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Tag: kurt leege

Guitarist Kurt Leege Reinvents Jazz Classics As Envelopingly Ambient, Richly Psychedelic Soundscapes

There’s considerable irony in that Kurt Leege, one of the most interesting guitarists in all of ambient music, first made his mark as a feral lead player, beginning with Curdlefur, then Noxes Pond and finally System Noise, New York’s best art-rock band of the zeros. Leege’s new album Sleepytime Jazz – streaming at Bandcamp – is his second solo release, a similarly celestial follow-up to his 2018 record Sleepytime Guitar, where he reinvented old folk tunes and spirituals as lullabies.

This one is calm, elegant, drifty music with a subtle, soulful edge, a mix of jazz classics from John Coltrane, to Miles Davis, to Herbie Hancock and Louis Armstrong. Leege layers these tracks meticulously, typically using his ebow to build a deep-space wash and then adding terse, thoughtful, often strikingly dynamic multitracks overhead. This may be on the quiet side, but it’s also incredibly psychedelic. Play it at low volume if you feel like drifting off; crank it and discover the beast lurking deep within.

Blue in Green has spiky, starry chords and resonant David Gilmour-like phrases fading deep into spacious, hypnotically echoing ebow vastness. Leege has always been a connoisseur of the blues, and that cuts through – literally – in At Last, his spare, gentle but incisive single-note lines over the starry resonance behind him. And Coltrane’s Spiritual is much the same, and even more starkly bluesy: shine on you distant diamond.

Georgia on My Mind comes across as opiated Wes Montgomery with distant Memphis soul echoes. Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage could be a particularly immersive, atmospheric interlude by 70s art-rock cult favorites Nektar.

Leege reinvents My Funny Valentine, artfully shifting up the metrics with equal parts Pink Floyd grandeur and Bill Frisell tenderness. He hits waltz time even more head-on in his version of Naima, the fastest and most hauntingly direct of all these slow numbers.

Neferititi, appropriately, is the album’s most delicate and hypnotic piece. The echoes come in waves most noticeably throughout Tenderly, tersely layered from top to bottom. And Leege’s take of What a Wonderful World is as anthemic as it is warmly enveloping. What a gorgeous record. It’s a real find for fans of jazz, ambient music, psychedelic rock, or for that matter anyone who just wants to escape to a comforting sonic cocoon

Yet Another Wildly Diverse Album From the Brilliantly Psychedelic, Lyrical Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys are a rarity in the world of psychedelic music: a lyrically-driven band fronted by a charismatic woman with a shattering, powerful wail. Guitarist/singer Sarah Mucho cut her teeth in the cabaret world, winning prestigious MAC awards….when she wasn’t belting over loud guitars as an underage kid out front of the funky, enigmatic Noxes Pond, a popular act at the peak of what was an incredibly fertile Lower East Side rock scene back in the early zeros. Noxes Pond morphed into volcanically epic art-rock band System Noise, one of the best New York groups of the past decade or so, then Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege went in a more acoustic, Americana-flavored direction with the Sometime Boys.

They earned the #1 song of the year here back in 2014 for their hauntingly crescendoing, gospel-fueled anthem The Great Escape. Their new album The Perfect Home – streaming at Bandcamp – is a mind-warpingly diverse collection of originals and covers. There aren’t many other bands capable of making the stretch between a country-flavored take of the Supersuckers’ deadpan, cynical Barricade and a similarly wry hard-funk cover of the Talking Heads’ Houses in Motion.

The other covers are a similarly mixed bag. Mucho’s angst-fueled, blues-drenched delivery over guest Mara Rosenbloom’s organ and the slinky rhythm section of bassist Pete O’Connell and drummer Jay Cowit takes the old Allman Brothers southern stoner standard Whipping Post to unexpected levels of intensity, Likewise, Pink Floyd’s Fearless has a bounce missing from the art-folk original on the Meddle album, along with a balmy, wise, nuanced vocal from Mucho and a starry, swirly jam at the end. And their slinky, gospel-influenced take of Tom Waits’ Way Down in the Hole is a clinic in erudite, purist blues playing.

But the album’s best songs are the originals. Unnatural Disasters has careening, Stonesy stadium rock over a bubbly groove and a characteristically sardonic but determined lyric from Mucho. The group are at their most dizzyingly eclectic on the European hit single Architect Love Letter, blending elements of bluegrass, soukous, honkytonk and an enveloping, dreampop-flavored outro.

Leege’s mournful washes of slide guitar, Rosenbloom’s pointillistic electric piano and Mucho’s brooding, gospel-tinged vocals mingle over a nimble bluegrass shuffle beat in Painted Bones. And the defiance and hard-won triumph in Mucho’s voice in the feminist anthem Women of the World – a snarling mashup of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Poi Dog Pondering, maybe – is a visceral thrill. Good to see one of New York’s most original, distinctive bands still going strong. They’re just back from European tour; watch this space for upcoming hometown shows.

An Album That Puts Your Kids to Sleep But Doesn’t Bore You to Death

Just about the worst thing you can say about an album is that it’s good to fall asleep to. Yet there’s a ton of great, lulling music that will do the job. Just for starters: Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp, Philip Glass’ String Quartets, and pretty much anything by Brian Eno.

But is there an album that will help a baby fall asleep, so YOU can finally get some rest? Sure, there are a million easy-listening playlists on Spotify. But they’re saccharine and they’ll give you a headache.

So Kurt Leege sat down with his Strat and his pedalboard, came up with a bunch of instrumental lullabies, roadtested them on his infant daughter – and they worked like a charm. So well, in fact, that the great guitarist decided to release these dreamy nocturnes as an album aptly titled Sleepytime Guitar – streaming at Bandcamp – for the sake of saving the sanity of sleep-deprived parents everywhere.

Kid wakes up in the middle of the night? Pull this up, hit play and everybody will drift off sooner than later. It’s a long album, a total of fourteen tracks to keep you and the little one in REM mode for as long as you need. Most of the songs are lushly enveloping new arrangements of familiar folk tunes, along with a couple of gospel numbers and two Leege originals that bend in seamlessly.

Some of the arrangements draw on Bill Frisell’s most atmospheric adventures in gentle, rapturous loopmusic. Eno, and the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie also seem to be obvious influences. And Leege doesn’t play like he’s falling asleep – it seems like he’s having a lot of fun, quietly. His formula pretty much all the way through is to build gentle waves and washes in the background, add some thoughtful fingerpicking over that and put the melody and variations front and center. He plays most of it way up the fretboard: this is a twinkly, trebly album.

If you’re making your own playlist with it, start with the rapt, Frisellian take of Down By the Riverside, segue with the wistful version of Danny Boy and then Wild Mountain Thyme, which Leege anchors with subtly polyrhythmic deep-space pulses. The other tracks are just as warmly enveloping, but the guitar is livelier.

He does Shenandoah as David Gilmour might, with lots of long-tone bends, if not the anguished screams of Pink Floyd. There are all sorts of neat little flourishes in Wayfaring Stranger: a couple of funny Gilmour quotes, and a little Bill Withers, maybe. Leege finds the doo-wop stashed away deep within the calmly lilting melody of the old Welsh tune Ar Hyd y Nos, and reinvents Swing Low, Sweet Chariot as a waltz.

A Curvature of Shadow, the first Leege oriiginal, is a one-chord jam, series of hypnotic variations that drift further from a folk-flavored theme toward spacerock. Scarborough Fair circles around, Leege having fun playing the melody with his volume knob – the effect is similar to a talkbox. Peter Frampton would approve – at least until Leege distantly channels Pink Floyd.

