church album. Mason sings this cautionary tale to a high-flying party animal who’s heading for a fall.

Willson-Piper returns to lead vocals for the album’s first single, Piccadilly Circus, a bleakly gorgeous, syncopatedly swaying portrait of quiet working class desperation in real estate bubble-era London. A lusciously icy blend of six and six-string guitars anchor Show, a grimly metaphorical breakup narrative set to vamping, Television-like janglerock. Willson-Piper’s incisive, climbing bass punctuates the lush, dreamy, pulsing sonics and baroque elegance of A Resurrected Man.

The album’s loudest track is A Girl with No Love: choogling, raging 70s riff-rock verse, lushly jangly chorus. “I don’t know if I’ll ever dream again, all I know is I can,” Willson-Piper croons in Trick, a surreal blend of Iggy Pop and the Cocteau Twins. Head On (not the Stooges classic but a duet between Willson-Piper and his violinist wife Olivia) rises out of incisively rhythmic riffage to a sultry, sinister peak and eventually an outro straight out of Jethro Tull: “See you at nine-ish where we first met, me and my Sunbeam, you and your Corvette.”

The album’s title track is its most amorphous number, Willson-Piper’s narrator waiting in the netherworld for loved ones amid the guitar swirl. The final cut is the unexpectedl whimsical, bouncy In a Field Full of Sheep. Good to see these guys, with careers that go back to the early 80s, still going strong.

A Dark, Jangly Americana Masterpiece From Russ Tolman

Back in the 80s Russ Tolman led the psychedelic Americana band True West, who were best known for their feral twin-Telecaster duels. He put out three albums with them, if you count the first ep and the posthumous outtakes-and-demos collection. The second one, Drifters is one of the fifty best rock records ever made, a jangling, clanging, surrealistically haunting masterpiece. But all the guitar savagery wouldn’t have counted for much if Tolman wasn’t such a slashing tunesmith and evocative lyricist. Since then he’s made a name for himself as a connoisseur of western noir, a sort of slightly less prolific Steve Wynn (his bandmate in the legendary/obscure Suspects, Wynn’s pre-Dream Syndicate college group).

Tolman’s latest album, Goodbye El Dorado – streaming at Spotify – is a mellower, more carefully crafted take on the True West sound, a masterful intertwine of acoustic and electric guitars along with mandolin, electric piano and a swinging rhythm section. He’s never written more vividly or with more allusive grimness. It’s a historically-infused song cycle about how people are drawn to California, only to see their dreams dashed. As a native Californian, Tolman has the inside track.

With its border-rock accordion, the album’s first song, Los Angeles, is typical in the sense that Tolman never lets on to what happens to the woman at the center of the story. He doesn’t usually hit anything head-on: he takes you down to the crossroads and lets you wait for the devil, alone.

The album’s best cut is Kid, a searingly spot-on account of a girl from a broken home whose teachers think that she “might be talented at art,” but her refrain is “Please don’t make me go home.” The janglerock backdrop, with Kirk Swan’s incisive terse guitar fills and Robert Lloyd’s mandolin, is a little more gentle and sparkly than True West typically was, but it’s obviously the same writer here.

The 6/8 ballad North Hollywood Dream traces the story of an Idaho kid who lands in LA, only to watch his hopes drift slowly away. In 405, over an inteweave of guitars and Rhodes piano – that’s the bandleader with Swan and Lloyd – Tolman paints a wryly knowing picture of LA freeway hell. The album’s title track is a shuffling Bakersfield country tune with mariachi horns: “Goodbye El Dorado, you’ve been a good companion, I’ve been a dutiful son,” the narrator muses as he heads out for good.

Yuba City – as in, “I’m going down to Yuba City, if I’m going down at all” – is another escape anthem with a bizarre mix of tinkling saloon piano, soaring pedal steel and string synth, with a tantalizingly gorgeous guitar solo in the middle. Moody brass, Kevin Jarvis’ ominous drumbeats and ex-Dream Syndicateer Dave Provost’s supple bass groove permeate the bolero ambience of California Winter, a wrenchingly heartbroken narrative: “In the merry month of November I turned my thoughts to the dead,” Tolman intones. The funereal outro, with its exchange of riffs between the horns, reverb guitar and organ is as good as anything True West ever recorded.

