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Linda Draper’s New Album Adds to Her Hall of Fame Credentials

It’s time to head down to the quarry and hammer out a pedestal for Linda Draper. Eight albums into her career, not one of them anything less than brilliant: Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, Steve Wynn, Aimee Mann brilliant. Draper is in their league both as a tunesmith and lyricist, and she can sing circles around all of them. And she’s explored a lot of styles over the past fifteen years or so: straightforward acoustic pop, surrealistic psychedelia, Nashville gothic and now a richly tuneful jangle and clang. Producer Matt Keating gets major props for making a big rock record out of Draper’s latest album, Modern Day Decay. It hasn’t hit the web yet, although you can hear a lot of it at her album release show on April 29 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood.

Draper had the good sense to get the most out of Keating on this album. It’s arguably Draper’s strongest release to date, both lyrically and musically, and he really takes it to the next level, both as lead guitarist and keyboardist. Recorded mostly live in the studio in a single whirlwind 48-hour session, the songs have a bristling intensity, Draper’s strong but nuanced mezzo-soprano anchored by bassist Jeff Eyrich and drummer Eric Puente.

The gorgeously anthemic title track opens the album. With the layers of twelve-string guitar over piano and organ, it sounds like the Church with a woman out front:

In a world made for the masses
It ain’t easy to see
It all through rose-colored glasses
You know the thorns wait patiently
…Some say time is all we need
To heed, no matter the relevance
Or pick at the scab until it bleeds…

The matter-of-fact Keep Your Head Up has tinges of psychedelia and C&W and opens with a wry shout-out to Mary Magdalene. I’t s a prime example of Draper at her witheringly lyrical best:

We’re under the gun until one day we’re done…
Get on the latest medication
Join the rest of the brainwashed nation
Airport security, a little radiation
Stand in line, take a number
Don’t blame the stars for your lack of wonder
Like a wild tiger turned into a fur coat
We howl at the moon until we lose the fight

True Enough is another catchy, richly jangly 12-string guitar anthem, a rugged individualist trying to keep her cool under pressure:

Gone are the days of the heat and the haze
That once bled my eyes dry
They sensed in the place by the cold golden gaze
That a love almost passed me by
It’s just a blip on the screen, a switch in the scene
The rest is a big fat lie
Why can’t they just take me as I am…

Put Love In has some unexpected hip-hop tinges in the lyric over an uneasy acoustic-electric backdrop. The catchy, swaying Take Your Money and Run works on a whole slew of levels. On the surface, it’s an escape anthem of sorts:

I pawned my ring for everything and said let it ride
Now I’m here to tell you you reap what you sow
You sold me out, now you’d better let me go
Cause I’m done, all right, but I did it with love
Head for the hills tonight, no heaven above
Can stop me now
There’s nothing to slow down
There’s nothing to stop you
It doesn’t matter where you come from
That doesn’t mean that’s all you have to become
You have so much more love in your heart
Than the sum of your parts
So take your money and run

A slow, organ-infused soul ballad, the nonchalantly cajoling Lose with Me brings to mind Jenifer Jackson. “All my heroes are long gone, or sold their souls to some reality show,” Draper muses.

Awash in lingering, echoing psychedelic guitars, Burn Your Bridges sounds like the Church doing a late Beatles folk-pop number: “All hands on deck for the shipwreck, brace yourselves,” Draper warns.

Pedestal takes a careeningly successful detour into rockabilly: for that matter, it might be the most lyrically sophisticated rockabilly tune ever written:

Everyone’s listening to nobody else
The symphony sounds fine on the train
As we keep moving round in vain
Regurgitating joy and pain

Nashville builds from a stark, spare acoustic intro to a mighty cinematic sweep:

Into the evening
Out of my mind
What you call believing
I call dying
Can’t you see the bags under my eyes
Or the rags that I wore in disguise
The latest fashion, greatest curse
I don’t know which one should be worse….
Like cattle they packed us
Onto the bus
Eleven hours later we were in Nashville
The flames and the smoke followed me here
Ten years ago just seemed to disappear
Now I’m rnnning from the wind
‘Cause I know how fast it can blow
There ain’t gonna be a next time
All we’ve got is today
And all I see in my mind
Keeps driving away

The album winds up with a waltz, Good As New, another individualist’s manifesto

There’s nothing wrong if you don’t belong…
I spend my lifetime, I’ve made it a habit
Of staying on the outside, now why should I quit
“That’s just your way of hiding,” you say
You know, ’cause you see yourself in me

Just on lyrics alone – is Draper quotable, or what? – this is a strong contender for best release of 2016.