Leege transcends cheesiness in Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star by playing harmonies and then implying the melody: a lot of moms are going to be singing karaoke to this one. Down to the River to Pray is much the same, as Leege works variations on the verse over what sounds like a vocal drone.

He cuts loose just a little bit with some spare, purist, bluesy playing and then some charming glockenspiel-like tones in the Irish folk song Bonnie Lass o’Fyvie. The Brahms Lullaby sounds more like the Tennessee Waltz; the album closes with a slow, enigmatic instrumental version of Riverbed, the title track of his current funky Americana jamband the Sometime Boys’ second album. 

Fun fact: since now you know how peaceful and calming Leege’s compositions can be, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. He is renowned in New York rock circles as one of the most diversely tuneful, and most assaultive players around. His celestial moods here, and his elegantly eclectic virtuosity in the Sometime Boys don’t offer a clue to his past as co-leader of the gloriously acidic, pummeling, aptly named System Noise.

Two Shows in a Week From One of New York’s Most Individualistic, Entertaining Bands

It’s hard to think of a New York band with a more original, distinctive sound than the Sometime Boys. They can do straight-up funk, or country, or elegant chamber pop or wildly guitar-fueled psychedelia, but they’re more likely to combine all those styles. With her full-throttle, brassy alto voice and sardonic sense of humor, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho is a charismatic presence in front of the band, but the whole group – lead guitarist Kurt Leege, bassist Pete O’Connell and drummer Jay Cowit – have sizzling chops as well. They’ve got a couple of shows coming up, the first at 9:30 PM on Friday the 19th at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick, then they’re headlining at 10 PM at Cake Shop on an excellent billwith Paula Carino’s similarly lyrical, intensely catchy Regular Einstein opening the night at 8.

This blog most recently caught the Sometime Boys at Freddy’s on a Friday night right around Thanksgiving. They opened on an Americana soul tip with a funky beat, Leege flicking off some warm vintage Memphis licks as the song wound up. The next number’s playful hook brought to mind the Grateful Dead circa 1969; the band hit a more straightforward dance-rock pulse as Mucho’s voice soared to the rafters, Leege taking an all-too-brief, bluesy solo that suddenly veered off in a much darker direction before Mucho came back in to brightened things up. Later in the set, they again brought to mind the Dead, this time at that band’a early 80s peak.

Cowit drove the band’s cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a jaunty New Orleans second-line bounce, O’Connell taking a solo over Leege’s ragtime-flavored licks, the violinist from the Philly bluegrass band who opened the show (and were excellent) invited up to add a lively one of her own. From there the band went in a more enigmatically dynamic direction with the title track to their latest album, Riverbed and then a scratchy no wave funk number, Leege building an echoey vortex of reverb that he finally pulled out of with a shriek at the top of the fretboard.

Mucho and Cowit duetted on a droll bluegrass-flavored take of the big crowd favorite Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies and then really got the crowd going with their version of Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad. Not even counting the covers, this band has a lot more material than what’s on their three albums, and they brought back an enigmatically resonant dancefloor vibe with the set’s next song.

The night’s most intense number was also the quietest one. The Great Escape. Cowit built gentle clouds of mist with his cymbals as Mucho pulled back and let her haunting lyrics speak for themselves throughout this elegantly gospel-tinged chronicle of a late-night suicide. One of the closing tunes was an epic take of the Allman Brothers’ Whipping Post that went on for at least ten minutes, Leege finally hitting his distortion pedal for his most volcanically angst-fueled solo of the night. These are just some of the flavors the band might bring to the stage in Bushwick and on their old turf on the Lower East.

The 100 Best Songs of 2014

If you count youtube clips, how many songs were “released” in 2014? Five million? Ten million? Considering the vast amount of material that’s out there, you can’t consider this page to be gospel any more than you can any other blog’s best-of-2014 list.

But it is a seriously good playlist. At first it seemed like a good idea to simply pull all of these songs into a Spotify playlist and call it a night, but that didn’t work since a lot – perhaps the majority – of the artists here aren’t on Spotify. But you can follow the links on this page and hear every song except for one mystery track which is one of the best of them all. Bookmark this page and enjoy!

As was the case last year with Matthew Grimm’s West Allis, one song stood apart from the pack this year as far as sheer visceral impact is concerned and that’s The Great Escape by artsy New York Americana band the Sometime Boys. Kurt Leege’s guitar provides an elegant, elegaic intro for frontwoman/guitarist Sarah Mucho’s carefully modulated, wounded, brittle vocals, which rise to a full gospel wail as the song hits a peak. It’s a bitter reflection on the lure of victory and the harsh reality of defeat, from the perspective of someone gazing into the night from a window in lower Manhattan. If you’ve ever faded away into yourself, scowling out at the glimmer in the distance and wishing you were there and not slaving away at some stupid dayjob – or contemplating suicide – this could be your theme song. It’s from the band’s album Riverbed, streaming here.

As with this year’s Best Albums of 2014 and Best NYC Concerts of 2014 pages, there’s no ranking here other than the #1 song of the year. For the sake of fairness, songs are listed in rough chronological order by the date they first got some attention at this blog, irrespective of release date. Which means that the last songs on the list aren’t the ass end of the list: they just made their first appearance here in December. To be clear: Karla Moheno’s mysterious Time Well Spent, which leads the rest of the pack here, is a lot different than Jennifer Niceley’s uneasily balmy Land I Love, the last song here. But they’re both worth a spin. Here we go!

Karla Moheno – Time Well Spent
A slinky, cruel noir blues dirge about deceit and revenge. Moheno’s genius is that her narratives are allusive; you have to brave the shadows to figure out what’s going on and who’s being killed. If the Sometime Boys hadn’t put out an album this year, this song, from her album Gone to Town, would occupy the top spot. Listen here.

Jessie Kilguss – Red Moon
The folk noir bandleader’s brooding, Spanish Civil War-inspired tableau could also be a present-day account of freedom fighters on the run from just about any gestapo – the NSA, Mossad or ISIS. It’s all the more powerful for Kilguss’ portrayal of the political as personal. From the album Devastate Me. Spotify link

Ward White – Bikini
This swaying, snarling art-rock narrative isn’t about beachwear: it’s a cruelly sardonic narrative set on a now-uninhabitable South Pacific atoll right after an atom bomb was set off there, gently ominous guitar multitracks subtly going awry over keyboardist Joe McGinty’s pillowy mellotron. From the album Ward White Is the Matador. Listen here

Marianne Dissard – Am Lezten
A portrait of total emotional depletion so vividly detailed it’s scary. And you don’t need to speak French to understand it – although that makes it all the more poignant. From her gorgeously orchestrated art-rock album The Cat. Not Me. Listen here

The Wytches – Gravedweller
Don’t let this song’s apparent references to zombies – which could simply be metaphorical – scare you away. Drenched in toxic reverb, this is a morbid, Middle Eastern-tinged horror surf number, and it’s genuinely evil. From the album Annabel Dream Reader. Listen here, free download

Willie Watson – Rock Salt & Nails
One of the year’s biggest buzz songs. Everybody covered this morose old murder ballad from the 1800s, nobody more starkly or hauntingly than the former Old Crow Medicine Show guitarist. It’s a version worthy of Hank Williams, no joke. From the album Folk Singer Vol. 1. Listen here

Ember Schrag – William for the Witches
At her Trans-Pecos show in October, the gothic Americana bandleader dedicated her careening Macbeth-inspired anthem to “all the Republicans back home,” ramping up the menace several notches with her litany of spells as guitarist Bob Bannister veered from monster surf, to ominous jangle, to a little skronk,  captured here on this video.