Do You Like the Way is a ruthlessly hilarious yet sympathetic portrait of a guy who doesn’t know when to stop: “You’re a free spirit, or at least you like to drink them.” Tolman raises the sarcasm factor several notches with the country ballad Almost Heaven, a twistedly cynical California wildfire scenario. He stays on the country tip for the album’s most epic number, Take It Easy Take It Slow, spiced with sparse twelve-string guitar and pedal steel.

“Knew it was the border from the giant ‘Need weed’ sign/And the liquor stores in the rearview mirror on the California side,” Tolman explains in the caustically funny coastal roadtrip tale Pacific Rain. Honkytonk piano mingles with a famous Stones guitar riff and  swooshy organ in Satellite Bar, a celestial place with dollar beer night once a month, free popcorn…and a dogwater bowl by the door. Tolman brings the record full circle with the grimly jangly Time Flies, a folksy, aphoristic take on the perils of getting older but not wiser. Good to see a revered cult figure – not the Jim Jones kind – still at the top of his game.

Celebrating One of Manhattan’s Most Fearless Impresarios at the Borough’s Best Listening Room

There aren’t many venues left anywhere in New York where you can walk in on just about any show night and randomly discover a great new band or solo artist. But you can still do that at the American Folk Art Museum. The museum earned this blog’s award for Best Manhattan Venue a couple of years ago, largely because of impresario Lara Ewen, who brings in a wildly diverse and frequently excellent mix of global folk styles along with Americana and singer-songwriters.

Ewen is turning fifty this June 14, and an all-star cast (she isn’t saying who, just yet) are on tap to come out to celebrate at her mostly-weekly Free Music Fridays series at the museum starting at 5:30 PM. Ewen’s booking (and her songwriting) reflect her background growing up in working-class, multicultural Queens. Three recent discoveries there – for this blog, at least – reflect Ewen’s ferocious dedication to bringing in music that represents the real New York.

In his debut at the museum this past spring, Greg Connors played electric guitar – not something you’d expect at a venue originally know for folk music, but Ewen likes to defy the odds. He ran his axe through a pedalboard with a lot of effects, flinging chords out into the space’s natural reverb and building to stomping, singalong choruses. His lyrics are edgy and cynical; his songs tell brooding stories set among the down-and-out without being cliched. His tantalizingly short set, clocking in at just over a half an hour, reminded of 90s underground songwriting stars Matt Keating or Jim Allen from time to time. If Connors had been around back then, he probably would have been playing CB’s Gallery and Sin-e and the rest of the East Village songwriter venues, all of them gone in a blitzkrieg of gentrification and real estate bubble madness. Connors hangs his hat in Peekskill now – he was awestruck at how attentively the audience at the museum responded, considering that he’s used to singing over crowds of drunks.

In her museum debut a week later, Ruby Landen explored several more traditional folk styles, from Appalachian-flavored balladry to French chanson. Her spare, elegant, eclectic guitar fingerpicking matched her low-key, purposefully plaintive vocals. She’s a relative newcomer to the New York Americana scene, so at the time of her show there was little on the web about her beyond a couple of youtube videos. But Ewen books a lot of good up-and-coming artists regardless of how little-known they are.

Another individualistic artist who’s just getting started and made her debut there last month is Yurby, who has even less of a presence online. There’s nobody in New York who sounds anything like her. Backed for most of her show by a bluesy, jazz-influenced electric guitar, she showed off a disarmingly clear, pure soul voice throughout a catchy mix of slowly unwinding ballads. Once in awhile there’d be a hint of a latin Caribbean influence, but otherwise, it wouldn’t be fair to pigeonhole her as neosoul. And her lyrics deal with empowerment and fighting injustice as much as the usual battle of the sexes. At the end of her set, she treated the crowd to one of those anthems, in Spanish.

Who knows – it wouldn’t be a stretch to see all three of these artists at Ewen’s birthday party. And maybe Ewen herself will treat the crowd to a few numbers – she won’t admit it, but she has one of the most magically mutable voices in town.

