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The Long Ryders and Lorraine Leckie at Bowery Ballroom: Two Generations of Smart Americana Rock

Last night at Bowery Ballroom, the Long Ryders opened with their big 1983 college radio hit Tell It to the Judge on Sunday – an ominously scampering mashup of electrified bluegrass and the 13th Floor Elevators – and encored with a singalong of the rapidfire, Dylanesque imagery of Looking for Lewis and Clark. Despite a layoff of more than two decades, and the fact that they hadn’t played Manhattan in almost three, the guys who pretty much invented Americana rock all by themselves proved little worse for the time away. Beyond their three excellent albums from that era, and the new four-disc retrospective Final Wild Songs that came out earlier this year, the quartet distinguished themselves with vocals as well as a deep, and, when you think about it, surprisingly eclectic back catalog. Can you name another rock band from that era, or any other, with three lead singers as strong as guitarists Sid Griffin and Stephen McCarthy and bassist Tom Stevens? Isn’t it weird to hear songs like And She Rides – whose infamously funny video Griffin mentioned toward the end of the set – and realize just how good a new wave band these guys were when they weren’t using Griffin’s Kentucky roots as a stepping-off point for a brand-new style that combined punk energy with rootsy rusticity?

Stevens ended up taking the lion’s share of lead vocals and a handful of tantalizingly brief bass breaks, more than you’d expect from a country-rock band. McCarthy switched between his signature twangy Telecaster leads and searing steel guitar. Counterintuitively, the high point of the show was midway through the set, when Griffin, playing twelve-string Rickenbacker, led the band through an insistently raging cover of Dylan’s Masters of War, McCarthy adding menace with his blazing, upward and then descending steel slides. They kept that intensity going with a broodingly lingering take of Two Kinds of Love. Methodically and energetically, the band aired out most of the hits – and there were a lot of them: the wry shuffle Run Dusty Run, the pensively jangly Ivory Tower, You Can’t Ride the Boxcars Anymore and Mel Tillis’ Sweet Sweet Mental Revenge..

Opening act Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons had come to conquer, and the charismatic Canadian-American frontwoman was taking no prisoners.“If you ask me, I’m for immediate impeachment on the grounds of extreme ugliness,” the wiry, black-clad singer asserted. Hitting their stride right off the bat with a classic 1979 CBGB-style powerpop shuffle, Language of the Night, they roared and stomped through material as diverse as the enigmatic, Neil Young/Crazy Horse sway of Beware and the New Orleans shout-out Rebel Devil Devil Rebel – title track to Leckie’s 2014 album.

Drummer Keith Robinson kept an energetic swing going in tandem with bassist Charlie DeChants as guitarist Hugh Pool and violinist Pavel Cingl – just in from Prague – teamed up for a slinky, elegantly fugal duel during the volcanic coda, Ontario. But the best song of the night might have been when Leckie went centerstage with just her vocals and acoustic guitar for a brand new co-write with the Jigsaw Seen‘s Dennis Davison, possibly titled The Owl. It wasn’t clear whether the song’s narrator gets lured away and then overdoses, or gets murdered, but either way, the audience responded with rapt silence: you could have heard a pin drop. And Bowery Ballroom was packed. The Long Ryders are at Cafe Nine in New Haven tonight, Nov 11 for lucky Fairfield County peeps; Leckie is at Sidewalk on Nov 18 at 11.

Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons Open for Americana Rock Legends the Long Ryders at Bowery Ballroom

One of the year’s most highly anticipated twinbills is this coming Nov 10 at 9 PM, when eclectic songwriter Lorraine Leckie and Her smoldering Demons open for the Long Ryders, who pretty much invented Americana rock back in the 80s. They haven’t played New York in this century, or for that matter, toured the US in almost thirty years. Their four-cd career retrospective, Final Wild Songs – which includes a stampeding live set recorded in Europe – is just out this year. This concert features the classic late 80s Long Ryders lineup of Sid Griffin on guitar and vocals, Stephen McCarthy on guitar, Tom Stevens on bass and Greg Sowders on drums. $20 advance tix are still available as of today.

Leckie’s most recent fullscale New York show was a rare smalll-club gig back in June at Pangea, a momentary homecoming sandwiched between European and US tours. As much as this was more low-key than she typically is on a big stage, the set was no less fiery for being somewhat quieter and a lot more intimate. She and a scaled-down version of the Demons – Hugh Pool on lead guitar and Tim Kuhl on cajon and percussion – opened with a hushed, seethingly waltizng take of Little Miss X, a sarcastic portrait of a bimbo du jour. From there the band made their way through a stripped-down version of the T Rex-ish Rainbow and then the rousing anthem Paint the Towns, Pool’s tersely resonant lines channeling 60s Memphis soul.