Linda Draper Plays One of the Year’s Most Memorable Shows, Then Hits Williamsburg on the 28th

Liz Tormes and Linda Draper made a calmy intense twinbill back in October, each folk noir tunesmith playing solo acoustic at the American Folk Art Museum. It was good enough to make this year’s Best New York Concerts page – obviously a list that reflects only a tiny sliver of the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of concerts that took place in this city this year, but a very fun evening all the same. Both performers can be hilarious, but this particular show was more about songcraft than devastating one-liners. Draper is at Pete’s on December 28 at 10 PM, followed by lush, sparklingly anthemic Americana parlor rock band the Hinges, who are sort of the Pacific Northwest version of Hem. Tormes is most likely done for the year, at least as shows are concerned, although she has a long-awaited new album in the works.

Tormes played first, setting a tone for the night immediately with her uneasily catchy major/minor changes and blend of Americana and purist 60s pop. Gently and methodically, she worked her way up from hypnotically lowlit. minimalist post-Velvets ambience to an understatedly sardonic waltz, alluding to those who might want the limelight more than they deserve. Dancing hints of 80s new wave lit up a simmeringly exasperated nocturne about being kept up by noisy Lower East Side neighbors, inspired by real events during Tormes’ long tenure in that neighborhood. Through the purposeful stroll of Don’t Love Back and a similarly bittersweet, middle-period Dylanesque backbeat anthem, Tormes tied all her influences together with her plush, matter-of-fact vocals, rising and sailing from time to time but mostly mining a richly allusive midrange, resolute if wounded in places. It was a set for survivors, optimistic in the face of everything that had come before.

Draper didn’t waste any time picking up the pace with the rousing anti-conformity entreaty Modern Day Decay, the title track to her new album due out early next year. She went toward classic Britfolk with the next number and its broodingly descending vocals over an insistently steely fingerpicked minor-key hook. Likewise, the insistent C&W-tinged sway of Take the Money and Run underscored its defiance, an escape anthem in search of fellow travelers. She kept the energy in the red with an especially amped take of Broken Eggshell, her lyrically torrential, crescendoing shout-out to gentle, everyday iconoclasms. As she tells it, eggshells are to be stepped on, not tiptoed around.

She worked an uneasy resolve as enigmatic open chords shifted back and forth with warmer major changes, then went into the snidely tongue-in-cheek stroll of Sleepwalkers, a considerably uneasier escape anthem: Draper is no fan of the meh-ness of the walking dead. Then she shifted gears and evoked the bittersweet jangle of Matt Keating – with whom she’s enjoyed a memorable collaboration in recent years – with a new song, With the new album due out soon, Draper is likely to air out even more auspicious new material at Pete’s.

Linda Draper Brings Her Subtly Savage Vocal and Lyrical Brilliance Back to the East Village

The most beautifully redemptive moment at any New York concert this year happened at Linda Draper‘s show at the Rockwood on the first of June. She and her subtle, intuitive, brilliant trio with bassist Jeff Eyrich and drummer Eric Puente decided to flip the script at the last moment and open with an oldschool C&W-tinged number, Modern Day Decay. “In a world full of assholes, it ain’t easy,” Draper sang, resonant and nonchalant, as the big crowd of young Republicans yakked it up, oblivious to the band onstage. Meanwhile, the waitress made her way through the crowd, furiously exchanging receipts: all the assholes were paying with their parents’ credit cards. And nobody listened.