A Lusciously Jangly, Ferociously Relevant Masterpiece From Girls on Grass

Girls on Grass’ latest album Dirty Power – streaming at Bandcamp – has everything you could possibly want from a great rock record: slashing lyrics, soaring vocals, gorgeous harmonies, layers and layers of luscious guitar jangle and clang and roar, and tunesmithing that draws on styles from the 60s through the 80s. It’s fearlessly political, and it might be the best record released so far this year. Frontwoman Barbara Endes is on the shortlist of the best guitarists in all of rock – and she’s a great bassist too. Imagine the Dream Syndicate fronted by a woman, and produced by Eric Ambel (who was actually behind the board when this was made, and it’s one of the best projects he’s ever worked on). Girls on Grass are headlining one of the year’s best triplebills on May 12 at Coney Island Baby at around 9. Catchy, fun guy/girl indie soul band Sunshine Nights open the night at 7, followed by wickedly jangly surf/twang/country instrumentalists the Bakersfield Breakers at around 8. Cover is a ridiculously cheap $8.

The new album opens with Down at the Bottom, the harmonies of Endes and drummer Nancy Polstein rising over a soul-clap beat, spiced with icy twelve-string guitar jangle that’s part 60s Merseybeat, part 80s paisley underground psychedelia. Second guitarist David Weiss adds country-tinged twang as bassist Dave Mandl holds down an insistent groove, Endes reminding that all the best things are in the shadows and in the deepest waters. In status-grubbing real estate bubble-era New York, that subtext screams.

Street Fight is a cynical, sarcastic stomp, Weiss channeling Mick Taylor in simmering post-Chuck Berry mode, up to a slashing chromatic run. Friday Night is an indelibly simmering tableau, capturing the energy and anticipation of meeting a crush at what promises to be a hot show, chilling back by the soundboard, passing around a joint. The ending is an unexpectedly different kind of crush.

Got to Laugh to Keep From Crying, a bittersweet account of betrayal and stalker behavior, is one of the album’s most gorgeous songs, Endes’ clang against Weiss’ country twang. Two Places at Once shifts between amped-up. briskly shuffling Morricone spaghetti western and an eerily surfy Radio Birdman highway theme. Then the band burn through the garage rock riffage of the escape anthem Into the Sun, with a searing, chromatically-fueled guitar solo midway through: it sounds like that’s  Endes, but it might be Weiss too.

“Capitalism ruins everything worth doing,” Endes intones to a guy who’s only in it “For the cash, and the underage ass” in the album’s most overtly political track, Because Capitalism: the rhythm section hits a fast Motown beat as the guitars stab and burn. Endes got the inspiration for the wounded, crescendoing anthem John Doe  from the time the X bassist wrote a carpe diem message in her journal, with a “We gotta stick together” mantra that works on more than one level.

The loping desert rock instrumental Asesino sends a shout-out to an iconic Ventures hit, with hints of vintage Public Image Ltd. at the very end. “I come from superior genes,” the narcissist-in-charge brags over a swaying Flamin’ Groovies drive in Commander in Thief: the faux bombast of the guitars matches Endes’ sardonic lyric. The band wind up the album with Thoughts Are Free, with a slow, richly lingering Dream Syndicate-style intro, then picking up with a brisk country shuffle beat. “Got my money, never mind what’s happening behind the scenes,” Endes sings sarcastically. Look for this on the best albums of 2019 page at the end of the year.

Janglerock Heaven at Union Pool This Week

Last night at Union Pool was a feast of jangle, and clang, and twang, with enough reverb to lower the air a few degrees, it seemed. Girls on Grass frontwoman Barbara Endes was especially psyched to be opening for her favorite band, which speaks volumes about how she writes and plays. Few acts have someone out front who can not only sing and put a tune together but also play as ferociously eclectic lead guitar as she did throughout a set that could have gone on twice as long and everybody still would have wanted more.

