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Tag: liz tormes

Haunting Vocals and Tunesmithing on Emily Frembgen’s Brilliant New Album

Up until the lockdown, Emily Frembgen was one of the hardest-working musicians on what’s left of the New York acoustic and Americana scenes. She held down residencies at the Knitting Factory and LIC Bar, but also didn’t limit herself to the usual spots. She was just as likely to play a donut shop or a house party. It was at a Bushwick donut shop in the fall of 2017 where she calmly and quietly picked up her acoustic guitar and played one of the most haunting songs written by anyone in this city in the last several years. That song is called Downtown: Frembgen’s narrator goes to meet her friends one last time before she either leaves, or kills herself, or both. The song is all the more chilling for not being specific.

It’s not on her new album It’s Me or the Dog – streaming at Bandcamp – but the record has plenty of other intriguing material, some of it brooding, some of it more quirky and playful. Frembgen is a skilled, purist tunesmith, a potently imagistic lyricist and has an unselfconscious, sometimes wounded. sometimes understatedly vengeful voice that will give you goosebumps.

“Little child, going nowhere, I can’t touch you when you turn away from me,” Frembgen relates gently in Butterfly, a chilling, tersely detailed portrait of clinical depression. That one’s just Frembgen and her acoustic guitar. She’s joined by lead guitarist Hugh Pool, bassist Charles Dechants and drummer Keith Robinson for Changes, which brings to mind Rosanne Cash’s early new wave/Americana mashups.

Organist Brian Mitchell adds aptly Blonde on Blonde-flavored organ and Nashville piano to Sad Affair: the harmonica completes the mid 60s Dylan ambience behind Frembgen’s witheringly cynical imagery.

Flower/Weed is a seething, low-key kiss-off song, Frembgen’s gentle fingerpicking mingling with Charles Burst’s twinkly electric piano. She goes back to backbeat Americana with Silver Lining, a catchy, guardedly optimistic anthem about two troubled souls pulling themselves out of a dark place, lowlit by Pool’s baritone guitar.

The contrasting imagery and airy vocals in Turn Around bring to mind another first-class Americana-inspired tunesmith, Liz Tormes. Frembgen elevates Julee Cruise girl-down-the-well moroseness to new levels of angst in New Feelin’ over Pool’s Lynchian twang.

She picks up the pace with Hometown, an optimistic country shuffle concealing a desperate escape narrative, and closes the record with He Held Onto Me, Mitchell’s sober gospel piano underscoring Frembgen’s despondency. It’s the only place on the album where she drops her guard. Frembgen has been writing catchy songs since the late zeros, but she’s reached a harrowing new level here with one of the best records of 2021.

Understatedly Troubling Music For Troubling Times From the Nine Seas

Folk noir superduo the Nine Seas take their name from the long-defunct, legendary Alphabet City bar 9C, located at the corner of 9th Street and Avenue C. Years before Pete’s Candy Store was anything more than a numbers joint, and more than a decade before the Jalopy opened, 9C was New York’s ground zero for Americana music. That’s where Liz Tormes and Fiona McBain cut their teeth at the wildly crowded, weekly bluegrass jam.

In the years since then, both would become important voices in Americana, as solo artists and with other bands (McBain best known for her longtime membership in the gospel and soul-tinged Ollabelle). This project, which began as a murder ballad cover act, also goes back several years, attesting to the chemistry between the two musicians. Their long-awaited debut album Dream of Me is streaming at their music page. It’s a mix of originals and imaginative covers, the two singer-guitarists occasionally abettted by keys and horns.

Tormes’ first number, Am I Still Your Demon is the album’s quietly potent opener. It has a classic Tormes vocal trick that she’s used before (see the devastating Read My Mnd, the opening number on her 2010 Limelight album). J. Walter Hawkes’ looming trombone arrangement perfectly matches the song’s understated angst.

The duo reinvent the old suicide ballad I Never Will Marry with a hazy dreampop tinge, as Mazzy Star might have done it. They do E.C. Ball’s fire-and-brimstone country gospel classic Trials, Troubles, Tribulations much the same way. Here and throughout the record, Jim White’s spare banjo, organ and other instruments really flesh out these otherwise stark songs.