When Draper – an elegant, warmly compelling presence whose stock in trade is lyrical wit and subtlety – hit the chorus, she fired off an unexpected flurry of guitar riffage, then took the song way down. “There’s a bar next door, you can go there if you want to talk,” she encouraged afterward. Within a couple of minutes, they’d disappeared, presumably into $1000 Uber cars back to Bushwick or New Jersey. Without missing a beat, she followed with Hollow, a starkly hypnotic Appalachian gothic number. “Can you get it out of your system before you grow cold and numb?” she challenged.

The next song was a rare treat. Time Will Tell is the wickedly catchy opening track on Draper’s debut album, and she seldom plays it, but she did here, and the rhythm section gave it a lowlit slink that underscored her woundedly catchy, subtly snide kiss-off lyric: “You are the shipwreck, I am the sea, you’re sinking through me.”

Draper brought an unexpected and stunning jazz-inflected sensibilty to the catchy 6/8 soul ballad Good As New – she’s been dipping deeper into her full, ripe lower register lately, and this was a prime example. “I’ve made a habit of staying on the outside,” she mused: it’s a song that Neko Case would be proud to have in her catalog. Draper and the band followed with the defiant backbeat anthem True Enough, echoing another individualistic American artist, Tift Merritt. “It’s just a flicker of the beam, a stitcher in the seam, the rest is a big fat lie.”

Ultimately, Draper doesn’t resemble anyone but herself. She and her rhythm section kept the lights low with Sleepwalkers, a bossa-tinged, bitterly catchy lament. “Even the purest of angels would crash and burn in a place like this,” she sang. She followed with the sardonically shuffling Broken Eggshell: “Every corner I meet, there’s two more fancy streets I’ve been walking down…there’s an eggshell to break, it’s the perfect sound.” A theme song for every New Yorker who’d love to crush every speculator’s highrise underfoot! Likewise, the understately savage country escape anthem Make the Money and Run: “You’ve got so much more love in your heart than the sum of your parts,” she entreated. By the time she’d finished the set with the wryly catchy, marching I Got You – “Don’t blame the stars for your lack of wonder” – the crowd was silent, absolutely rapt.

Draper’s next show is a really short, half-hour set at Sidewalk at 8 PM on July 16. But it’s worth coming out for because it’s A) Linda Draper, and B) Joe Yoga, the similarly intense, lyrically-fueled frontman of fiery, jazz-tinged southwestern gothic band the Downward Dogs, who plays after her.

Yet Another Great Album from Linda Draper

In an era when conventional wisdom is that the album is dead (it isn’t really – Avi Fox-Rosen has already put out six of them this year and plans six more) Linda Draper has just released her seventh, Edgewise. Nonchalantly and methodically, she’s built a body of work as one of the most singularly intelligent and individualistic tunesmiths in any kind of music. In a way, this album brings her full circle with her 2001 debut, Ricochet. That collection of catchy, sharply lyrical acoustic rock was produced by the legendary Kramer, who famously worked with Lou Reed and Ween among others. This time around, Draper turned the production over to Americana maven Matt Keating, who also serves as a one-man band here, playing all sorts of guitars, keys, bass and percussion (plus Jason Mercer holding down the four-string on the third track). It’s Draper’s most lyrically straightforward and musically best album, eleven songs in just under 38 minutes. Notes and words are never wasted, and Draper’s voice, always a strength, is even more nuanced and self-assured than usual, sailing through the highs and hitting the lows with special oomph.

As one might expect, Keating plays up the rootsy influences lurking in Draper’s tunes. The opening track, Glass Palace starts hazy and pensive but picks up with a hypnotic pulse like Mazzy Star on steroids, the narrator daring her ex-friend to walk a mile in her shoes from her “palace off the boulevard.” Right On Time snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, Draper’s blithe cynicism highlighted by swirly organ:

The war is over today
At least for a little while they say
Since then ten have taken its place
I don’t even know where to begin anymore
Talk about the punishment not fitting the crime

Hollow works a haunting, insistent folk noir riff: “Left right march to the beat of the monotonous humdrum, get it out of your system.” she encourages. The title track sets a litany of surreallistically sarcastic imagery to a swaying countrypolitan tune that reminds of vintage Amy Rigby, followed by the grimly nocturnal Take It, contemplating how nothing’s going to save this couple from the ravages of time, whether now or later.