LJ Murphy – Fearful Town
At the Parkside back in May, noir rocker Murphy’s show was a going-away party of sorts for pianist Patrick McLellan, who took out his angst on the piano keys, gently and elegantly exchanging creepy, lingering noir tonalities with guitarist Tommy Hoscheid as Murphy drew a morosely surreal portrait of a DiBloomberg era East Village of tourist traps and the grotesqueries who congregate there. This youtube clip is the studio version.

Benmont Tench – You Should Be So Lucky
Tom Petty’s organist released his debut album this year and this is the title track, as viciously brilliant a kiss-off anthem as anyone’s ever written, set to tersely murderous, bluesy Laurel Canyon psychedelia. Watch the video 

Big Lazy – Human Sacrifice
The cult favorite NYC noir soundtrack trio makes horror surf out of a flamenco theme, with its savage clusters and sudden dips and swells, and allusions to a famous Duke Ellington tune (via the Ventures). From the album Don’t Cross Myrtle, rated #1 for 2014. Listen here

Gord Downie & the Sadies – Budget Shoes
An ominously reverb-drenched southwestern gothic tale fueled by Mike Belitsky’s artfully tumbling, Keith Moon drums. Singer and longtime Tragically Hip frontman Downie traces the steps of a couple of desperados “walking through the valley of ghosts,” one with his eyes on the other’s superior footgear. From their album Gord Downie, the Sadies & the Conquering Sun. Listen here

Ernest Troost – Old Screen Door
A wailing, electrifying murder ballad. Troost succeeds with this one since the only images he lets you see are incidental to what was obviously a grisly crime, “lightning bugs floating through a haze of gasoline” and so forth. A teens update to the Walkabouts’ vengeful anthem Firetrap, from the album O Love. Listen here

Changing Modes – Ride
The band keeps the menacing chromatics going over a brisk new wave pulse, frontwoman/keyboardist Wendy Griffiths’ venomous lyric driven to a crescendo by a snarling Yuzuru Sadashige guitar solo. From the New York art-rockers’ album The Paradox of Traveling Light. Listen here

HUMANWINE – Our Devolution Is Televised
Tthe closest thing to the Dead Kennedys that we have these days: macabre chromatic Romany punk rock set in an Orwellian nightmare that very closely resembles today’s world. The recurrent mantra is “Can’t you feel the lockdown?” From the ep Mass Exodus. Listen here, free download

The Brooklyn What – Too Much Worry
Almost nine minutes of white-knuckle intensity, relentless angst and psychedelic guitar fury. A serpentine homage to early Joy Division, there’s an interlude where it evokes a tighter take on that band doing the Velvets’ Sister Ray, then a long, volcanic guitar duel worthy of the Dream Syndicate. From the year’s best short album, Minor Problems. Listen here

Briana Layon & the Boys – Cut My Man
The dark metal/powerpop rockers open the song with an icy, watery guitar lead over a sketchy, muted riff, frontwoman Layon joining in the ominous ambience and then rising toward murderous rage, airing out her wounded low range and in the process channeling the Sometime Boys‘ Sarah Mucho. They take it out as a waltzing danse macabre. From their album Touch & Go. Listen here

Cheetah Chrome – Stare into the Night
It’s the closest thing to the Dead Boys (right around the time of their mid-80s comeback) on that band’s iconic lead guitarist’s new album, Solo, most of its searing tracks recorded almost twenty years ago and seeing the light just now. It’s about time. Spotify link

The Annie Ford Band – Buick 1966
A cinematic, noir mini-epic that shifts from a creepy bolero to a waltz to scampering bluegrass and then back, fueled by Tim Sargent’s knee-buckling, Marc Ribot-like reverb guitar lines. From Ford’s debut album. Listen here

Golem – Vodka Is Poison
Over a rampaging circus punk stomp, bandleaders Annette Ezekiel Kogan and Aaron Diskin trade verses about why it either “Makes you round, makes you soft, makes it hard to get aloft,” or “Makes you happy, makes you free, makes you wish that you were me!” From the album Tanz. Spotify link 

The Fleshtones – Hipster Heaven
A hellish, Chuck Berry-flavored chronicle of the band’s old New York neighborhoods being swallowed by hordes of narcissistic gentrifiers fresh out of college but acting like kindergarteners. From their album Wheel of Talent. Watch the video

Guess & Check – Some DJs
An aptly downcast janglepop tale that will resonate with anybody who’s walked into a party all psyched and then realizes in a split second that it’s really going to suck. In other words, that it’s full of trendoids who are all a-twitter since some DJ just plugged his phone into the PA system! From their album Entanglement. Listen here

Orphan Jane – Lost Mind
A menacingly theatrical circus rock tune that builds from a sarcastically whiny, vaudevillian verse to an explosive choir of voices on the chorus. From their album A Poke in the Eye. Listen here

Mitra Sumara – mystery song
Mitra Sumara are one of New York’s most fascinating bands. Singer Yvette Perez’s group plays obscure psychedelic rock and funk covers from Iran in the 1960s and 70s. This particular number was the highlight of this year’s annual Alwan-a-Thon, a celebration of sounds from across the Middle East held at downtown music mecca Alwan for the Arts. But nobody seems to know what the song is called. It sounds like Procol Harum but more upbeat, with some seriously evil funeral organ. If anybody knows the title, please pass it on! It was the third song on the setlist that night.

The Reigning Monarchs – Thuggery
Sort of a Peter Gunne Theme for the teens, an intense, explosive monster surf instrumental with a slashing, off-the-rails guitar solo midway through. From the album Black Sweater Massacre. Listen here

Curtis Eller – The Heart That Forgave Richard Nixon
A riverbed grave, a Cadillac stalled out on the tracks and Henry Kissinger shaking it all night long serve as the backdrop for this snarling parable of post-9/11 multinational fascism. From the historically-inspired Americana cult favorite banjo player’s album How to Make It in Hollywood. Listen here

The Jitterbug Vipers – Stuff It
A co-write with Elizabeth McQueen from Asleep at the Wheel, this sassy oldtimey swing tune by the Texas stoner swing band has the sardonic wit of a classic, dismissive Mae West insult song. From the album Phoebe’s Dream. Listen here

Della Mae – Heaven’s Gate
A bitter, ghostly newgrass tale that begins with the fiddle mimicking the ominous low resonance of a steel guitar, then eventually goes doublespeed. Is this about a suicide, a murder, or both? Either way, it’s a great story. From the album This World Oft Can Be. Watch the video (WARNING – you have to mute the audio ad before the whole album streams)

Bad Buka – Through the Night
A big, blazing, full-on orchestrated minor-key Romany art-rock epic, the title track from this searing, theatrical Slavic art-punk band’s new album. Listen here

The Devil Makes Three – Hand Back Down
The wild punkgrass crew take an unexpected detour into surrealist stoner swamp rock with a cynical antiwar edge, from their album I’m a Stranger Here. This video is a live take.

