New York Music Daily

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Tag: joe ongie

Bobtown Bring Their Gorgeous Gothic Americana to Hill Country

Harmony-driven gothic Americana band Bobtown‘s new album, A History of Ghosts, recently reached #1 at the Roots Music Report. They’re playing the album release show on the big stage downstairs at Hill Country on 26th St. just off 6th Ave. at 9:30 PM on Jan 14. A lot of things distinguish this band from the others in their field: their otherworldly, gorgeous four-part vocal harmonies, for one. The fact that the band has not one but four first-rate songwriters, who all seem to save their best material for the group, doesn’t hurt. And while there’s a whole demimonde of carnivalesque Americana bands who write gloomy minor-key songs about backstreet murders and drunken depravity, Bobtown’s songs are all the more creepy for how lighthearted they can be – on the surface, anyway.

How about a slow, summery pastoral reminiscence – about a public execution? A blithe, bouncy waltz with chipper, round-the-horn vocals, about drinking yourself to death in a dead-end town? Those are just two examples of what percussionist/keyboardist Katherine Etzel, singer Jen McDearman, guitarist Karen Dahlstrom and bassist Fred Stesney come up with on the album, streaming at their site. The womens’ crystalline vocals blend with the fretwork of lead guitarist/banjoist Alan Lee Backer, who long ago established himself as one of the most diverse and incisive players in the New York Americana scene, a guy who’s just as fluent with electric honkytonk as he is bluegrass.

The song about the execution is Morning Sun, written and sung by Stesney, the women’s vocals adding an eerie shimmer behind the tale of the guy on the gallows who’s finally run out of time. The grimly funny dead-end town waltz is Rumble Seat, by Etzel, a good way to get acquainted with the singers’ individual voices. That’s Dahlstrom, McDearman and then Etzel as they make their way through the first verse.

Dahlstrom’s Across the River opens the album on a delicate, purist country gospel note: if the Dixie Chicks’ record label’s marketing department had left them alone, they might have sounded something like this. She also contributes the cynically brooding, bolero-tinged Our Lady of Guadalupe Street.

McDearman takes over lead vocals on her trio of songs here (co-written with producer Joe Ongie): the subtly enigmatic, banjo-fueled bluegrass tune Girl in Blue, Darlin’, a plaintive, wistful waltz, and Oh, Undertaker, which sets a ghoulishly amusing lyric to a morose tune fueled by Etzel’s accordion. Etzel’s two other songs here are the elegantly orchestrated, ethereally intriguing Fosse Grim, and the rousingly gospel-flavored Stitch in Time.

Stesney also contributes the phantasmagorically shuffling circus rock anthem Kentucky Graveyard – which ends with a hilarious surf music quote – as well as the title track, a grimly catchy litany of ways to reach your final resting place. It’s may be¬†early, but this is a strong contender for best album of the year.

If you’re wondering where the band got their name, it’s a neighborhood near Etzel’s old Iowa hometown.

Oldschool C&W from Trailer Radio

If classic country music from the 60s and 70s with a comedic edge is your thing, you’ll love Trailer Radio. Just speaking for the music, their new album is excellent: the rhythm section of bassist Joe Ongie and drummer Kenny Soule swings, and the band’s two guitarists David Weiss and Mike Dvorkin are an encyclopedia of smartly chosen C&W and soul licks. Not all the songs here are funny, but the ones that are really hit the spot.

If country radio still played country music, the album’s opening track, Football Widow would be a monster hit. It sounds like something Tom T. Hall might have written for somebody like, say, Lynn Anderson, about 40 years ago. Musically, it’s a throwback to the Bakersfield sound of ten years before that, with upbeat honkytonk lead guitar intertwined with pedal steel. Frontwoman Shannon Brown’s bright twangy delivery makes it clear that she won’t accept defeat – and as the song goes on, she gets even. The second track, A Little Too Old and a Lot Too Ugly is cruel, and hilarious, and spot-on: it’s an anthem for any woman who’s had to fend off old Viagroid geezers in bars. It’s also got some sweetly multitracked 12-string and acoustic guitar, too.

Boll Weevil is a surreal, twisted Texas shuffle as Buck Owens might have done it; Southern Accents, a slow soul-infused ballad with more of those juicy, tremoloing, artfully layered guitar parts. With its Del Shannon style 50s rock vibe, He’s a Six is a thoughtful number about settling – and wine goggles – with some memorably surfy baritone-style guitar. The band follows that with Like a Train Left the Tramp, a joyously bouncy honkytonk kissoff song: “I took everything he had except his old guitar and his amp and I left him like a train left the tramp.”

Streets of Savannah is a detour into classic 60s soul music, pulsing along on a mellow Hendrix-influenced groove. I’m Not Leaving I’m Just Looking proves they’re just as good at western swing, then they rock out with the Stevie Ray Vaughan-style 11:59, Brown leaving no doubt that she’s had it up to here. The album winds up with Jack Daniels, a Stonesy rock song that explores the aftermath of overdoing it one too many times. How genuinely ironic that some of the best real country music around is being made in New York City. Trailer Radio’s next gig is on Jan 17 at 8 PM at the comfortable, laid-back Shrine in Harlem.

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