Much as the annual CMJ festival has been the butt of umpteen jokes for the last couple of decades – including a lengthy one from this blog – there always end up being a few gems amidst the detritus. And because CMJ is so scattered, and so many of the shows are so poorly attended, there’s usually no competition, and no cover charge, for the choicest acts. Lachlan Bryan is one of them. The Australian Americana bandleader/songwriter is about to tackle a marathon Dives of New York schedule with his excellent, purist band the Wildes, no doubt showcasing material from their new album Black Coffee (streaming at Bandcamp). They’re supposed to be at Bowery Electric tonight, even though theyr’e not on the club’s calendar. They’re at the small room at the Rockwood tomorrow Oct 16 at midnight, at the Path Cafe on the 17th at 10, at Goodbye Blue Monday on the 18th, also at 10 and then at Fifth Estate Bar in Park Slope on the 19th sometime after 9 (neither Bryan’s site nor the bar’s site have any info). Then the band are off to Richmond, where they will no doubt go over well.
One of the things that’s most immediately striking about Bryan is how down-to-earth and conversational his vocals are. They be some bo-ahs from Plain Failed, Noo Jers-ay who be doin’ this here Amereecana mus-eck, yes’m, ayund they talkin’ lahk they growed up in Alleybam even though they nevuh spent a lick o’tahm they-uh, nosuh. Bryan is not one of those bo-ahs. And he’s full of surprises. The album’s opening track, 309, sounds at first like it’s a pretty straight-up, electrified ripoff of a famous Dylan song, but it turns out to be a murder ballad. That’s a good idea of where this guy is going.
The second cut, Big Fish, mines a similar minor-key, bluesy feel, Bryan cynically contemplating a tug-of-war between the sexes where guys who don’t exactly take the moral high road – his protagonist included – lead unsuspecting women down the road to ruin. They follow that with You, Me & the Blues, a motoring post-Chuck Berry shuffle in the same vein as what Nick Lowe was doing with Rockpile thirty years ago. Then they go back to dark Americana with the paisley underground ballad Death Wish Country, spare dobro intertwining with lingering electric lead lines.
Dragging My Chain works as a mix of noir soul and blue-flame C&W, Memphis meets Nashville circa 1964. The album’s title track goes back to the neo-Dylan, but channeled through the wry prism of Jack Grace. The optimistic Change in the Wind brings to mind early 70s Kris Kristofferson, contrasting with the album’s most searing track, The CEO Must Die, a brutally insightful look at the psychology of going postal.
The album winds up with Kiss Me or Kill Me, a brooding oldschool country tune not unlike the Flatlanders, and then the pedal steel-driven ballad Forty Days and Nights. New Yorkers who want to see Americana done with soul, and purpose, and no wasted notes, ought to see this guy while he’s here.