Marissa Nadler – Firecrackers
A menacingly opiated, reverb-drenched, mostly acoustic Nashville gothic ballad, painting a booze-fueled Fourth of July scenario that does not end well. From the folk noir icon’s album July. Listen here

Aram Bajakian – Rent Party
This instrumental by the former Lou Reed lead guitar genius kicks off with a bouncy funk riff into a minor-key tune that’s part newschool Romany rock, surf music and Otis Rush blues – then the band hits a long, surreal, muddy interlude reminiscent of 80s noiserock legends Live Skull as Shahzad Ismaily’s bass growls to the surface. From the album There Were Flowers Also in Hell. Listen here

The Delta Saints – Crazy
The centerpiece of the Americana jamband’s Drink It Slow ep is a nine-minute epic that works a slow, slinky noir blues groove with all kinds of up-and-down dynamics, a precise, angst-fueled guitar solo and every keyboard texture in this band’s arsenal. Listen here

Rosanne Cash – World of Strange Design
An harrowing Appalachian gothic tale that could be about a returning soldier’s family falling apart, or maybe just metaphorical, about a guy who “Set off the minefield like you were rounding first.” From the album The River & the Thread. Watch the video

Laura Cantrell – Washday Blues
This era’s most poignant, compelling voice in classic country music at her aphoristic best, cleaning up a lifetime’s worth of disappointed metaphors against a backdrop of steel guitar and mandolin. From the new album No Way There from Here. Spotify link

The New Mendicants – High on the Skyline
An enigmatically alienated folk-rock anthem that’s equal parts Strawbs Britfolk and lushly clangy, twanging Byrds from this psychedelic pop supergroup. “I’ll show you how deadly close faraway can be,” Teenage Fanclub frontman Norman Blake intones in his stately delivery. From their album Into the Lime. This live acoustic take isn’t the album version but it’s still really good.

Ihtimanska – Hicaz Hümayun Saz Semaisi
The most gripping and most distinctively Middle Eastern of all the tracks on the Montreal Turkish traditional music duo’s debut album. Listen here

Siach HaSadeh – Kuni Roni/Maggid’s Niggun
A darkly dancing North African-tinged diptych: the oud’s ironically triumphant run down into the abyss midway through might be the high point of the improvisational klezmer band’s album Song of the Grasses. Listen here

Son of Skooshny – Untold History.
This intense, richly arranged, artsy janglerock anthem traces an uneasy early atomic age childhood with an offhanded savagery: with Steve Refling’s keening slide guitar, it’s the hardest-rocking and most overtly angry song on the new album Mid Century Modern. Listen here

New Electric Ride – Marquis de Sade
This trippy vintage 60s psych tune casts the old philosopher as a stoner, from a funky Cream intro, through a little early Santana and then a galloping proto-metal interlude fueled by Craig Oxberry’s artful drums before some very funny vocals kick in. From the album Balloon Age. Listen here

Tammy Faye Starlite – Sister Morphine
A showstopper by the irrepressible chanteuse who’s carved herself out a niche for sardonic but spot-on reinventions of songs by brilliant and difficult people: Nico, Iggy, and others. She slayed with this one live at her Marianne Faithfull tribute/parody at Lincoln Center back in March. Watch the video

Isle of Klezbos – Noiresque
Shoko Nagai dazzles with her glimmering, darkly neoromantic and blues-tinged piano on this bracing latin- and Middle Eastern-tinted theme, shifting seamlessly between waltz time and a swing jazz groove. From the album Live from Brooklyn. Listen here

Jenifer Jackson – All Around
This flinty anthemic backbeat rock tune builds a mood of quiet apprehension via a wintry seaside tableau – it wouldn’t be out of place in the Steve Wynn catalog. From the stunningly eclectic Austin songwriter’s album Texas Sunrise. Listen here 

The Baseball Project – 13
Arguably the best song on the new album, 3rd – frontman Steve Wynn takes unsparing aim at at the A-Roid scandal over a corrosively sarcastic spaghetti western backdrop. Watch the video

John Zorn’s Abraxas – Metapsychomagia
Guitarists Aram Bajakian and Eyal Maoz and bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz juxtapose puckish wit with flickering menace, building from an uneasy bolero groove to a staggered Middle Eastern monster surf stomp, both guitarists ranging from lingering and twangy to frenetic and crazed, epic art-rock infused with swirling noise. Title track from the new album. Watch the video

Martin Bisi – Invite to Heaven Hell
One of the most deliciously tuneful things the dark art-rocker has ever done, building a stygian spacerock ambience, like the Chuch or the Byrds at their most psychedelic, with hints of peak-era Sonic Youth peeking through the pulsing guitars, with disembodied vocals, soaring trumpet and a dead-girl chorus in the background. From the album Ex Nihilo. Listen here

Ichka – Glaziers Hora
This Alicia Svigals tune is a showcase for soaring solos from everyone in this fiery klezmer band, over a misterioso staccato rhythm. From their album Podorozh. Listen here

Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics – Herido
A mix of Del Shannon noir with a creepy bolero: it’s arguably the strongest track on the psychedelic cumbia band’s creepily slinky new album Cigarros Explosivos. Listen here 

Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs – For All that Ails You
With its mournful train-whistle guitar and stalking, noir blues sway, it’s uncommonly dark for even this creepy gutter blues/noir Americana band. From the album It’s Her Fault. Watch the video

The Mystic Braves – There’s a Pain
A briskly scampering noir blues recast as period-perfect 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelia, from the album Desert Island. Listen here

Barbez – Mizmor Leasaf
Italian poet Alfonso Gatto’s bitter wartime elegy, Anniversary, recast as an eerily reverberating, dirgelike noir soundtrack piece from the album Bella Ciao, which explores haunting Italian Jewish themes. Watch the video

Spottiswoode – Butterfly
With its anxiously fluttery, tremoloing intro, swooping clarinet and elegant electric harpsichord, it’s a characteristically moody, richly orchestrated chamber pop anthem. From the album English Dream. Listen here

Action Beat & G.W. Sok – Sentence Machine
A noisier take on what Joy Division did with Atrocity Exhibition, seemingly a Kafkaesque account of a tortuous execution machine, set to a choir of sawing, stabbing, frantically pinwheeling guitars. From the ex-Ex frontman and British noiserock band’s collaborative album A Remarkable Machine. Spotify link

Karikatura – Eyes Wide
A bracing latin reggae tune and the title track to the band’s new album, frontman Ryan Acquaotta chronicling what happens when the real estate mob decides to take over a sketchy part of town: “With the luxury developments they’re packing in, propaganda that the neighborhood is back again, watch whoever is moving in after, blowing their cover.” And then the displacement of the people who call it home begins. Listen here

The Skull Practitioners – Another Sicko
An out-of-focus vocal from guest Tom Derwent, long drones, allusions to funk, twisted bent-note mental asylum screams from Steve Wynn lead player and frontman Jason Victor going on for what seems minutes and an ending that the band finally allows to completely disintegrate. From the New York noiserockers’ ep ST1 – also available on cassette. Listen here

Zvuloon Dub System – Alemitu
An ominously organ-fueled minor-key instrumental that blends otherworldly Ethiopiques into a moody Israeli roots reggae groove. From their album Anbesa Dub. Listen here

The Last Internationale – We Will Reign
The fearless, politically-fueled Bronx rockers slayed with this snarling, defiant, Patti Smith-style anthem at the Mercury back in June, the title track from their new album. Watch the video

Hannah Thiem – Phavet
If you listen very closely, you’ll realize that the cinematic, intense violinist/composer’s slinky electroacoustic mood piece is a one-chord jam, as it shifts from an echoing, dancing, hypnotically bracing theme to a thicket of overdubs where Thiem becomes a one-woman string sextet.. From the ep Brym. Listen here