Although Endes is a generation younger, her band often sounds like the Dream Syndicate with a woman out front. Her band doesn’t duel like Steve Wynn’s group, but the songs have a similarly edgy blend of Americana and riff-driven rock, and a psychedelic side. This particular version of the group switches out Sean Eden on second guitar for David Weiss, whose honkytonk and blues licks made an incisive, burning counterpart to Endes’ slithery, precise cascades and chordlets on her lefty model Fender Jazzmaster. Bassist Dave Mandl got all of two bars in one of the later songs for a solo but made the most of his rise out of the murk. Drummer Nancy Polstein swung hard and traded coy beats on her crash cymbal with the bandleader on the intro to one of the early numbers.

Much of the set was drawn from the band’s forthcoming album Dirty Power, due out momentarily. From its soul-clap intro, through a surreal blend of honkytonk and Dream Syndicate stomp, Down at the Bottom spoke for a generation of displaced artists trying to not to lose hope (and their homes) amid a blitzkrieg of gentrification. And did Endes change the last chorus from “Come hang with me” to “Don’t hang with me?” Just how much of a cautionary tale is this?

The rest of the set was just as catchy and compelling. The slowly crescendoing, anthemic Friday Night perfectly captured the electricity of being “in like with a chick who likes good music” at a good show. The opening number, Father Says Why had a deliciously watery, careening clang, while Drowning in Ego evoked a jaunty late 80s vibe with Endes’ meticulous, lickety-split quasi-bluegrass riffs. Although Endes’ vocals had their usual crystalline bite, one of the best tunes of the night was the spaghetti-surf instrumental Two Places at Once, with a remarkable similarity, stylistically if not melodically, to the headliners’ adventures in surf rock. Endes has obviously listened deeply.

The Sadies have gotten a lot of ink here. And why not? Who wouldn’t want to go see a band with two brilliant lead guitarists – brothers Travis and Dallas Good – and who came out for what could have been a single encore but ended up playing a total of eight songs that went on for as long as Girls on Grass’ set. Drummer Mike Belitsky’s funereal accents on his cymbal bells lowlit one of the handful of the band’s brooding, Americana-flavored waltzes, Cut Corners. Bassist Sean Dean plays an upright so, this time, he unfortunately wasn’t very present in the mix beyond a low resonance.

Counterintuitively, the best song of the night was the quietest one, the band hauntingly shuffling through The Good Years, a crushingly ironic tale of a mismatched couple’s tragic miscommunications: “She never asked him, he wouldn’t say,” Travis Good intoned.

The rest of almost two hours onstage featured everything from bouncy, reverbtoned surf rock, to punkgrass – a lickety-split remake of the old folk song Pretty Polly included – to waves of Brian Jonestown Massacre-tinged psychedelia and a handful of garage rock covers including a slamming remake of the Jay Walkers’ I Got My Own Thing Going. The Sadies are back at Union Pool tonight, April 3 at around 9:30, then they’re playing two sets tomorrow night, April 4, starting about an hour earlier. Cover is $20 and worth every bit.

Edgy Southwestern Rock and Existentialist Anthems with Tom Shaner in Long Island City

“I see a parade of people coming down the road,” Tom Shaner sang, cool and low, as the band behind him jangled and clanged through a catchy series of minor chords over a slow, undulating beat at LIC Bar Wednesday night. “All of those people are more or less alone.”

That song, Lake 48, goes back to the late 90s, when Shaner was leading a richly dusky desert rock band called Industrial Tepee. It was slower and slinkier then; over the years, Shaner has tightened it up a bit. The procession in the song hasn’t changed: all of those people are slowly making their way down to a place “Where the great spirit waits,’ and it seems they’re pretty determined to get there because if they miss their exit, they might end up at Lake 47.

“The number doesn’t matter,” Shaner ad-libbed. “But we won’t get there together,” he added.

There was also a parade in the slowly swaying, distantly spaghetti western-flavored opening number, another Industrial Tepee tune, along with several other slightly less gloomy existential moments. “It’s the wrong kind of silence here, like everybody wants to disappear,” he intoned in Viva Las Nowhere, pianist Mary Spencer Knapp adding twisted tango glitter. She calls herself an accordion shredder, which is true, but here she was just as colorful, shifting effortlessly and intuitively through two-fisted chords and jaunty riffage that drew as much on stride piano and oldtime blues as they did cabaret and circus rock.

