New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: john lennon

Smartly Crafted, Anthemic, Beatlesque Art-Rock From Laura Mihalka

Laura Mihalka‘s moody keyboard ballads draw a straight line back to the Beatles as well as Pink Floyd and ELO. She also plays cello on her new album Feels Electric, streaming at Spotify. Producer Jesse Siebenberg plays the David Gilmour, Roger Waters and Nick Mason instrumental roles, filling in the sound with a symphonic understatement.

The album opens with Falling Apart, a gospel-tinted piano ballad with some unexpectedly creepy chromatics and a big, bombastic, Floydian guitar interlude that Mihalka follows with a gorgeously neoromantic solo of her own. The title track begins more enigmatic and hypnotic before she shifts it into elegant late Beatles territory.

Mihalka sticks with the Fab Four influence in Stumble Upon, a steady, swaying, Lennonesque number. She switches to electric piano for Pineapple Man, an Elliott Smith-ish trip-hop song with more than a hint of Indian music at the end. Then she goes back to the grand piano and adds spare cello accents to Forgiven: it’s her Great Gig in the Sky.

David Levita contributes flangey 70s guitar to Out for the Night, an aptly wafting nocturne. Mihalka goes straight back to the Beatles for Paradise, goo goo ga joob. Lennon meets Lucinda Williams – more or less – in Battleground. Then Mihalka strips things down to a simple early 90s pop sound with Sacred Sky, Siebenberg raising the energy with a crackling solo.

“We could all use you right now,” she intones in the elegaic ballad She’s Everything. She closes the album with Looking Back, adrift in wafting orchestration and twinkling, Hawaiian-flavored steel guitar. Beyond Mihalka’s stoic, impassive vocals, this could be a first-class Jeff Lynne orchestral pop production from the late 70s. That good.

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.

Sam Kogon Releases One of the Year’s Catchiest Purist Psychedelic Pop Records

Over the past couple of years, Sam Kogon has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the most consistently interesting, original psychedelic pop tunesmiths in New York. After a well-received debut full-length, he’s finally released his second album, Psychic Tears, streaming at Bandcamp. He’s playing the album release show tonight at Baby’s All Right at 10 PM; cover is $10.

Most of these tracks are very short, less than three minutes. The hooks flash by so fast that you barely have time to savor one before Kogon throws another at you: his songs are that catchy. Stylistically, he draws on a half a century worth of classic and obscure psychedelia and baroque pop. Jeff Lynne is the closest comparison, which is the highest praise imaginable for someone writing this kind of music. The album opens with a wry minitature, part Ventures, part late-period ELO, part XTC in their satirical Dukes of Stratosphere disguise, trebly bass climbing over a lattice of vintage keyboard patches.

Work It Out comes across as a surreal mashup of Abbey Road Beatles, Ward White and early 70s Lennon; the lush chorus-box guitar adds new wave mystique. By contrast, I’m Letting Go is a dead ringer for Wizzard-era Roy Wood, right down to the boogie guitar and the vocal echo.

The uneasily keening, swaying, minor-key Don’t Know Now brings to mind the Allah-Las in a particularly buoyant moment. I Was Always Talking, a duet with airy-voiced chanteuse Frankie Cosmos, has a noisy guitar backdrop behind its easygoing retro soul sway, soaring toward Jeff Lynne territory as Kogon builds it. The album’s longest track, Something’s Wrong has hints of jazz within its lush, elegant orchestration: it would be a standout ballad on ELO’s Discovery album.

I Could Kick Myself takes a scampering detour into new wave, followed by Tonetta, awash in clever echo phrases, chiming guitars and bubbly electric piano. Lincoln Lincoln has tricky symcopation and starlit Omnichord synth, then builds to stomping, anthemic propoortions.

My Love It Burns is an exercise in easygoing Double Fantasy-era Lennon pop, while The Way to Talk to Boys edges toward Chad and Jeremy style early Merseybeat territory. The brief, vampy final cut, I’ll Be There has the feel of a Double Fantasy outtake. Maybe if we get lucky Jeff Lynne will pull another ELO tour together like he did earlier this fall and Kogon can open for them. Now THAT’s a bucket-list show!

Tammy Faye Starlite – From Lakeside Lounge to Lincoln Center

As an artist, you make your Lincoln Center debut – assuming you can get one – by bringing a polished program that’s going to knock out the critics, right? If you’re Tammy Faye Starlite, you bring a raw if tightly rehearsed work in progress – and pack the house, and blow them away with it. Thursday night the insurgent comedienne/chanteuse/agitator led a poised yet gritty six-piece rock band through a characteristically irreverent, often hilarious and just as shattering set of Marianne Faithfull songs, including the cult singer’s iconic 1979 album Broken English in its entirety.