Amanda Thorpe – Willow in the Wind
With its haunting, subdued anguish, the intense Britfolk/art-rock chanteuse’s noir tropicalia version of Tin Pan Alley wordsmith Yip Harburg’s song surpasses any other take on it, fueled by drummer Robert di Pietro’s ominous tom-toms and misterioso cymbal work. From the album Bewitching Me. Spotify link 

Nick Waterhouse – Sleeping Pills
With echoey Rod Argent electric piano and baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson’s smoky lines, this was the most lurid song of the night at the LA psychedelic soul music maven’s show in Greenpoint back in June. From the album Holly. Watch the video

Puss N Boots – GTO
The darkest and arguably best song on the album No Fools, No Fun, a detour toward Eilen Jewell-tinged ghoulabilly by the the Americana super-trio of Norah Jones, guitarist/singer Sasha Dobson and bassist Catherine Popper. Watch the video

People – Supersensible Hydrofracked Dystopia
Fiery jazz guitarist Mary Halvorson, irrepressible drummer Kevin Shea (of NYC’s funnest jazz group, Mostly Other People Do the Killing) and bassist Kyle Forester (from Crystal Stilts) toss off this barely minute-long but cruelly spot-on punk jazz miniature from the album 3xaWoman. Watch the video

Coppins – Great Day for Living
A sarcastic dystopic pre-apocalyptic narrative set to a reggae-tinged groove from the eclectic, funky, rootsy Toronto band known for their bagpipe funk. From the album The Prince That Nobody Knows. Listen here 

Marah – The Old Riverman’s Regret
A sad, vividly resigned oldtimey folk waltz, looking back nostalgically on 19th century commercial river rafting. From the album Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania, a mightily successful detour into Americana by the highway rock band. Listen here

Carsie Blanton – Don’t Come Too Soon
Sly, innuendo-fueled oldtime hokum blues from the torchy New Orleans chanteuse. Listen here, free download

Millsted – Televangelist
Over an uneasy, hammering pulse, the New York punk/metal band work murderously direct East Bay Ray-style horror-surf riffage that spirals out in acidic sheets of reverb, hits a misterioso interlude and then rises again. From the album Harlem. Listen here

The Butcher Knives – Could Be the End
The New York Romany/latin rockers’ slinky shuffle kicks off by nicking the intro from Elvis Costello’s Watching the Detectives and morphs into steady brisk spaghetti western rock, with a cool, offcenter Ethan Cohen banjo solo out. From their album Misery. Listen here 

The Bakersfield Breakers – Longing
A sad, spiky mix of honkytonk, incisive blues and Britfolk licks and moody ranchera rock via guitarist Keith Yaun’s virtuoso multitracks. From the album In the Studio with the Bakersfield Breakers. Listen here

The Jones Family Singers – Bones in the Valley
A funky update on an ancient, eerie spiritual livened with a combination of graveyard imagery and a message that’s ultimately hopeful, a launching pad for some impassioned call-and response. From the Houston gospel-soul band’s album The Spirit Speaks. Listen here

The Old Crow Medicine Show – Dearly Departed Friend
As much as the bluegrass road warriors are best known for explosive party music, this is a somber graveside requiem for an Iraq War casualty, with a creepy, spot-on redneck surrealism. From their album Remedy. Listen here

Andrew Bird – So Much Wine Merry Christmas
The funniest of the Handsome Family covers on Bird’s tribute to the iconic Americana surrealist duo, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of. One brilliantly twisted, literate Americana songwriter deserves another. Listen here

The Grisly Hand – Western Avenue
A ringer here, the title track from the Kansas City band’s 2012 debut, sounding like the Jayhawks circa Sound of Lies backing Neko Case. Yeah, that good. Their new album Country Singles is pretty damn good too. Listen here

Edward Rogers – What Happened to the News
Fueled by Byrdsy twelve-string guitar, it’s a snide swipe at how the media-industrial complex distracts us from what’s really going on. Fron the Britrock maven’s Kevin Ayers-inspired new album Kaye. Watch the video

Bombay Rickey – Pilgrim
Frontwoman Kamala Sankaram’s wickedly precise, loopy accordion winds through a misterioso, lingering, surfy stroll with ominous bass and alto sax solos, the latter building to a spine-tingling coda. From the psychedelic Bollywood-inspired band’s album Cinefonia, the year’s best debut release. Listen here

Sharon Jones – Retreat
The brooding, practically exhausted version that this era’s definitive soul-funk singer delivered out back of the World Financial Center back in June was considerably more ominous and menacing than the version on the record. From the album Give The People What They Want. Listen here

The Immigrant Union – Anyway
The epic title track from the lush Australian psych-pop janglerockers’ latest album has plaintive harmonies and a slow psych-pop sway much in the same vein as the Allah-Las. Listen here

Debby Schwartz – Hills of Violent Green
A lushly luscious folk noir anthem and a showcase for some literally breathtaking, swooping upper-register vocals by the former Aquanettas frontwoman (and current Ember Schrag bassist). Fron the Satan You Brought Me Down ep. Listen here 

Wormburner – Drinks At the Plaza Hotel
Fiery Stiff Little Fingers style punk-pop, a couple of smalltime scam artists trading faux-sophisticated banter and having a great time seeing how much they can get over on the snobs. From the album Pleasant Living in Planned Communities. Listen here

Banda Magda – Trata
A gorgeously swaying Middle Eastern-tinged Greek party tune with rippling hammered dulcimer, cheery brass and animated guy/girl vocals that builds to a towerine, majestic peak. Frmo the pan-global New York art-rock/jazz/Middle Eastern band’s album Yerakina. Listen here

Alsarah & the Nubatones – Bilad Aldahb
A bristling, broodingly expansive oud solo by the late, great Haig Magnoukian leads into a dusky lament lowlit by Rami El Asser’s stately frame drum work. From the New York Nubian funk revivalists/reinventors’ album Silt. Listen here

Mary Lee Kortes – Big Things
An irrepressibly jaunty hi-de-ho swing tune: the intense, soaring Americana tunesmith/singer slayed with this at the Rockwood a couple of months ago. From the album Songs from the Beulah Rowley Songbook ep – and possibly appearing on her forthcoming, long-awaited Songs of Beulah Rowley album, a thematic collection centered around a tragic, talented 1930s/40s cult favorite songwriter. Listen here

Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne – Green Gold Violet
A starkly vivid, hypnotic, wounded late-afternoon folk noir tableau, Rogers’ luminous dobro paired against Byrne’s tensely fingerpicked stroll. From the album I Line My Days Along Your Weight. Listen here

Matt Ulery – The Farm
The lively flair of this harmony-driven, climactic chamber pop number understates its corrosive portrayal of rural hell. From the eclectic, cinematic bassist/composer’s album In the Ivory. Listen here

The Larch – Mr. Winters
The jangliest track on the ferociously lyrical New York psychedelic new wave rockers’ new album In Transit is a metaphorical, nonchalantly ominous sort of a mashup of Squeeze and powerpop legends Skooshny. Listen here

Lachan Bryan & the Wildes – The CEO Must Die
A brutally insightful look at the psychology of going postal from the Australian Americana songwriter/bandleader’s purist, impeccably crafted album Black Coffee. Listen here

