New York Music Daily

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Tag: Karen Hudson

A Fun, Eclectic Early-Evening Americana Triplebill

New York venues should have more early shows. That’s not to say that staying out til the wee hours isn’t fun…but the train home afterward, or lack thereof? Ouch. For those of us in New York who live in neighborhoods poorly served by mass transit (which is just about everybody, right?) the American Folk Art Museum just south of the triangle where Amsterdam Avenue crosses Broadway on the Upper West Side offers free, 5:30 PM shows on Friday nights. And the performers can be fantastic. Turkish folk band Dolunay played an amazing couple of sets there last week; this week’s lineup was an acoustic Americana bill of songwriter Karen Hudson, fiddler Melody Allegra Berger and comedic honkytonk band Trailer Radio doing a stripped-down acoustic duo show, and all three acts were excellent.

Hudson almost always plays with a band behind her and for that reason might not be the first person you would think would be a good solo acoustic performer. But she was tremendous. She’s an elegant tunesmith and evocative lyricist who often uses an aphoristic, vintage C&W vernacular without sounding hokey or derivative, and she’s grown into an excellent, subtly nuanced singer. Some of her songs were funny, like Nicotine, her irresistibly amusing ode to the death-defying lure of tobacco. Others, like I Thought I Died, with its litany of near-misses, had the matter-of-fact resoluteness that runs through much of her songwriting. Others were haunting, in a memorably Mary Lee Kortes vein. The best of these was Mama Was a Trainwreck (Daddy Was a Train) – the best track on Hudson’s new Eric Ambel-produced album Sonic Bloom. It rocks pretty hard on record; stripped to its acoustic roots, it had a harrowing oldtime Britfolk feel, a bitterly surreal account of growing up with a father who, as Hudson put it, “was never able to change his ways.” She revisited that theme on a quieter, more reflective number before picking up the pace and ending with Late Bloomer and its gently insistent, optimistic nature imagery.

Fiddler Melody Allegra Berger picked up the energy further, plucking and soaring and singing here way through a mix of bluegrass and Americana classics alongside banjo player Bennett Sullivan. She’s true to her name, tuneful and fast. He’s got an intriguing album of his own out, and the two played the title track, Lady Nora. You might not think that an atmospheric ballad could be played on the banjo, but with his intriguing use of harmonics, that’s where Sullivan went with it. Berger led the duo through mix of instrumentals along with several vocal numbers, showing off a brittle vibrato reminiscent of but not deferential to Hazel Dickens. They opened with a romp through Soldier’s Joy, then a little later did a couple of songs about being hanged, as Berger gleefully explained, first the instrumental Hangman’s Reel and then Hang Me, which turned out to be one of the seemingly unlimited number of versions of the old folk song I’ve Been All Around This World. They wound up the set with a couple more hard-charging bluegrass tunes, setting the stage for Trailer Radio frontwoman Shannon Brown and her brilliant guitarist bandmate David Weiss, whose lightning flatpicking, big western swing chords and edgy blues kept the energy at full throttle.

As Brown told the crowd, she got run out of her hometown of Man, West Virginia “for being too impatient.” She really has a handle on cornball C&W humor, and her songs can be hilarious. The two mixed wryly amusing numbers like Football Widow (about a woman who uses her tv-addict husband and his dumb friends as an excuse to have more fun than them on a Sunday afternoon), He’s a Six (about a guy who’s just thisclose to being a decent choice of boyfriend), Two Tavern Town (inspired by the dead-end beer joints where Brown grew up) and the wry Too Old and Way Too Ugly, with a handful of slowly unwinding, unexpectedly somber blues tunes.

Karen Hudson’s Long-Awaited Sonic Bloom Finally Busts Out

With her edgy wit, elegant stage presence and a great band behind her, songwriter Karen Hudson has been a mainstay of the New York Americana scene since the early zeros. She’s playing the long-awaited release show for her new album Sonic Bloom tonight, June 13 at her usual hangout, Rodeo Bar at 7 PM sharp. Eric “Roscoe” Ambel – whose legendary Del-Lords have a killer new album, Elvis Club, out as well – produced it with his usual purist touch and played guitar on it. Hudson’s brilliant lead guitarist Homeboy Steve Antonakos, also of surf rockers the Byzan-Tones, zydeco crew the Dirty Water Dogs and Greek psychedelic revivalists Magges joins along with pedal steel player Skip Krevens, bassist and Steve Martin sideman Skip Ward, and Tom Curiano and Kenny Soule sharing drum duties.

“Kicking out some rock, making room for roots” is the opening line of the first track, Late Bloomer and pretty much describes this album. Over a steady backbeat and a tasty blend of twang and grit, Hudson reminds that “Just when your dead flowers have wilted in their vase, I’ll be blooming in your garden some sunny day.” Call Me is not the Blondie hit but a restlessly pulsing Laurel Canyon rock tune. Better Half of Me sets wry honkytonk wit and high lonesome pedal steel to a steady four-on-the-floor rock beat, while St. John’s Isle pays homage to the solidity of the man in Hudson’s life, who is “a rock in the middle of the ocean, while I swim in search of frivolous emotion.”

The best song on the album, Mama Was a Train Wreck looks back in shellshocked anger at dysfunctional family hell, reaching fever pitch with a smoldering Antonakos guitar solo. Better Days makes a good segue with its similarly slow-burning, minor-key angst: it’s sort of an imploring attempt to break through to someone like the monster in the previous song before the guy’s too far gone. A Woman Knows These Things offers some no-nonsense, vintage Tammy Wynette-style advice to a guy with a wandering eye, while Daydream looks at the other side of the equation via a regretful country ballad. Hudson sticks with the classic country on Dead Letter File, memorializing someone Hudson regarded as a beloved brother. The album winds up with the catchy, Byrdsy, janglerocking Beauty of the Now, co-written with Antonakos.

Throughout the album, Hudson’s matter-of-fact vocals carry the lyrics with passion, soul, and rich dynamics, from an insistent wail to a warm, caressing timbre: she’s never sung better. Who is the audience for this? Fans of acts as diverse as Miranda Lambert, Gram Parsons and Loretta Lynn in her prime…and for that matter, Loretta Lynn now.