Kuhl pushed the sardonic nocturne Happy City along with a trip-hop groove, Leckie switching from Telecaster to piano. “When I go, I leave a scar,” she intoned with an understated, gleeful menace in Come A-Dancing, then gave an airy vocalese intro to a wickedly catchy, slinky, minor-key new number, Shake Off the Devil, Kuhl again supplying a clickety-clack trip-hop rhythm.

Leckie is hard to categorize – one minute she’s wailing through Neil Young-style electric Americana rock, the next she’s using all sorts of strange guitar tunings and playing enigmatically minimalist art-rock. She put the spotlight on that side of her vast repertoire with the propulsively brisk Man Who Walks in the Rain, the acidic, hypnotic waltz Dangerous Friends, and Climb Ya Like a Mountain, a shout-out to the noted mountain climber Aleister Crowley. From there the band shifted gears with another new number, the anthemic vintage 70s Lou Reed-ish Under the Vampire Moon.

The high point of the night, volume and intensity-wise, was another open-tuned guitar number, It Ain’t the Blues, Leckie airing out her powerful low register with the aching “It ain’t the blues, it’s only YOUUUUUU!” chorus. She closed with a couple of snarkly macabre, carnivalesque piano tunes. And electrifying guest singer Carol Lipnik – whose popular 7 PM Sunday evening residency at Pangea is now in its second year – contributed plaintive takes of two Leckie tunes. The highlight was Bliss, with its poignantly misty portrait of an old couple gone irrepairably off the rails, reinvented as an a-cappella showstopper where which Liphik accompanied herself on spoons. She’d brought them from home, she explained after the show, wanting to make sure that she had cutlery in hand that she could play in the same key as the song’s melody.

Lorraine Leckie and Pavel Cingl Release Their Enigmatic, Witchy New Album at the Mercury on the 29th

Among rock songwriters, few are as capable as Lorraine Leckie in writing across a vast array of different styles. New Yorkers know her best as the leader of a whipcrack-sharp psychedelic Americana rock band that she fondly calls Her Demons. Yet as straightforward as her work with that group is, her other projects can be much harder to pin down. Her latest album, The Raven Smiled – a collaboration with similarly eclectic Czech violin star Pavel Cingl, streaming at Bandcamp – is her most enigmatic, her most beguiling and arguably her best. She and Cingl are joined by those Demons – lead guitarist and recent Blues Hall of Fame inductee Hugh Pool, bassist Charles DeChants and drummer Paul Triff – at the album release show on September 29 at 8 PM at the Mercury. Cover is $10, and you get a free copy of the cd with paid admission.

The influences on this album, through a glass darkly, seem to be PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, although the music here bears more reflection than resemblance to either artist’s work. As you would expect from the instrumentation – Leckie’s Telecaster or piano paired with Cingl’s violin – the sound is a lot closer to the folk noir of Leckie’s spare 2010 album Martini Eyes. However, Cingl’s judicious production frequently adds misty atmospherics and more ornate textures, in the same vein as Leckie’s haunting 2013 album with Anthony Haden-Guest, Rudely Interrupted.

The opening track, The Man That Walks in the Rain sets the stage, cryptic and mysterious, along the same lines as Dylan’s Man in the Long Black Coat. Leckie has made no secret that she is a devotee of the black arts, so it should come as no surprise that Climb Ya Like a Mountain would be a homage to Aleister Crowley (who, as Leckie tells it, was an avid mountain climber – and a surprisngly buffoonish persona for someone enamored with the dark side).

Leckie explores that light/dark dichotomy from the opposite angle with Dangerous Friends, its triumphant continental party narrative set against a hazy backdrop channeled via one of the unorthodox guitar tunings that she employs so often here. By contrast, the baroque-tinged piano ballad Story of Your Life has a lustrous, minimalist sheen, a homage to Prague, a city whose history and beauty clearly resonate strongly with Leckie.

Awake is even more minimalistic, Cingl’s lullaby violin gently building the somnambulistic ambience. By contrast, That Ain’t Nice is a launching pad for Leckie’s dissociative, noisy guitar explorations in tandem with Cingl’s blizzard of glissandos. Witches Heart tersely mashes up early PJ Harvey, witchy mid-70s Marianne Faithfull Britfolk and 80s goth, enhanced by the eerie close harmonies of backup singer Lisa Zwier. “My little doll, you were born under a broken star, I am sorry,” Leckie intones with a cool inscrutability as the album’s most distantly ominous track, Medicine Man, gets underway. The title cut, an enigmatic piano vignette, closes the album on a decidedly unresolved note. As with the rest of the songs here, there’s charm, but also menace, the defining characteristic of this allusively intriguing collection.