The OBNIIIs – No Time for the Blues
The closest thing to Radio Birdman that we have right now, lead guitarist Tom Triplett ripping through volleys of chromatic. Surprisingly, the studio version on the Third Time to Harm album is even more volcanic t han the live version on their Live in San Francisco album. Listen here

Jay Brown – Fox News (Jesus Save Me).
Snidely hilarious faux gospel from the Americana songwriter. Anybody who watches that channel should be tied to a chair and forced to listen to this on loop. LMFAO. From the album Beginner Mind. Listen here

Lorraine Leckie – The Everywhere Man
This song about a party-hopping serial killer originally appeared on the album Rudely Interrupted, her elegant chamber pop collaboration with social critic Anthony Haden Guest. But the simmering, noir version on her latest album Rebel Devil Rebel takes the energy up several notches. Listen here 

Mesiko – Mockingbird
A distantly disquieting, pastorally-tinged art-rock anthem with early 70s Pink Floyd resonance: “Put away the mockingbird inside your lungs, keep your cellular calls to a minimum,” drummer Ray Rizzo sings as the band rises to a squall. From the album Solar Door. Listen here

Kelley Swindall – The Murder Song
A talking blues destined to become a Halloween classic. The dark Americana songstress credits her acting coach for helping her get in touch with her dark side on this one – yikes! From her album Pronounced [KEL-lee SWIN-dul] or something like that. Listen here

O’Death – Isavelle
The most ornate, and arguably most menacing track on the individualistic, creepy circus rock/Americana/noir cabaret band’s new album Out Of Hands We Go, a murder ballad fueled by Bob Pycior’s icepick violin. Listen here

Dina Regine – Broken
A brooding yet brisk latin-tinged groove with Steve Cropper-esque guitar: “You beat the wall for your past oppressor – sometimes spirits treat you real kind but most of the time they mess with your mind,” Regine sings with a gentle unease. From the New York soul-rock cult figure’s long-awaited album Right On, Alright. Listen here

Wounded Buffalo Theory – You Have Left Me
A gorgeously angst-fueled art-rock anthem that builds to a thicket of chiming guitars; axeman Kurt Leege takes a rare turn on lead vocals and knocks it out of the park. From the New York art-rockers’ album A Painting of Plans. Listen here, free download

Sam Llanas – To Where You Go From
The elegant, regret-laden final cut from the soulful BoDeans frontman’s new solo album The Whole Night Thru, a vivid, broodingly nocturnal highway theme. Watch the video (be careful – you may have to mute an ad at the beginning since this is a full album stream)

Jessi Robertson – You’re Gonna Burn
Deep inside this volcanic noir soul anthem, it’s a bitter, menacing blues, resonant, sustained lead guitar lines fueling its big upward trajectory as the New York noir Americana singer airs out her powerful voice. From the album I Came From the War. Listen here

Opal Onyx – Arrows Wing
The atmospheric New York art-rockers’ anthem begins as folk noir before rippling keys and atmospheric washes of cello take it even further into the shadows. From the album Delta Sands. Listen here 

Metropolitan Klezmer – Baltic Blue
The shapeshifting klezmer/latin/psychedelic cumbia group cleverly move between grooves as alto saxophonist Debra Kreisberg’s slow, haunting theme heats up, mashing up the blues and Hava Nagila with soulful solos from throughout the band. From the live album Mazel Means Good Luck. Listen here

The Yiddish Art Trio – Guilt
Clarinet powerhouse Michael Winograd wrote this evocative, enveloping theme that pairs his wary, airy lines with dark, full-throttle washes from Patrick Farrell’s accordion, evoking the majesty of a classical organ prelude. From the group’s debut album. Listen here

Mark Sinnis – Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me
Originally released by the dark country crooner’s original band, art-rockers Ninth House, this reinvents this haunting, crescendoing anthem as low-key but no less intense Americana. From the album album It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter. Here’s a live version

Robin Aigner – Greener
This pensive oldtimey number’s Gatsby-era setting is the exact opposite of what it seems to be, Rima Fand’s violin and Ray Sapirstein’s trumpet flying over a tensely flurrying, flamenco-tinged beat. From the brilliantly lyrical, deviously funny New York tunesmith/chanteuse’s album Con Tender. Listen here, free download

Jennifer Niceley – Land I Love
Swooshes and gentle booms from the drums and gorgeously lingering pedal steel color the song’s Lynchian Julee Cruise atmospherics, the Tennessee songstress brooding over her pastoral imagery and how that beauty “is never coming back.” From the album Birdlight. Listen here

If you missed the explanation on the Best Albums page, all the classical and most of the jazz is more likely to be found at this blog’s older sister blog Lucid Culture.

Psychedelic Art-Rock Band Wounded Buffalo Theory Headline a Great Friday Night Twinbill at Freddy’s

Wounded Buffalo Theory made a name for themselves back in the zeros as a jamband playing around New York and at the upstate summer festivals. But as much as they can get crazy live, they’re also a first-class, intense, psychedelic art-rock band with strong, ferociously anthemic songwriting. At this point in their history, it’s good to see them at their creative peak. Their latest album, A Painting of Plans is streaming online; they’re headlining at Freddy’s this Friday, Nov 21 at midnight, preceded at around 10 by the similarly excellent, more Americana and blues-influenced Sometime Boys, with whom they share a guitarist and drummer (Kurt Leege and Jay Cowit, respectively).

Cowit and bassist Rob Malko give the band a hard-hitting, metrically shapeshifting platform for the lithe, biting, intertwining guitars of Leege and John Blanton (who’s also the band’s keyboardist). One album that’s an obvious influence is Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (which this group just happened to help recreate in all its trippy grandeur this past fall at Rock Shop). And this is a really long one: back in the all-vinyl days, it would have been a double-disc set. It opens with The Brain Is Half Full, cynically contemplating mortality over echoes of 80s Peter Gabriel and 90s stadium acts like Ride. The first real gem here is the ominous minor-key anthem Fistful, with its eerily, methodically dancing Leege lead, a tinge of dreampop and an ominous multitracked quasar pulse as it winds up. It brings to mind something Leege might have written in his days with paint-peeling art-noise band System Noise back in the mid-zeros.

Shores of Japan is even catchier and just as angst-fueled (though it doesn’t seem to reference 3/11), building to an anguished chorus of intertwining lead guitar lines. For whatever reason, the following cut, Sombrero, brings to mind the Yellow Magic Orchestra at its moodiest. With its chiming acoustic/electric textures, A Planning of Saints works a broodingly artsy-folk rock vibe. The album’s most epic track, Leslie Got a Rabbit builds its way out of hypnotic Frippertronic-style guitar through steadier, trip-hop inflected interludes that almost imperceptibly rise to a visceral, orchestral menace. They follow that with the equally brooding yet kinetically crescendoing Gold (Everybody Needs Some Bodies) with its surrealistically nimble guitar leads and Cowit’s knifes-edge vocals.

The Power of Nothing takes a pensive folk-pop tune and fleshes it out with an ornately layered arrangement. After the trippy, loopy instrumental Here Be Dragons, Why Now evokes the pop side of Radiohead: “I ate his head,” Malko announces nonchalantly. The band follows the trippy, circling instrumental Dirty Walls with Turtles, a more menacing variation on the theme. The Storm Celler continues to raise the menace, driven by the rhythm section’s cumulo-nimbus sonics.