“There were more trees here,” Shaner recounted, explaining to the crowd that he’d envisioned the drum sound in New York City Is Paradise Number 2 – a place you either eat, or it eats you – to evoke the echo of something being hit in the woods, rather than amidst concrete and steel. He’d grown up in Queens hearing both sounds, the latter more and more frequently.

Not everything in the set was as ominous. Shaner has written a lot of funny, theatrical numbers about she-devils, and the latest one, Carol’s House of Cruelty was an especially lurid, over-the-top tale about the unlucky guys who don’t have the sense to stay out. He also led the band through a pulsing take of Groove Queen, a cynically anthemic mashup of 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelia and Tom Waits blues. The rest of the show was a little more subdued, a chance for his purposeful bassist, drummer and lead guitarist to add subtle hints of oldschool soul and a little C&W.

Beyond sheer songwriting prowess, Shaner is an anomaly in what’s left of the New York rock scene. He doesn’t tour a lot – LIC Bar is his home base, more or less – but he gets a lot of high-profile film and tv placements and puts out the occasional excellent album. Watch this space for upcoming shows. If smart tunesmithing is your thing, LIC Bar has been on a roll with a lot of that lately: Melissa Gordon, frontwoman of the brilliant, new wave-ish Melissa & the Mannequins has a Monday night 10 PM residency there this month, including tonight, Feb 18. Another songwriter who has a lot in common with Shaner, the southwestern gothic-influenced Miwa Gemini, opens at 9.

Fearless Pro-Immigrant Advocacy and Catchy Tunes from Ani Cordero at Lincoln Center

“If you feel fed up with the current political situation, you can get out the streets…or you can sing along,” Ani Cordero teased the crowd at Lincoln Center last week.

““I’ve been to a lot of protests in the last three years,” the singer and multi-instrumentalist mused, her back to the Puerto Rican flag at the side of the stage. “How many of you have been to a Black Lives Matter protest?” she asked.

There was a small show of hands.

“We have to be there for each other across issues. There’s a lot of work to be done. So I’ll see you in the streets!” she grinned. “If you want to start some activism, see me after.”

When Cordero isn’t reinventing classic protest songs and freedom fighter anthems from every culture south of the border and throughout the Caribbean, she’s writing slashing, catchy janglerock tunes in both Spanish and English. Backed by a similarly eclectic, talented trio, this show was a mix of classics and politically-fueled new material from Cordero’s forthcoming album Machete. “We have some machetes over there,” she enthused, motioning to the far wall. “Don’t worry, they’re made of wood.”

Playing acoustic guitar, she opened with Caminando, a song “About immigrants and how we should support them,” she said succinctly before launching into the catchy, bouncy anthem, backed by accordion, punchy bass and drums. They wound it up with a soaring accordion solo – then the accordionist switched to bass, and the bassist picked up a gorgeous, vintage Danelectro, and they kicked off an even more emphatic, catchy love song, Pienso en Mi.

Cordero put down her acoustic gutar and picked up her maracas for a rocking take of Ay Choferito, a big Pueto Rican plena hit from the 30s. The drummer got the conga patch on his syndrum going as the guitar fired of a new wave funk line to jumpstart Sacalo, a fiery number from Cordero’s Querido Mundo album that works as a broadside against violence on many levels.

Introducing a starkly pulsing, surf-tinged take of El Pueblo Esta Harto (which translates as “The People Have Had It Up to Here), Cordero explained that “I love pretty much everyone, but there’s some people…you’ve got to get them out of here quick. There’s a guy who has a building over here…”  – she pointed in the direction of the Trump Tower and let the crowd figure out the rest.

They went back to accordion rock for a gritty take of the ranchera-rock opening track from the album, Corrupcion: “The corruption in Puerto Rico is kind of legendary now, but the US is really rising in the ranks,” Cordero noted.

She left the politics behind for a coy plena-rock number about meeting somebody who might have been a viable option, say, fifteen years ago but has  since timed out. The rest of the set included  loping border rock, an insistent new wave-flavored number with a coy bread-and-butter metaphor for politicians on the take. They closed the set with another metaphorically-charged new one, Mi Machete, the guitarist firing off some terse, jagged funk lines, Cordero energizing the crowd with her guiro over a repetitive dancefloor thump.