Molly Ruth Brings Her Chilling, Twistedly Individualistic Americana to Trash Bar This Saturday

Molly Ruth might be the most genuinely scary presence in the New York music scene right now. When she’s not singing, she seems demure; on the rare occasion she talks to the crowd, she seems friendly. But just wait til the songs kick in. Channeling her bleak, angst-ravaged narratives from a sordid rural America in period-perfect oldtime vernacular via her mighty, wounded wail, she’s impossible to turn away from. Among the current crop of rising New York frontwomen, only the Bright Smoke‘s Mia Wilson and Mesiko‘s Rachael Bell come within miles of Molly Ruth. She’s playing Trash Bar at 8 PM on March 28; cover is $8 and includes open bar on wells and PBRs til 9. You’ll need them.

Her previous show at the Mercury a couple of weeks ago was by far the most haunting performance witnessed by this blog this year (some context: even Carmina Slovenica‘s Toxic Psalms, Carol Lipnik’s unearthly flights and Big Lazy‘s murderous noir film themes had nothing on this). On one hand, Molly Ruth’s music is rooted in the eerie, otherworldly riffs of delta blues and stark fingerpicking of oldtime Appalachian music, with some vintage 50s C&W in there as well. On the other hand, her music is completely in the here and now, especially when she plays electric with her band, a brand-new and fortuitous change of pace. If you thought she was scary solo acoustic, just wait til you see her wailing on her vintage Gibson SG with the dynamic, sometimes explosive rhythm section of bassist Chris Rozik and drummer Alex Ali behind her

The first song of the set was a country waltz, I Fucked Him for Firecrackers, whose narrator’s seemingly carefree delivery foreshadows a twisted punchline. That set the stage for more ominous, somber solo acoustic blues-flavored numbers like I’m Afraid of God, an illustration of how repeated exposure to threats of fire and brimstone affects a child’s mind – it doesn’t exactly inspire faith. She followed with a lively ragtime-fueled stroll titled Hatred Is Holy, then strapped on her Gibson and launched into a stomping take of My Revelation’s Taking a Long Time to Come, with its wry punk mashup of sex and religion.

One swaying, punching tune evoked Humanwine with its brooding stream-of-consciousness flow. Another aphoristic country waltz grimly addressed women struggling beneath male oppression, as did the sardonically savage A Million Fucking Whores. She wound up the set with an open-tuned Piedmont-flavored blues guitar duet, a metaphorically-drenched flood scenario, a return to careening Missisippi hill country-style thrash and then a morose country song titled My Hometown’s Not Where I’m From, channeling sheer terminal depression. Since the band is new, there’s a good chance that you’ll hear most of this stuff at the Trash show.

Headliner Lorraine Leckie had a hard act to follow, but she and her volcanic, psychedelic noir Americana band kept the intensity at redline. Guitarist Hugh Pool might have been nursing a broken leg, but that didn’t stop him from whirling through solar flares of Voodoo Chile Hendrix, long shimmery washes tinged with feedback and searing reverb-iced cascades. Leckie’s jangly Telecaster anchored the songs’ anthemic drive in tandem with nimble, melodic bassist Charles DeChants and drummer Paul Triff. The highlight of their set could have been the gorgeous paisley undergruond anthem Nobody’s Girl, with its unexpectedly crunchy, metal-flavored chorus. Or it could have been the volcanic closer, Ontario, Pool practically falling off his stool as he blasted through a long, raging outro. Molly Ruth gave credit to Leckie, leader of an earlier generation of dark rockers, for putting the night together and giving her a chance to do the one thing in life that she actually enjoys. If we’re lucky, this bill will repeat later this summer somewhere.

And lucky Jersey residents can see Leckie play a rare stripped-down duo show with Pool tomorrow night, March 27 at the Record Collector at 385 Farnsworth Ave. in Bordentown; $12 adv tix are still available as of today.

Southern Gothic Tourmates Play Two Killer Shows on December 19

Folk noir songwriters Lorraine Leckie and Kelley Swindall wound up their third annual Southern Gothic Tour, making their way back from New Orleans to their home turf with a sold-out gig at the Mercury on the thirteenth of the month, an appropriate date for the two haunting, haunted, relentlessly intense bandleaders. The crowd squeezed around the video tripod set up in the middle of the floor: if the crew who were meticulously working it got their levels right, both performers got a great live album out of it. Swindall is playing what’s rumored to be her farewell NYC gig on Dec 19 at 9 at the Bitter End, of all places, for $10; Leckie plays two hours later that same night at 11 at Sidewalk for free, so if you’re adventurous, you can catch what crowds south of the Mason-Dixon line got to enjoy on a doublebill this past fall.