The brooding, minor-key Sleepwalkers pairs off resonant, ringing electric guitar and plinky ukulele against funeral organ, its soaring chorus contrasting with its ominous lyrics:

As you travel among the sleepwalkers
Even the purest of angels would crash and burn
In a place like this

Keating’s guitar gives the Johnny Cash-influenced Shadow of a Coal Mine a southwestern gothic flavor, while Live Wire works a dark Eilen Jewell-esque garage rock vibe with echoey Rhodes piano, distorted Strat and reggae-tinged bass. In Good Hands, a waltz with elegant gospel piano, manages to be both sarcastic and bittersweet

It’s a shame you couldn’t make it to my wedding
To embarrass me somehow…
Some hipster just sarcastically sold me his friends’ band’s t-shirt
They’re so underground they call themselves dirt

The album ends up with Draper’s rootsiest, most bluegrass-inflected song, So Long: “Maybe there’s no difference in disillusion and despair,” she broods. There’s also a cover of Paul McCartney’s Blackbird, which isn’t bad, but Bettye LaVette’s shattering version has made that song off limits from this point on. And it’s testament to the strength of Draper’s songwriting that all her originals are better than that song anyway. As expected, this is a stealth contender for best album of 2013.

Linda Draper Reinvents Herself Again

Last night Linda Draper played the release show for her new album Edgewise to an adoring crowd in the West Village, backed by the acerbic Matt Keating (who also produced the album) on lead guitar and piano and Eric Puente on drums. While Draper has made a career out of reinventing herself, two things, tunefulness and smart lyrics, have been consistent in her work, all the way through her transition from early-zeros acoustic rock songwriter, to mid-zeros hypnotic lyrical surrealist, to early teens Americana chanteuse. Her melodies linger in your head long after they’re over; her words will tickle you just as often as they snarl and bite. And her calm, airy voice, always a strength, just gets more and more nuanced and compelling. Throughout it all, she’s never given in to any kind of cliche, never succumbed to the temptation to coast on her looks and sing top 40 schlock even though the opportunity must have raised its ugly head at some point.

As expected, most of the songs were taken from the album. Draper brought to mind Eilen Jewell’s southwestern gothic with the bristling Live Wire, a dark Appalachian folk tune livened with Keating’s glistening noir piano. They kept the rustic menace going with the tensely pulsing Hollow, an entreaty to “get it out of your system before you become cold and numb,” to smash through the darkness and seize the fun lurking just beyond.

A jaunty, upbeat new number hinted at hip-hop with its rapidfire lyrics and bouncy swing. Then they went back to the brooding desert rock ambience with the cynical escape anthem Sleepwalkers: “Even the pureset of angels would crash and burn in a place like this,” Draper sang with an understated somberness. They followed that with the loudest song in the set, the new album’s bittersweetly triumphant title track. Draper usually plays solo acoustic shows: hearing her songs fleshed out this energetically, even roaringly, was a rare treat, especially on the Johnny Cash-influenced Shadow of a Coal Mine.

Bitterness and anger are not the only emotions that inform her music. She can also be very funny, as she was on one of the later numbers, In Good Hands, making the connection between backbiting trendoid one-upsmanship and yuppie conspicuous consumption. The crowd begged for an encore: she gave them a casually snide, animated solo acoustic version of the kiss-off anthem Time Will Tell, from her previous album Bridge and Tunnel. From here Draper is off to the Outer Space in Hamden, Connecticut for a 6 PM doublebill toinght, May 24 with underground folk legend Kath Bloom, then Club Passim in Boston on the 26th at 7 and then a killer doublebill with Randi Russo May 28 at 8 at the Township in Chicago.