Likewise, his glockenspiel twinkles eerily in Go to Sleep, an elegaic Tormes tune. McBain’s I Really Want You is just as calmly phantasmagorical: it’s more about longing than lust. Then Oliver de la Celle ‘s Lynchian guitar and White’s banjo raise the menace in a radical reinvention of Charlie Rich’s Midnight Blues

The hypnotic version of the murder ballad Down in the Willow Garden, a concert favorite, is all the more creepy for the duo’s bright harmonies and steady stoicism, White adding airy pump organ. McBain switches to piano for the even more atmospheric, Julee Cruise-ish Where He Rests.

They wind up the album with a pair of covers. They transform Midnight, a bluesy, Jimmy Reed-style 1952 hit for Red Foley, into minimalist girl-down-the-well pop. And they remake Don Gibson’s Sea of Heartbreak as jungly exotica: nobody plays with more implied menace than the Nine Seas.

The album also includes stripped-down alternate takes of Trials, Troubles, Tribulations and Midnight Blues. Beyond this album, since they’re unable to play shows at the moment, the Nine Seas have a weekly webcast, the Quarantine Chronicles, where they run through many other songs from the immense dark folk repetoire they’ve amassed over the years.

Murder Ballad Mondays Makes a Mean Return to Fort Greene on the 21st

A monthly residency is a sneaky way to keep your fanbase coming out without stating the obvious, that they could always blow off your show this month and catch you next time around. After all, who can keep track of when the third Thursday of the month is going to fall, other than the band playing that night?

A lot of touring artists use small New York venues as an anchor when they’re here – or as a rehearsal room, basically. Barbes is home base to many of the elite among them, most notably Big Lazy (first Friday of the month at 10) and Rachelle Garniez (first Thursday at 8). There are also a trio of good acts using Sidewalk to keep themselves sharp: guitarist Lenny Molotov’s bitingly lyrical original oldtime swing band the Fascinators (first Saturday at 8), Mac McCarty‘s careening folk noir Kidd Twist Band (first Saturday at 9) and the darkly eclectic, avant garde-inclined Lorraine Leckie (third Friday at 11, including tonight the 18th).

This blog’s favorite monthly residency is Murder Ballad Mondays at Branded Saloon. Like Paul Wallfisch‘s late, lamented Small Beast at the Delancey, it’s blogbait. Any lazy blogger can save himself or herself four or five separate nights out and catch several of the best acts in town all on the same bill on an off night that doesn’t conflict with anything. And it’s become a hit with the local Fort Greene contingent.

Last month’s was a prime example: with cold rain pelting the slush outside, torchy noir singer Ellia Bisker and her guitarslinging Charming Disaster conspirator Jeff Morris packed the place and treated folks to a deliciously lowlit, lurid evening. They used to treat the crowd to at least a short set, but lately they’ve been teasing everybody with just a song or two. This time out their contributions were a slinky version of a shadowy, swing-infused new number with some hilarious rhyme schemes as well as Murderer, Charming Disaster’s signature song of sorts, a coldly wary, subtle cautionary tale reminding that the perfect crime has no witnesses.

Jessi Robertson set the bar high right off the bat. Hauntingly resonant, deeply soul-infused vocals fused with lead guitarist Rony Corcos’ similarly lingering, bluesy lead lines and elegantly jangly phrasing. Part of Robertson’s appeal is that her big crescendos sometimes seem triumphant and celebratory when they’re actually venomous, and their first song was a prime example. They also made their way through the bristling underbrush of a folk noir number and closed with a fiery PJ Harvey cover.

Liz Tormes, this city’s leading exponent of murder ballads, brought the ambience down to a blue-flame intensity, mining the catalogs of Peter Rowan and Bill Monroe, her own calmly and murderously alluring repertoire and closed with a stark Elizabethan suicide song. Former Snow frontwoman Hilary Downes sang a calmly brooding version of the Townes Van Zant classic Pancho & Lefty. And Mudville – singer/keyboardist Marilyn Carino and brilliant bassist Ben Rubin – kept the simmeringly ominous ambience going with noir cabaret takes on the Misfits and Tom Waits as well as an even more allusively venomous original.

That’s what makes Murder Ballad Mondays so interesting – it’s taking the concept of songs about killing people far beyond the time-honored Britfolk/Appalachian tradition. The more you know about music, the more you realize just how much we have in common: no matter the culture, people around the world just love to kill each other. And then write about it. This coming Murder Ballad Monday on March 21 starts at 8 sharp and features Charming Disaster, Elisa Flynn – whose rapturously haunting voice is matched by her historically-informed, erudite tunesmithing – and others TBA who will probably be just as good.

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.