Beyond her work in film, the theatre and tv, Tammy Faye Starlite has won a devoted following for her unsparing, often caustically funny but revealing portraits of complicated rock personalities. She’s come a long way since her days at the now-defunct Alphabet City hotspot Lakeside Lounge, where she led the Mike Hunt Band through a series of snarky Rolling Stones album cover nights, pillaging the Glimmer Twins catalog for both gems and duds. Her most popular revue both lampoons and celebrates the music of Nico. Likewise, Tammy has used music and albums by the New York Dolls, Blondie and the Runaways as well as her own alt-country songwriting as springboards for stingingly literate, historically informed, uproariously amusing political commentary.

As usual this time out, the comedy was merciless. Tammy mocked Faithfull’s socialite snobbery as well as the acid-fueled hippie mysticism with which much of her work from the 70s is laced. In an impressively faithful Tory accent, Tammy channeled the British singer garbling her Biblical references, quoting from the “Book of Seth.” A little later, in introducing an aching, vividly bitter version of John Lennon’s Working Class Hero, she pondered whether a child of privilege such as Faithfull, or for that matter, Rick Perry and the rest of the Fox News cabal, could understand a 99-percenter’s rage and frustration. Her wryly meandering conclusion was that they could, even if they’re not exactly working-class and hardly heroes. But the music just as often took centerstage.

Early on, the sheer strength of Tammy’s voice threatened to subsume the elegant hesitance, not to mention the drug-damaged melismatics, that are Faithfull’s signature vocal tics. But as the show went on, the evocation became more eerily accurate, culminating in a rivetingly surreal, jangly rock version of Times Square. That song quickly became just as much an elegy for an edgy early 80s New York priced out by mallstore sterility and Disney tastelessness as it was a portrait of heartbroken alienation set against a backdrop of menace and decay. Lead guitarist Kevin Salem rescued the lesser tracks on Broken English – “the filler,” as Tammy acknowledged – with nonchalantly savage, expertly unhinged, judiciously placed acid blues licks. Multi-instrumentalist Keith Hartel channeled another guy with the same name on electric guitar, later switching to keyboards, finally turning in a spot-on, absolutely haunting take of Sister Morphine on acoustic, which was the night’s most memorable song and the point at which the personalities of Tammy and Marianne fused as one.

Getting there was a lot of fun. As usual, Tammy sprinkled snide bits of trivia and razorwire improv in with the songs. Folksinger Tim Hardin, co-writer of Brain Drain, the prosaically bluesy ode to scoring dope, had become known as “Tim Heroin” in New York circles by the time he penned the lyrics. As the show went on, the way Tammy handled a persistently vocal audience member who once was a neighbor of Hardin’s, and still revered him, became a clinic in how to finesse the most unwilling subject to set up a cruelly perfect punchline. She finally let down her hair with a raging, aptly punked-out, expletive-strewn version of Why’d Ya Do It, complete with faux-orgasmic vocalese which became a very physical shout-out to Penny Arcade, whose performance piece Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! Faithfull had made a cameo in back in the 90s.

Bassist Jared Michael Nickerson gave the album’s seemingly interminable stoner new wave title track an unwaveringly circular groove in tandem with drummer Ron Metz. Salem fueled Shel Silverstein’s would-be suicide epic The Ballad of Lucy Jordan with some unexpected U2 riffage, while keyboardist David Dunton switched from fluid organ lines to more sardonically woozy synth voicings. And Craig Hoek built an unexpected but effectively optimistic ambience on some of the later material in the set on both alto and soprano sax. “We wanted to play as long as we could, considering that we probably won’t be invited back,” Tammy snidely averred before an attempt to get an audience singalong going with As Tears Go By, but the crowd seemed too stunned and overwhelmed to respond. And it wouldn’t be wishful thinking to hope for a return engagement: as both the performance and brave choice of artist made clear, this isn’t your father’s Lincoln Center anymore. In the meantime, Tammy and the band are going to reprise most of this show on May 13 at Joe’s Pub.

Matt Keating’s Wrong Way Home – Best Rock Album of 2012?