They bring it down for a bit with the gorgeously angst-fueled You Have Left Me, building a thicket of chiming guitars behind Cowit’s pensive vocals. The album winds up with a boomy, gamelansque instrumental and then the title track, reverting to a Trail of the Dead anthemic pulse. What’s best is that the album is available as a name-your-price download!

2014’s Best Reinvention of a Classic Album: Wounded Buffalo Theory and Others Play Genesis at Rock Shop

It’s been a good past few weeks for intriguing cover band projects. Austin psych-funk rockers Brownout reinvented Black Sabbath, when they weren’t channeling that band at their mid-70s peak, at Brooklyn Bowl last month. William Maselli‘s clever orchestral mashup of Sabbath themes got a workout at Merkin Concert Hall about a week after that. Then there was Grey McMurray and band recasting Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells as lush, string-driven art-rock, a performance that will air on Q2 shortly. But the best of all of these shows was masterminded by Sometimes Boys and Wounded Buffalo Theory drummer Jay Cowit, who brought members of those two bands plus Afroskull, 29 Hour Music People, and the Trouble Dolls together to perform Genesis’ classic 1974 double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Other bands have done it over the years, and there’s a Genesis cover band, the Musical Box, who regularly perform it along with an elaborate set and projections for astronomical prices . But it’s hard to imagine anybody other than the original band doing it as energetically yet surrealistically hauntingly as this one-off pickup band. Best of all, the entire concert was recorded and has been immortalized on youtube, disc one streaming here and disc two here.

Keyboardist Eric Lipper did a spectacular approximation of Tony Banks at the top of his Terry Reid-like, rippling game while Vince Fairchild added more ambient textures, using a studio’s worth of vintage and near-vintage synth and organ patches. As the set went on, the keyboardists moved around and exchanged roles, notably when Matt Iselin joined the festivities as both third keyboardist and singer. Considering how long ago the album was recorded, with instruments – especially keys – that are now museum pieces, it was amazing how closely the timbres and overall sonics matched up with Genesis’ original. What was even more astonishing was how closely Cowit channeled the young Peter Gabriel’s antagonized bark. But the inclusion of other singers – Iselin doing Anyway with a nonchalant menace, the Trouble Dolls’ Cheri Leone delivering The Lamia with a wounded Marianne Faithfull restraint, and the Sometime Boys’ Sarah Mucho holding Counting Out Time together as the guitars roared and squeaked – added all kinds of unexpected dynamics.

Another playful deviation from the script was the inclusion of John Hockenberry of WNYC’s The Takeaway reading Gabriel’s drolly surreal album liner notes in between several of the songs. But otherwise, the attention to detail was meticulous: with its endlessly shapeshifting, kaleidoscopic, trippy pastiche of themes, this album is awfully hard to play. Bassist Rob Christiansen cycled through Mike Rutherford’s dizzying lines with a Bach-like precision and a biting, trebly attack amid the bluster, in tandem with nimble drummer Jason Isaac.

Just as the keyboard lines were divided up among a trio of players, Sometime Boys lead guitarist Kurt Leege and his fellow axemen Joe Scatassa and Alan Black shared duties and exchanged roles. Leege played with his signature, instantly recognizable, icily resonant blend of delay and reverb, handling the more resonant parts while Scatassa and Black took turns and occasionally traded off when Steve Hackett’s original lines would hit a snarling, bluesy peak. Meanwhile, Cowit’s vocals were amped well up in the mix so that his take of Gabriel’s frequent lyrical jabs and slashes could resonate. And ultimately, this band literally brought the album to life, revealing it not only as a trip through the underworld and finally out, but one with a vital, rather snide antiwar and antiauthoritarian message. They careened to a close through the incessant flood and drowning metaphors of side four, then kept the triumphant vibe going with a coy encore of I Know What It’s Like (In Your Wardrobe), from the Selling England by the Pound album.

The other bands don’t seem to have any upcoming NYC shows at the moment, but the Sometime Boys are at the Way Station this Friday, Oct 24 at 10, playing two sets. It’s not likely that they’ll cover any of this stuff, but they’re a killer jamband in their own right.

A Wild, Psychedelic Manhattan Show and an Upcoming Brooklyn Gig from the Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys make elegant, meticulously crafted albums that blend elements of bluegrass, delta blues, funk, soul and artsy chamber pop. Their most recent one, Riverbed, is one of 2014’s most compelling and eclectic releases. But onstage, they transform into a ferocious jamband: as improvisational rock crews go, there is no other New York band who are better at it, and that includes Steve Wynn‘s volcanic Miracle 3. The Sometime Boys are playing two long sets at the Way Station on the border of Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene on Sept 26 at 10 PM, and it’s free.

Their long show at the end of this past month at Bar 9 in Hell’s Kitchen – much of which has been immortalized on youtube – had everything the band is known for: expansive, explosive solos, mighty peaks, whispery lows, stop-on-a-dime changes, a sense of humor and a handful of covers that spanned the genres just as their originals do. The band’s brain trust, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege were known for putting on the occasional and spectacularly good cover night in their previous band, the mighty System Noise: their series of sold-out David Bowie nights are legendary. So it was no surprise to see Mucho reinvent Aretha’s Chain of Fools with a surprisingly nuanced bitterness (and a long, dancingly delicious Leege guitar solo); to deliver a rousingly New Orleans-flavored take of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a menacingly gleeful grin; or to hear her actually enunciate the lyrics of the dadrock standard Burn Down the Mission, unlike the guy who set it to music and sang it. And midway through the show, they invited their similarly charismatic pal Mark Bailey (no relation to the Houston Astros backstop) up to deliver vigorous versions of tunes by Neil Young, Jack White and the Proclaimers.

But it was the originals that everybody had come out for, which took centerstage. The opening number, the bluegrass-tinged Buskin’, peaked out with a jaunty Rebecca Weiner Tompkins violin solo. Mucho got a droll, sarcastic audience singalong going on the bouncy, zydeco-inflected Pharaoh, the band taking it down to just vocals before Leege pulled the beast back on the rails. Bird House began with a menacing art-rock guitar intro before they took it into noir folk territory, to a long, relentless, Jerry Garcia-esque solo that Leege capped off with an ominous Pink Floyd quote.

Likewise, the funky A Life Worth Living – a song that brought to mind an even earlier Mucho/Leege project, Noxes Pond – echoed the Grateful Dead at their peak. They went into more straight-ahead funk for the defiantly lyrical Modern Age, a little later bringing down the lights for a broodingly waltzing version of the country-tinged lament Master Misery, from the band’s debut album Any Day Now.

The best of the covers was an extended, tranced-out jam on Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced: the way Leege, drummer Jay Cowit and keyboardist/mandolinist Gypsy George matched the album version’s kaleidoscopic, psychedelic fragments and rhythmic blips was as funny as it was impressively faithful to both the spirit and the essence of the original.

Cowit and Mucho matter-of-factly exchanged hostilities on a duet of the tongue-in-cheek newgrass romp Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies, Leege wrapping it up with yet another methodically intense solo. Much as Mucho worked all the magic in her vocal arsenal, from smoky, sultry lows to stratospheric highs, it was Leege who really got the crowd screaming. Counterintuitively, they wound up the set with The Great Escape, a quietly glimmering suicide ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on the Dead’s American Beauty (and is currently this blog’s pick for best song of 2014). That took the bar crowd by surprise, but by the second verse they were quiet and listening again. It was a gentle reminder that this band has the muscle to overpower the yakking crowds at the Way Station.