As optimistic as Cordero’s performance was, it was sad to see Lincoln Center’s Meera Dugal making her exit official with this show. After many months of being one of the very few programmers in town creating genuinely visionary, cross-pollinated performances across cultures and artistic disciplines, she’s earned three weeks in Mozambique (that’s where she’s headed). Happily, the Lincoln Center atrium space remains in good hands as far as booking is concerned: it earned the annual award for Best Manhattan Venue when Dugal was working here and is just as strong a contender for that designation now.

The concerts here – on Broadway just north of 62nd Street – run the gamut from sounds from all over the globe, to jazz, rock, and classical. This week’s free show is tonight, Feb 7 at  7:30 PM with the Navarra String Quartet playing Pēteris Vasks’ hauntingly dynamic String Quartet No. 4 and Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major. Admission is free; be aware that the mostly-monthly classical shows tend to be wildly popular with a neighborhood crowd, so show up early if you want a seat.

Another Withering Lyrical Rock Masterpiece by Ward White

It’s time we put Ward White up there in the pantheon with Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, Rachelle Garniez, Steve Wynn, Ray Davies and any other first-ballot hall of famer you can think of. Over the last fifteen years or so, the now LA-based White been on a creative tear to rival any one of those songwriting icons. Bowie’s work in the 70s is a good comparison, although where the Thin White Duke would reinvent himself just about every year, White has crystallized a classic three-minute janglerock sound, often veering off to the psychedelic side. 

Lyrically speaking, nobody writes more compelling, allusively macabre narratives. The devil is always in the details: in this case, the crack in the porcelain, the kind of soap in the bathroom, the objects on either side of where the dead bird has fallen out of the sky. White’s 2013 release Bob got the pick for best album of the year here, but that might just as easily be said for anything he’s put out since, including his latest one, Diminish, streaming at Bandcamp. As usual, White keeps his songs short, everything less than five minutes, some less than three. White plays all the guitars, elegantly and tersely, joined by keyboardist Tyler Chester and the low-key rhythm section of bassist John Spiker and drummer Mark Stepro.

It opens with Titans, its plotline as inscrutable as its melody is straightforward and hard-hitting. Twin guitar leads roar up to a menacing, chromatic chorus: it’s one of White’s louder numbers. An infant’s death and a possible terrorist attack may be related, or just parallel events. “This is no time for dreams,” is the mantra: welcome to the end of the teens, USA.

Noise on 21, a punchy backbeat anthem with blippy organ, is a classic White urban tableau, the yuppies upstairs staying up late just to seal another sordid deal while the narrator reaches breaking point: “Some things that you should never see are happy in the shadows, now it’s time to go home.”

Back to the End, with its cruelly Beatlesque chorus-box guitar, is a throwback to White’s late 60s psych-pop period a few years ago, a characteristically allusive, twisted scenario tracing the ugly logic of a S&M scenario: “Cannibals don’t waste their time with darkening the roux.”

Canopy, a brief, catchy number with uneasily warpy 80s synth, is one of the more unselfconsciously poetic songs in White’s catalog, contemplating endings from contrasting viewpoints

Awash in jangle and starry synth orchestration, Flood paints a grim picture of dysfunction on a Hollywood film set, with a shout to Baudelaire:

Send a dozen roses up to Noah’s favorite failures
Don’t believe the rumors of a plague upon this town
This bar never closes and it’s filled with drunken sailors
For every one, an albatross who should have let him drown

Watch the Hands is the great lost track from Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces: “Your best laid plans will never bite you in the ass unless your turn your back and leave them starving,” the child killer taunts.

With White’s lingering, detfly textured guitar multitracks, Cowboy could be the most gorgeous, bittersweetly surreal number here. It’s White’s La Chute:

Tell Bob I’m not busy being born, or dying, just alive
Some flights leave too early out of Kennedy
And some pricks play the Castro card for years

White puts a fresh spin on an old myth in Sodom, bristling with Syd Barrett-ish changes, sardonic backing vocals and glammy guitars.