Matt Keating’s new Wrong Way Home (streaming in its entirety at the Sojourn Records site) is the best album he’s ever done. It’s a landmark in tunesmithing and songcraft to rival anything Elvis Costello or the Beatles ever recorded. Which is an even more impressive achievement considering the sweep and power of Keating’s 2008 double cd, Quixotic, a feast of lush, lyrically rich janglerock. This one is considerably different: blending elements of 1960s soul, country, ragtime and even jazz, it’s far more musically diverse. Lyrically, it’s his darkest album: as with Joy Division or late-period Phil Ochs, an encroaching, inescapable sense of doom pervades this record. Keating has always been an uneasy writer, able to dissect the fatal flaw in a relationship with a few sharp words: here, he takes his role as psychopathologist to a new level. He’s also never sung better – there are other singers who get called Orbison-esque, and most of those comparisons fall flat, but Keating’s nonchalant but wounded-to-the-core croon packs the same kind of emotional wallop.

The songs themselves are mini-epics, seldom going on for more than four minutes, arranged so that they begin sparsely and gradually add layers of strings, guitars, keyboards and horns until they reach an angst-driven orchestral grandeur. The musicianship is what you would expect from an A-list of New York players. Keating is a strong guitarist, but he’s a brilliant pianist, nimbly switching from blithe ragtime to tersely jeweled, incisive rock riffs, to torchy jazz on Baby’s Mind, a number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Chet Baker songbook, both compositionally and vocal-wise. Tony Scherr’s guitar channels a hundred styles, from Memphis soul to artsy metal, to psychedelia and country, alongside Jason Mercer on bass, Hem’s Mark Brotter and Greg Wieczorek (of Jenifer Jackson’s band) splitting duties on drums, Claudia Chopek’s one-woman string section, Cassis on accordion and Keating’s wife Emily Spray’s exquisite harmony vocals.

The opening track, Just About Now, a pulsing, piano-driven Burt Bacharach-esque soul song cruelly captures the moment where what seems to be redemption at last goes completely to hell. “I don’t remember facing a day so unafraid…when you’re in love you’re not on the take,” Keating observes, facing what appears to be an abrupt, cold ending. Punchline introduces a furtive clenched-teeth dread that will recur later on:

I’ve been using the back door
Keeping my own score
Scraping the bottom
Off of the top floor
You know I keep minimizing
All those expectations
On the horizon
In each situation

Scherr’s indulgent Comfortably Numb quote does double duty here as comic relief and deathblow as Keating runs the song’s mantra, “just leave it alone.”

Nobody’s Talking, a crushing portait of rural claustrophobia that you have to “claw your way through,” has a country sway and one of Keating’s signature allusive plotlines. Nobody’s taking out the trash or doing the dishes here: did somebody get killed, die, go on a bender or what? Likewise, the aphoristic Too Good to Lose – with lively dixieland from trumpeter Shane Endsley and the Microscopic Septet’s Dave Sewelson on baritone sax – could be completely sarcastic, or it could actually be one of the few bright spots amidst the gloom. It’s hard to tell. And the narrator of the wistfully Tex-Mex flavored title track – the most overtly Orbisonesque song here – might actually be the rare guy who actually wants to nurture communication in a relationship, or he could be a total control freak/stalker type.

Maybe He’ll Meet You, a shuffling country crooner tune, might be the album’s most haunting track. Keating shuffles his lyrics and his images artfully: the snakecharmer forgets his song and then dies of snakebite as the hope of finally being able to connect with someone slowly and inevitably slips away. Another real haunter is Maker of Carousels, Keating’s devastating portrait of self-inflicted emotional depletion, pulsing along with phantasmagorical carnival organ. Jersey Sky, a homage to Danny Federici, the late E Street Band organist, works a hypnotic, elegiac ambience, as does the ragtimey 1913 Coney Island, an understatedly brooding graveside scenario.

There’s also the absolutely hilarious, doo-wop flavored Back to the Party, an ominous tale of a clueless doofus whose ending is delivered with a riff rather than a lyric; the lavishly arranged, death-fixated Here and Then You’re Gone; the bitterly sardonic, Elvis Costello-inflected soul waltz Go to the Beach; the brightly shuffling Sound of Summer Days, which could be the great lost track from the Kinks’ Village Green; and the Springsteen-esque blue-collar lament Factory Floor, featuring Spray’s electrifying, vibrato-fueled soul harmonies. Even on the album’s closing track, a Lennon-esque piano ballad, Keating is apprehensive, unsure what’s going to happen to him if he allows himself the chance to salvage the remains of a relationship. How many people who heard London Calling, or Highway 61, or Armed Forces knew immediately that they had a classic in their hands? This album is one of those records: every time you hear it, there’s something new to reflect on and enjoy.