Joanne Weaver’s Noir Electro Glistens and Gleams From an Icy Distance

Going out in costume this Halloween? Nobody really wants to be the Boston Bomber, or a Republican operative, or a laughingstock, but we can all dress up at the expense of Dzhokhar Tsareyev, or Hillary, or Trump, right?

Speaking of dressing up, the blip on the radar that was Lana Del Rey seems to have jumpstarted a cottage industry of would-be femme fatales who think that a slinky black dress, fire-engine-red lipstick and a smoky come-on of a voice somehow equates to noir. Among the genuinely noir artists here in New York – Karla Rose & the Thorns ripping it up at CMJ a couple of weeks ago, Liz Tormes haunting the American Folk Art Museum last night – Joanne Weaver factors in. Her latest album Interstellar Songbook II is streaming at Soundcloud, and it’s one of the most original, interesting noir releases of recent years. Imagine Jeff Lynne circa 1981 producing an album of jazz standards reinvented by a swing chanteuse with a completely unadorned delivery that’s all the more disarming for its directness.

The not-so-secret weapon throughout this album is an Omichord synthesizer (or a damn good digital facsimile of one), its shimmery oscillation building a starry-night ambience throughout each of the the eleven tracks on Weaver’s sophomore release. Like a late-period ELO or Pink Floyd album, it opens with some wry, sampled movie dialogue. Begin the Beguine sets the stage, awash in icy reverb, the tremolo on the funeral parlor organ wide open: it’s closer to Orbison than the material on Weaver’s more overtly jazz-oriented debut, which is why it works so well

Weaver freezes any possible Borscht Belt shtick out of Golden Earrings and turns it into hi-tech Vegas noir: the deep-space kettledrum completes the desolate picture in contrast to the come-hither lyrics. Moonlight Serenade takes the atmosphere back into the shadows, while Sway – the album’s first single – gets an aptly creepy trip-hop groove. The strongest – and saddest – track is Summer Kisses, Winter Tears, reinvented as a Lynchian bolero.

With its languid trip-hop beat and shiny, chrome-plated late 90s downtempo lounge production, If I Didn’t Care is out of place here. Weaver’s take of Autumn Leaves brings back the gloomy Sunday evening mood, its layers of keys and delicate electronic touches spiraling out into the darkness. From there she segues into the album’s most cinematic track, a lushly ominous, neoromantic version of As Time Goes By – if you can handle the anachronism, think Julie London covering Siouxsie.The final cut is a delicate, flamenco-tinged take of When the Swallows Come Back from Capistrano. Whoever produced this album is a genius. Weaver’s NYC hang is the swanky Flatiron Room, 37 W 26th St. (6th Ave/Broadway) where she’ll be with her band on December 18 at 9 PM.

A Charmingly Dark Show by Fizz and an Upcoming Upper West Gig by Liz Tormes

You’ve got to watch this video by Fizz – Americana tunesmiths Liz Tormes and Olabelle‘s Fiona McBain – at Pete’s Candy Store back on the third of the month. Musicians tend to be physically agile people, but the way those two take Don Gibson’s Sea of Heartbreak and make a jump-rope rhyme out of it is as challenging as it is surreal….and also just plain sweet. And they pull it off effortlessly, like they were eight-year-olds on the playground together. Never mind the fact that Tormes would have been in Nashville at the time and McBain on the other side of the world.

The two used to do this duo act more than they do now. Watching the two swap songs and harmonize, poignantly and seamlessly, brought back some good memories on the Lower East Side back in the late zeros. When the two play together, they usually do murder ballads, and there were a few of those in this set. Of the two performers, McBain is the more versatile songwriter, informed both by oldschool soul music (that’s the Ollabelle connection) as well as front-porch folk and bluegrass. Tormes has a devious sense of humor, and her live show can be great fun, notwithstanding that her Nashville gothic songs are pretty relentlessly dark, intense and devastating. Nobody’s breakup ballads deliver more of a punch to the gut than hers do. Tormes’ voice has more plushness and restraint; McBain’s soars higher and has more of a bite. They make a great team.

They opened with a Tormes number, full of woundedly elegant Everlys harmonies against a steady backbeat. Their version of Brenda Lee’s Comin’ on Strong was much the same. followed by a spare, muted cover of the Everlys’ murder ballad Down in the Willow Garden, pushed along by McBain’s stark fingerpicking. McBain then led the two through a broodingly hypnotic, open-tuned waltz that brought to mind Mazzy Star.

