New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Tag: jazz-pop

Rachelle Garniez At Barbes: Under the Weather But On Her Game

Listen up fellow music bloggers – Rachelle Garniez always makes good copy. Last night at Barbes wasn’t even one of her best shows, and it was still pretty classic. Through oompah punk, indomitable gospel-rock (My House of Peace, her 2009 single produced by Jack White and released on his Third Man label), oldtimey swing and a hilarious pseudo-homage to Jean-Claude Van Damme, she improvved her intros, jamming her way into every song, playing accordion – and piano on a few songs mid-set – backed only by her longtime bassist Dave Hofstra. She made an unexpected segue into Take the A Train, speaking for everyone who’s ever ridden that train to the end: it’s the reeeeeeaaaaaaal slow way to get to the Rockaways. Garniez is New York to the core and usually makes that obvious, very subtly: tonight was not one of those nights. More about that a little later. She opened the set with torrents of accordion and the torrents of images in Tourmaline, a characteristically inscrutable, lyrically rich cut from her 2008 album Melusine Years. “Of all the green-haired girls I’ve seen to date, you blow them all away,” is the turnaround. Then she romped through the oldtimey swing of Kid in the Candy Store, another image-loaded story about a guy who’s reached overdose point with something most of us can’t get enough of.

Garniez asked the crowd if anybody knew who the answer to the mystery of who built the food pyramid – in her world, it’s topped by a crystalline controlled substance that turned out to be sugar. Later on she gently pondered whether there’s anything left that’s not googlable. Other performers might bash you over the head with the implications; Garniez just posed the question, made everybody laugh and then swung her way through God’s Little Acre (from her just-released album Sad-Alive-Dead-Happy), an unapologetic reminiscence of playing the field (and not-so-fond recollection of a face from those days trying to reconnect on Facebook). Much of Garniez’ recent work – Melusine Years in particular – has an elegaic quality, much of that for the edgy New York of the 80s where she grew up. That quietly and matter-of-factly reached critical mass on a slowly unwinding version of People Like You, a blithely sarcastic pop tune from Melusine Years, here an anthem that began with memories of drinking pink Champale, sleeping on the beach and then going for a swim at night out in the Rockaways. She mentioned she tried doing that several years later, in the early zeros, only to be stopped by the cops, a moment that left her temporarily speechless. As the song went on, she finally dropped her guard – something she hardly ever does – and lashed into the posers who’ve move to New York from suburbs far and wide, have taken over her old turf and believe their own bullshit about how special they are. It’s a song that could be an anthem for the Occupy movement. She closed the show with a request, Silly Me, from her 2000 Crazy Blood album: “I never thought that I’d live to see this century,” she mused as the chorus swelled, “Now we’re here, we’ve got the chance to do it better.” Garniez is back at Barbes on January 5 at 8 playing new songs from the new record.

Amanda Thorpe’s Promenade: Stunning and Seductive

Amanda Thorpe has been a somewhat more elusive presence in the New York music scene lately, but the British expat singer/multi-instrumentalist continues to put out tremendously captivating albums. Her new one, Promenade, is a little more melodically diverse, less overtly dark than her 2008 masterpiece Union Square. As usual, the vocals are astonishing. By turns seductive, aching and charming, Thorpe can still say more in a single wounded bent note (or a raw, soul-infused wail) than most singers can communicate in an entire album. This time around, although most of the songs here are more straight-up rock, she’s followed her jazz muse into territory that most singers simply can’t reach: it’s not just a matter of chops, it’s a matter of soul, and Thorpe has both.

The attractiveness of the tunes often belies a darker undercurrent. Bar Tabac, which is essentially the title track, bleakly traces a woman’s steps from Cobble Hill to the Brooklyn Promenade, daydrunk on bloody marys, alone and miserable, while the band swings along on a jaunty bossa nova bounce lit up by Ray Sapirstein’s blithe trumpet. Monica Says, by Philip Shelley (who also serves as co-writer on the poppier numbers here), sets a portrait of a woman insisting she’ll never be happy again against crunchy Willie Nile-esque powerpop with some snarling slide guitar by Tony Scherr. Thorpe’s hypnotically gorgeous layers of vocals give the Nashville noir of Once Lovers and Bury It a creepy David Lynchian edge, while Harold Arlen’s Paper Moon gets reinvented as edgy urban country. And the jaunty closing track, Aloha Bobby and Rose, is the best song here. It’s got all the elements of a classic retro pop hit: a singalong, anthemic, country-tinged tune, and just enough imagery to keep the listener on pins and needles waiting to find out how this particular story of a drunken evening ends. When Thorpe finally cuts loose at the end, the impact is viscerally chilling.

The vocals on several numbers here are transcendent. On What Love Is (no relation to the Dead Boys classic), she’s torchy, and tender, and spine-tingling against Matt Trowbridge’s tersely echoey Fender Rhodes electric piano and Rob Jost’s slinky, soaring bass. It’s hard to resist Thorpe’s logic here: “”Try to believe in the dreams that you’re dreaming, that’s how they come true.” The country-tinged Amber pairs sultry, crystalline vocals with gentle ukulele from Craig Chesler, while Catching the Light builds from a wintry backdrop to a towering crescendo. When Thorpe asserts that “I would walk until sunrise if you needed me to,” she owns it: it’s impossible to believe otherwise. And Goodbye, with its oldtime swing sophistication, wouldn’t be out of place in the Moonlighters catalog.

And not everything here is all white-knuckle intense,either. Waking up in Brooklyn dares a guy to walk away from his daily drudgery, while Hey Hey Hey is an irresistibly cajoling, playful, indelibly New York song – Thorpe wants some fun, maybe a walk up Museum Mile and then a stop for biscuits and tea and she won’t accept no for an answer! What else is there to say about this artist that hasn’t been said already: tremendous singer, tremendous material, someone you should get to know if you haven’t already.