Some call us sacrilegious
The chafed and the chosen few
You polish your barnyard idol
I’ll tarnish the ewe

Alternately balmy and burning, Every Night I Have This Dream is another of the murder ballads White is unsurpassed at – it’s not clear whether this is really a dream or not:

Double nickels all the way
I can’t afford to lose the day
They pop that trunk trunk and we are done, and I’m not going out that way

White puts a sinister edge on a mashup of blithe Bacharach 60s bossa-pop and watery, artsy Beatlesque jangle in Uncle Bob (Akron), the album’s most corrosively cynical number. That’s hardly a surprise, considering it’s a tale from the campaign trail told by the manager of a candidate who turns out to be something less than ideal

The album’s final cut is The Living End, a somber, mostly acoustic portrait of defeat as harrowingly detailed as Richard Thompson’s Withered and Died:

Buried with your artifacts
Pharaoh’s favorite son
Too late to think of what you’ll do with what you’ve done

You’ll see this in a few days on the best albums of 2018 page.

Purist, Potently Lyrical Janglerock, Americana, Powerpop and Soul From the Bastards of Fine Arts

For the past several months, the Bastards of Fine Arts have been working up a formidable body of catchy, anthemic, purist rock songs via a mostly-monthly residency at 11th Street Bar. The project took shape as a challenge of sorts, songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Matt Keating and his lead guitarist co-conspirator Steve Mayone hell-bent on writing a new song every week. Their project caught on with social media and went viral. Fast forward to 2018, they’ve got a full band now (Jason Mercer on bass and Greg Wieczorek on drums) and a catalog as vast as a band who’ve been around for five times as long. Which means they can mine it for the real gems.

Playing as a duo at the American Folk Art Museum in May of last year, they were at the point where they were working every style they knew (and they know a lot!). Sam Cooke ballad? Check. Lou Reed (a guy Keating is unsurpassed at imitating)? Doublecheck. Honkytonk anthem, Wallflowers janglerock, wistful Americana waltz? Triplecheck.

A year later at an early 11th Street gig, they’d pulled the band together and had built up a set that transcended its origins. They opened with their catchiest number, the gorgeously bittersweet I’ll Take the Fall, Keating both self-effacing and witheringly cynical at the same time. Another even more vindictive number traced the story of an ex that the song’s narrator spies out on a date with some dude. On the way out of the bar, she drops her coat; the dude picks it up for her. Keating’s narrator would have left it there.

Because part of the project is “what style CAN’T we do,” there are plenty of jokes to go around, some more inside than others. Switching to piano, Keating turned a Mayone ballad into a gospel tune; Mayone added some sardonic metal licks to a Keating soul number. They worked a bossa groove, Mercer spiraling all over the fretboard during a more recent number, Walk in the Park, a rare instance of a song of theirs which doesn’t seem to have a cynical undercurrent.

In a very subtle Elvis Costello vein, they vamped along on a bouncy soul-blues tune for a good three minutes, at least, without changing chords once. At the end of the set, they brought up Keating’s daughter Greta, who flashed some incisive chops on Strat as well as a similarly edgy lyricism and soaring vocals. Most children of great musicians don’t go into music for obvious reasons; Greta Keating, like Amy Allison and Jakob Dylan, is every bit as formidable as her dad was when he was in his early twenties. Here’s hoping she sticks with it. The Bastards of Fine Arts are back at 11th Street Bar on Dec 18 at 9 PM.

No-No Boy’s Savagely Lyrical Songs Illuminate a Troubling Chapter in American History

“We think a lot about individuals,” electrifying singer Erin Aoyama explained toward the end of her band No-No Boy’s riveting Lincoln Center show this past evening. “When you hear a number like 120,000 people incarcerated, what does that mean? It’s a hard number to understand.”