They gave an enigmatic indie touch to a gentle country gospel number, then went into moody Lynchian mode and stayed there with a lowlit cover of Blondie’s Call Me – considering how creepy they made that one, it would be even more fun to hear what they could do with Black Sabbath’s Children of the Grave! They closed the set with a warmly intuitive, wistful take of the Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset. Tormes is on the bill this Friday, Oct 23 at 5:30 PM at the American Folk Art Museum, Columbus Ave. at 66th St.on an excellent triplebill with fellow folk noir songsmith Linda Draper and minimialist gothic rock act Bright Brown.

A Noir Masterpiece from Karla Moheno

Dark chanteuse Karla Moheno‘s genius is that as much as her noir narratives are detailed down to the nth degree, it’s next to impossible to figure out who gets killed in them. The creepy mini-movies on her album Gone to Town – streaming at her Soundcloud page – shift from killer floods to seedy border towns, through drug dreams, rubbing up against madness and sleazy characters of all kinds who must be done away with or at least run away from. This isn’t just the most Lynchian record of the year, it’s the most Lynchian record of the decade.

It doesn’t hurt that Moheno is also a brilliant tunesmith and an equally distinctive singer. She has the torchy noir blues thing down cold, but the blues is just a skeleton for her. She starts with a classic sound and builds from there with the reverb turned up all the way, on everything from the drums to the piano to the guitars. The songs also reveal that she’s just as much at home in classic soul music and even rockabilly. What might be most impressive about this album is that although there’s a constantly shifting cast of characters in the guitar chair, the sound remains the same all the way through: the faces may change but Moheno’s bleak vision doesn’t.

Moheno modulates her cool, uncluttered, mentholated vocals with just the hint of a smile that only distracts from her nonchalantly dangerous persona: Bliss Blood or June Christy in a particularly apprehensive moment come to mind. And as much as there’s plenty of mayhem implied throughout the album, Moheno plays the kind of femme fatale who strolls more or less unscathed out of the mist of 4 AM gunsmoke as the credits roll, ready for the sequel.

Lead guitarist Dylan Charles channels Marc Ribot noir skronk on the opening track, Time Well Spent, over Jenifer Jackson drummer Greg Wieczorek’s slow, slinky pulse as Moheno launches into her cruel tale of deceit and revenge:

Your stale sun shines
Give the old college try
My choice was clear
Either leave or die
So why not make an arrangement
And dare that county line?
The houglasss leaks on the pavement while you pine

As the story continues, we discover that there’s been a betrayal, maybe more than one, and an escape in the works – where it goes from there makes it the best song of 2014 so far by a country mile.

Silver Bucket evokes the Gun Club doing a swaying Smokestack Lightning groove circa, say, 1985, guitarist Sam Feldman’s echoey, incisive clang and occasional jaggedly tremolo-picked line underscoring Moheno’s allusively menacing story of toying with potentially deadly floodwaters. Subtext, anyone? Once again, Wieczorek’s understated drumming is spot-on, keeping the mystery drive pulsing but not lumbering.

Blacked Out & Blue is a lushly crescendoing oldschool organ soul ballad with Scott Hollingsworth doing double duty on the keys and bass along with Devon Goldberg adding deliciously watery, George Harrison-esque lead guitar. Moheno’s narrator may be a little woozy and delirious, but she hasn’t lost a step:

Cabin and fever, with one sleeping wound
I’ll draw up the plan, sir, just hand me a tool
You’re not such an old dog
This trick ain’t that hard
Throw mama a bone now
Why don’t you play in her yard

Fueled by Guyora Kats’ incisive chordal, bluesy attack on a slightly out-of-tune piano, The Return is a kiss-off song with a darkly vaudevillian edge:

And all of the girls,
They line up to meet the devil in your eyes
Every drop you can get to
Is a taste of what you will only love to despise

Have fun enjoy the ride
You love to barely get by
Just another excuse to paint your red door black

And now it’s all gone wrong
We never could get along
And so I’m sending it back

Brand New Eyes is another slow soul ballad, played solo on electric guitar with a menace that evokes Liz Tormes at her most murderously inclined. As Mexico moves from a slow acoustic ballad to a fiery desert rock anthem fueled by Jesse Blum’s accordion and trumpet, Moheno pans around a tourist town with a devious, Marissa Nadler-esque whimsy:

But hey Mr. Elvis
I’m still waiting for you
I won’t let those vatos get to you
I’ll keep that promise that fell through