Diverse, Soulful, Sometimes Shattering Americana from the Sometime Boys

With their catchy tunes, purist country blues-flavored guitar and violin and jaunty acoustic grooves, you’d never guess that the Sometime Boys started out as a spinoff of noisy, ferociously intense art-rock band System Noise. Which goes to show just how versatile that band’s brain trust, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Kurt Leege can be. The Sometime Boys have a characteristically diverse, tuneful, smart new album Riverbed, streaming online, and a show coming up on August 28 at 9 PM at Bar Nine, 807 9th Ave. (53/54).

Summery, pastoral themes rub edges with funky rhythms, some folk noir, an instrumental and the album’s centerpiece, The Great Escape, a genuinely shattering song which might be a surprise to those unfamiliar with the Sometime Boys’ predecessor band. And it’s the best song any band has released so far this year. Mucho gets props and wins MAC cabaret awards for her gale-force, wounded contralto delivery and stratospheric, four-octave range, but she starts this one with practically a whisper as drummer Jay Cowit’s cymbals swoosh over Leege’s terse, warmly nocturnal acoustic work:

Wide awake
The night’s alive
I almost taste the black
This cold, it breeds
Bitter views
There’s no turning back
On the ground
Surrounded by
Expired fallen leaves
All now that’s left
Are crooked lines
Can’t flee the forest for the trees

Mucho hints at gospel and then picks up with a wail as the chorus kicks in, “Fade away, into me.” You don’t usually fade away with a wail but that’s what Mucho does here, then brings it down into the second and last verse, a bitter reflection on the lure of victory and the harsh reality of defeat. Leege’s elegantly virtuosic electric guitar and Pete O’Connell’s increasingly intense bass pick it up from there; it seems to end optimistically. It’s a long song, about five and a half minutes long: stream it, but don’t multitask when you do it because you really need to just let it wash over you and hit you upside the head. If you’ve ever faded away into yourself, scowling out at the lights in the distance and wishing you were there and not slaving away at some stupid dayjob – or whatever makes you scowl – this could be your theme song.

The folk noir shuffle The Bird House is another absolutely brilliant track. Rebecca Weiner Tompkins’ plaintive violin, which usually serves as the band’s main lead instrument, wanders forlornly as Mucho relates the eerie tale of a woman alone and abandoned and losing it. Leege takes it out with a spiky solo that mingles with Mucho’s graceful, haunting, hypnotic, wordless vocals.

Several of the tracks are updates on tunes by an even earlier Mucho/Leege incarnation, the delightfully funky, opaquely intriguing Noxes Pond. Much as Mucho’s writing tends toward the somber and serious, she has a devilish sense of humor, which comes front and center on Fake Dead Girlfriend. With a poker-faced calm over clustery, fingerpicked guitar and stately violin, Mucho explains that her family might think she’s nuts, but the world actually could use more people like her imaginary dead pal.

The rest of the album works a push-pull between a carefree, bucolic ambience and clenched-teeth angst. The album’s funkiest track, Modern Age, is an unlikely blend of soul-pop and Americana, Mucho insisting that “You can have my turn, I wanna watch it all burn.” The pensively sailing, bluegrass-tinged title track seems to be told from the point of view of a suicide. A Life Worth Living is more upbeat, hinting at a classic Grateful Dead theme, with a long, lusciously crescendoing multitracked electric guitar solo fom Leege. Irish Drinking Song isn’t the slightest bit Irish, but it’s a great drinking song, in a late-period Bukowski vein.

Pharaoh, another Noxes Pond song reinvented as newgrass, juxtaposes lithe, vintage Jerry Garcia-esque guitar with Mucho’s snarling, metaphorically bristling fire-and-brimstone imagery. There’s also the gracefully shapeshifting instrumental Wine Dark Sea; the comedic urban country number Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies; the balmy, sultry, gospel-tinged lullaby A Quiet Land; Buskin’, a tribute to performers in public spaces everywhere, and a brief instrumenal reprise at the end. The production is artful and pristine: all the layers of acoustic and electric textures build an ambience that on one hand sounds antique, yet absolutely unique and in the here and now. This band should be vastly better known than they are.

The Sometime Boys Strike Again

The Sometime Boys started out as an infrequent acoustic side project from guitarist Kurt Leege and singer Sarah Mucho of art-rockers System Noise. When their main band went on hiatus, the Sometime Boys became their main focus: a year or so later, they’re suddenly one of New York’s best bands. Their debut album, Any Day Now was one of 2011’s best, and their gentle but intense and unselfconsciously beautiful new one Ice and Blood is a strong contender for best of 2012. It’s a mix of brisk bluegrass vamps, soulful acoustic funk, spiky blues, gospel, straight-up rock and a couple of classic covers that they completely reinvent. This time out the core of Leege and Mucho is abetted by Pete O’Connell on bass, Rebecca Weiner Tompkins on violin, Jay Cowitt on drums and Erik James on piano, accordion and keyboards. While the instrumentation tends to be rustic and the melodies steeped in traditional Americana, their sound is unique and eclectic to the extreme, with elements of 70s jamrock and funk intermingled with swing jazz, ragtime and oldtime country music.

The album begins with Winter Solstice and ends with its summery counterpart. The first holds out hope on the year’s darkest day, Mucho musing about “what fun we missed when leaves were left unturned” against jaunty ragtime piano and insistent violin. The second is a crescendoing, optimistic showcase for Mucho at her most soaring and spine-tingling, packed with neat polyrhythms, a slinky bass groove and a warmly Jerry Garcia-esque guitar solo that slowly and hypnotically winds out. They take Eden, an older song by Noxes Pond, the predecessor band to System Noise and jazz it up with dreamy Rhodes piano, Mucho at her most nuanced. “”I have no need for miracles, just ice and blood and all that’s real, I’ll heal myself,” she asserts with a quiet intensity. She sings of an icy clarity, but her voice is the furthest thing from icy: a star in the cabaret world, where she’s won multiple MAC awards (the cabaret equivalent of a Grammy), she’s one of New York’s most gripping vocalists in any style of music. She blends a raw torchiness with a commanding jazz sophistication on a syncopated piano swing version of Brother Can You Spare a Dime, bringing the anthem alive for a new generation of the down-and-out. By contrast, she transforms the Beatles’ Mother Nature’s Son into a wary gospel number over Cowitt’s perfect Ringo evocation.

Unsurprisingly, the best songs here are originals. The absolutely gorgeous organ-driven anthem Drop by Drop might be the single best song of the year so far: it’s a sad, elegaic country waltz that builds to an angst-fueled grandeur. Slowly, its forlorn narrator comes to grips with the fact that the person “who’s supposed to love me most” is turning into a ghost before her eyes, underscored by Leege’s tersely biting, bittersweet acoustic guitar.  The Good People of Brooklyn, with its ragtime piano and stark violin, pensively yet ecstatically pays tribute to Mucho’s adopted “city of trees,” an unselfconsciously heartwarming message of hope for the 99% struggling through “another day, another turning of the screw.” Igloo, a broodingly atmospheric mix of fingerpicked guitar and accordion, builds a haunting ambience that could be the apocalypse, or just a portrait of clinical depression, where someone can “Curl under this blanket/It’s peaceful in our early graves.” There are also a couple of duets, one a folk-pop tune, the other an acoustic goth rock song, and also a bouncily shuffling pop song that sounds like Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac. The whole album is streaming at Soundcloud; the Sometime Boys play the album release show for this one on May 31 at 9 PM at the Parkside.