Aoyama’s friend’s mother had been incarcerated at the Tule Lake concentration camp during World War II. Aoyama’s own grandmother had been another of almost 130,000 Japanese-Americans held prisoner without trial throughout the war. Yet among those people – most of them American citizens – “”The power of young love, finding this little bit of joy, even within a prison camp,” persisted, as Aoyama explained. This particular case was a clandestine romance where the young college student and her crush would steal moments to hold hands in the camp dishwashing room . With that, Aoyama’s high lonesome harmonies rose to the rafters as she launched into the wistful, ironically Americana-flavored anthem Heart Mountain. Songwriter/guitarist Julian Saporiti no doubt latched onto the double entendre in the song title, taken from one of the ten concentration camps where Japanese-Americans were imprisoned.

That was the night’s single moment to salute the resilience of the human spirit. Otherwise, Saporiti’s wickedly lyrical, historically rich double entendres and savage puns confronted hypocrisy, racism and collective amnesia. Like Aoyama, he’s an extremely strong singer, and a hell of a tunesmith, with an anthemic, Elliott Smith-inflected sensibility. What’s more, the band’s new album 1942 is only the tip of the iceberg: they’ve got about four more albums worth of material, and played a lot of those new songs throughout the show. Not bad for a guy who thought he’d never make another record after his artsy late-zeros janglerock band Young Republic broke up. “This project has been nine years in the making,” beamed Lincoln Center’s Meera Dugal, who’d booked the band – she’d been entranced by Saporiti’s vocals and songwriting chops since discovering Young Republic while in college.

With No-No Boy, context is everything. Saporiti and Aoyama offered as much insight between songs as during them, providing historical background for narratives that typically focused on Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, but also explored the experiences of Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese immigrants. Saporiti revealed the he’d been inspired to start writing these songs in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, when a Trump advisor cited Japanese-American incarceration as a precedent for the eventual Muslim travel ban. The rest is history.

Aoyama took a wistful, stoic turn on lead vocals on the band’s usual opening number, a slow, steady Romany jazz-flavored, shuffling cover of Smoke Rings,  clarinet wafting pensively through the mix as grim back-and-white imagery of detainees played on the screen overhead. ““Imagine this beautiful song Erin’s singing for you, but behind barbwire,” Saporiti told the crowd.

The duo followed that wiht Tony Ramone, a vivid, delicately bouncy tour of 1980s Chinatown through the eyes of punk rocker from the neighborhood. Guest violinist Kishi Bashi’s spiky flourishes and plaintive washes spiced the harrowing travelogue Boat People, whose collective tales of outrunning the cops and cheating death in flimsy fishing boats in Pacific storms were some of the night’s more harrowing moments.

Both Imperial Twist – a surreal mashup of doo-wop and 1960s Vietnamese faux-French psychedelic pop – and the night’s folk-tinged closing number, Little Saigon each sent a shout out to the pioneering South Vietnamese psychedelic bands of the late 60s and early 70s. The more upbeat, catchy Khmerica pondered the experience of Laotian immigrants whose story is even less part of the popular narrative: “Some kids move ‘cause parents take jobs, some move because of napalm,” Saporiti intoned.

Aoyama moved to keyboards for Saint-Denis, a muted vignette about Vietnamese immigrants in Paris. The skeletal yet anthemic Gimme Chills, with its litany of grim historical events and sarcastic chronicle of American products, offered a look at American imperialsim in the Philippines: “Gimme trial without jury, gimme Imelda Marcos’ shoe,” as Saporiti put it.

The most grisly image of all was the corpse of a suicide who’d put his head on the railroad tracks outside a World War II concentration camp. That image panned overhead while the group played Only What You Can Carry, reminding that while those camps were not designed specifically for killing, a lot of people didn’t make it out alive. And Two Candles, with a soaring Kishi Bashi violin solo midway through, was a somber salute to those who remained silent about their experiences in the camps, Aoyama’s grandmother among them.

And for what it’s worth, the band’s output – both the album and multimedia tour – are Saporiti’s doctoral project at Brown University. Let’s hope the rest of the Ivy League is as open to artistic achievements like this one. As Saporiti said with a laugh, you can reach lot more people with catchy songs than you can with a thesis that ends up gathering dust on somelibrary shelf.

The series of free concerts at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. continues with a rare Tuesday show this coming Nov 20 at 7:30 PM with Canary Islands chanteuse Olga Cerpa and her band. If you’re in town, get there early if you want a seat.