And Grandma never hung up
Her good old drinking cup
She knows a couple nickels
Buy out any pickle

So line em up and knock em back
Make sure you’re losing track
I don’t want to remember this
I don’t need anything to miss

Fool of a Girl, with Feldman again on guitar, quickly moves from a brisk rockabilly-tinged shuffle toward Tex-Mex as Moheno blithely narrates her girl-on-the-lam tale:

Oh I was left for dead in Chicago by a cold cold white man
And I drowned myself in gin and spent a fortune to wash away his quicksand
But I didn’t mind it, I didn’t even put up a fight
And call me crazy, but sometimes two wrongs make a right

The final track. Girl Next Door reverts to the chilly, bluesy minor-key swing of the opening number. It’s the torchiest of the songs here, lowlit by Goldberg’s shivery red-neon guitar lines. Moheno plays the Manderley bar at the McKittrick Hotel, 532 W 27th St. (10th/11th Aves. – it’s the indoor bar, not the one on the roof) on Feb 3 at 10:30 PM. The show is free, but this swanky place fills up fast, so getting there early would be a good idea.

Bluegrass Bass Star Missy Raines Puts Out an Intriguing, Original Rock Album

Bassist Missy Raines is a star in the bluegrass world, but her album New Frontier with her band the New Hip is an electric rock record. Much of it is 80s rock. Those songs sounds a lot like the Smiths, but with an emphasis on Johnny Marr guitar (Ethan Ballinger’s lingering, unresolved chords, surf allusions and distant angst) rather than what the Bushwick blog-pop groups steal from that band (cross your legs daintily and repeat with the proper affectation: “Oh, Bryce darling, it was nothing!”). The rest of the album is more straight-up janglerock than it is Americana-flavored. It turns out that Raines is not only a superb bassist but also an excellent singer, with a matter-of-fact, low-key delivery that’s sometimes hushed, sometimes seductive, sometimes channeling a simmering unease.

The opening track, Learn, shifts from a catchy, swaying verse with a hint of a trip-hop beat to an echoing, broodingly anthemic late 80s Britrock chorus. Raines follows that with Blackest Crow, a methodically swaying, understatedly ominous goodbye anthem, like Liz Tormes fronting the Room. The album’s title track works a ringing two-chord vamp that reminds of the Railway Children, Jarrod Walker’s mandolin and Ballinger’s guitar trading off elegantly. Nightingale traces a night ride through Florida with an Angel from Montgomery type hook that grows more mysterious and seductively lush on the chorus – it would be a standout Sheryl Crow song.

Long Way Back Home uneasily contemplates the temptations of fame and everything that comes with it – maybe you don’t become what you dream of being after all. Where You Found Me ramps up the ominousness with its resonant pools of guitar, like Lush with a gently resolute American accent, and Raines’ opaque lyrics: is this a story being told from beyond the grave? Likewise, Kites, a slow, brooding ballad, like a harder-edged Mazzy Star.

When the Day Is Done works a slowly swaying, moody blend of Americana and 80s Britrock. What’s the Callin’ For begins with a hint of bluegrass but then becomes a growling highway rock tune lit up by a searing guitar solo, part country and part dreampop: it’s a neat touch. The album ends with American Crow, a somber, metaphorically-charged bird-on-a-wire tableau. It’s quite a change of pace for Raines, but like all good musicians, she’s obviously listened and played far outside her regular style: she could be a fish out of water here, but she’s not.

Noir Night at Zirzamin In Case You Missed It

It seems inevitable for music bloggers to start booking shows. In the case of this blog, that meant coming full circle. Where did New York Music Daily’s debut as live music promoter take place? At New York’s best new venue, of course: Zirzamin, the lowlit subterranean music parlor at the corner of Houston and LaGuardia. It was an aptly dark and stormy evening for what was billed as “noir night.” It wasn’t lucrative in any commercial sense, as the early part got more or less rained out, thanks to crazy winds and flying trashcans and intermittent explosions in the sky, two hundred years of CO2 emissions coming back to haunt us all. But the music was transcendent.

Elisa Flynn opened. With a polymath’s insatiable curiosity and a keen sense of history, she proved as knowledgeable about classic Americana roots as she is with indie rock, and it showed in her music. Armed with just her acoustic guitar, her trusty loop pedal and a richly nuanced voice that she let trail off with a suspenseful vibrato, she made her way through aching big-sky themes, a bitter returning Civil War soldier’s lament and a disarmingly pretty but grimly sarcastic Afghan War narrative told from a perspective looking out from inside an “iron galleon.” She reinvented the old folk standard Henry Lee as bitingly atonal, nimbly fingerpicked indie rock, underscoring the doom of the lyrics. A little later, she ran through a wistful high school reminiscence that referenced both Johnny Thunders and Ian Dury, which has got to be the only song in existence that does that. Moving from a catchy, simple, circular riff to fiery, anthemic minor chords, she brought a Marc Chagall picture to life, mixing gypsyish tonalities, enigmatic open chords and a little late Beatles. And just to prove that not all of her songs are dark, she played a new one that ended up hitting a bittersweet note despite itself: “Oh, won’t you tell me what drugs you’re on,” she sang, not a little jealous of how blithely some people carry themselves. Flynn has booked an intriguing show of her own on September 18 at the Way Station in Ft. Greene, where she and a parade of songwriters will be playing the entire Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music.

As eclectic as Flynn’s set was, Liz Tormes set a single mood and never wavered from it. That mood was menacing. Tormes makes it work because she does it so nonchalantly, and takes great pleasure it: when she described a song or two as murder ballads, her face lit up noticeably as the word “murder” crossed her lips. While between songs, bantering with her bandmates – Ollabelle keyboardist Glenn Patscha and guitarist/singer Fiona McBain – she broke character from the stoic, wounded femme fatale persona, it served her equally well throughout a mix of originals and classic country/folk covers, including understatedly haunting, gorgeously harmonized versions of Rosalie, I Never Will Marry and the old honkytonk hit Comin’ on Strong. The version of Read My Mind on Tormes’ brilliant 2009 Limelight album is a fiery rock song; stripped to its brooding acoustic roots, it was even darker. As is often the case with her, the subtext was crushing: “And I want you to read my mind. Dear,” she sang, with just the slightest hint that this was not exactly a love song. A bitter resignation and sense of all hell about to break loose dominated several other songs, including one hypnotic number that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Randi Russo catalog, and the steady, pulsing Maybe You Won’t, another track from Limelight. Eerily and methodically calm, the trio made their way through a troubled East Village nocturne that worked on a million different levels, and a Carter Family cover that could have been the Velvet Underground doing country gospel, with the piano in…um…western saloon tuning. Patscha would have been within his rights to have complained, but he didn’t. Toward the end of the set, Tormes catalogued a list of things that haunted her: “Nothing haunts you – I think it should,” she sang again and again as it wound out, raising her voice just enough to drive the point home, hard. There is no singer in the world who channels heartbreak or unconsummated rage more potently than Tormes.

By the time Beninghove’s Hangmen took the stage, the storm had subsided and a crowd had gathered to see saxophonist Bryan Beninghove and a six-piece version of his powerhouse noir soundtrack band careen through a wild, improvisational set. While what they’re playing is essentially film music, this time out they went deep into their diverse jazz roots, transforming the Neil Diamond cheeseball Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon into a Russ Meyer set piece. A little later, they rampaged through a practically twenty-minute version of Quatro Loko, an unexpectedly cheery number fueled by Beninghove’s jaunty soprano sax before going completely haywire, drummer Shawn Baltazor and bassist Kellen Harrison wailing on each others’ instruments, trombonist Rick Parker (also of the fascinating Bartok cover band Little Worlds) wailing on the out-of-tune piano for extra amperage.

Beninghove began a distantly apprehensive, swinging gypsy jazz tune on melodica, then switched to tenor sax and took it into more lurid territory, handing off to Parker, whose long, shivery, microtonal solo maxed out the menace. Guitarist Dane Johnson opened a horror-surf tune with some bracing, off-kilter grit, juxtaposing a klezmer-flavored dirge theme that shifted to a surprisingly warm, soul-infused chorus, Parker blasting over it with a coldly haphazard rage, Beninghove following with a long, electrically chromatic, achingly tense tenor solo. Their version of Hangmen’s Waltz took the macabre mood of the version on the band’s amazing, self-titled album from last year and expanded on it, polyrhythmic and hallucinatory. After diversions into calypso, samba and dixieland flair and then a morbid surf stomp highlighted by Johnson’s echoey, overtone-drenched intensity, they wrapped up the night at around half past eleven with another album track, Roadhouse, a surreal, volcanically Lynchian boogie. Beninghove’s Hangmen will be in residency several Mondays at 9 in September at Zirzamin; watch this space for details.