It’s impossible to imagine a better straight-up rock band than Leckie’s group the Demons (Huffington Post has a funny, insightful piece on them here). Lead guitar monster Hugh Pool channeled Hendrix in sideswiping, lighter-fluid-on-the-frets mode over the deep, in-the-pocket groove of bassist Charles DeChants and drummer Paul Triff. Pool unleashed a sunbaked, blistering Stoogoid attack on the album’s title track Rebel Devil Devil Rebel, a surrealistically joyous shout-out to New Orleans. At the end of the show, the band cut loose with a viciously ecstatic version of Ontario, a wickedly catchy Crazy Horse style stomp, Leckie’s explosive yet bittersweet shout-out to her Canadian roots. In between, the band snarled their way through the Warren-Zevon-on-acid glam of Rainbow, the distant menace of Watch Your Step and a lingering version of The Everywhere Man, a serial killer narrative fueled by Pool’s vertigo-inducing, echoing slide work. Out in front of the band, playing Telecaster (and keys on one plaintively brief number), Leckie’s steely vocals were undiminished over the maelstrom.

Swindall cut her teeth playing music with a long-running residency at Stefan Lutak’s legendary East Village dive bar the Holiday Lounge. If you could play there, you could play anywhere, so Swindall took the stage at the Mercury like she owned the place. She’s sort of a musical counterpart to Flannery O’Connor or Carson McCullers, a southern gothic intellectual giving voice to the restless and the outcasts among us, with an indelible wistfulness. This time out, playing acoustic guitar and harmonica and backed by a three-piece band, she opened with a brooding, Waits-ish blues set in a vivid Lower East side milieu. She revisited that hauntingly later in the set with a creepy, noir tableau where “every high becomes its low” and then a cheating song set to an oldtimey shuffle groove.

Bassist Stephanie Allen (also of the Third Wheel Band) propelled a brisk mashup of an oldtime talking blues and a country patter song, followed by a triumphant version of the weed-smuggling anthem California and a little later, Swindall’s own original, full-throttle version of Minglewood Blues. She wound up her set with the kiss-off anthem to end all kiss-off anthems, I Never Loved You Anyway, and then the Murder Song, a vindictive ending for a clueless chick who spends her nights getting trashed at honkytonk karaoke. If New York ends up losing Swindall, it’ll be our loss and someone else’s gain.

A Scorching New Rock Record and an Album Release Show at the Mercury by Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons

Lorraine Leckie is one of New York’s most eclectic and prolific songwriters. Her previous album Rudely Interrupted, a collaboration with legendary/notorious social critic Anthony Haden-Guest, was an elegant blend of chamber pop. The one before that, Martini Eyes, was an acoustic album. In the meantime, Leckie has been dividing her time onstage between the chamber pop and the ferocious electric rock of Her Demons, the name she’s bestowed on her group with lead guitar monster Hugh Pool, bassist Charles Dechants and drummer Paul Triff. And they’ve got a new album – one of the final projects to be recorded at the legendary Excello Recording, at least in the studio’s original Williamsburg space – titled Rebel Devil Devil Rebel. Leckie and the band are playing the album release show on Nov 13, appropriately enough, at 8 PM at the Mercury. Leckie’s longtime tourmate Kelley Swindall, who alternates between oldschool talking blues, murder ballads and pensive acoustic Americana, opens the night with her band at 7; advance tix are $10.

The creepy video for the album’s first single, Watch Your Step (that’s actress Celina Leroy in the role of the doomed girl) is over at No Depression. Leckie digs in with her vocals for a surprising amount of grit behind Pool’s snarling, resonant lines. The title track, a joyous shout-out to New Orleans and its temptations, is even more bristling, Pool channeling Hendrix when he’s not veering between Stones roar and classic Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Likewise, Always Got a Song blends Texas shuffle blues, 60s psych and vintage CBGB-era gutter rock.

Leckie wrote the uneasy Laurel Canyon ripper Paint the Towns Red while marching against the Iraq war during the peak of the past decade’s protests. Come A Dancin’, which shifts between Nashville gothic and psychedelic menace,  has quite the backstory: Leckie had a dream about a film titled Blood and Sand, starring Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth. The following day, she went to the video store and, on a lark, asked the clerk if such a movie existed. Not only did the film actually exist – Leckie, who’d had no idea that there was any such thing, rented it and discovered that it’s about a woman who seduces men with her guitar!

The ominously lingering Beware, with its distant early Alice Cooper vibe, was inspired by friends lost to drug overdoses. Leckie switches from guitar to piano on the lithely dancing, string-infused Blink Blink, which she was inspired to write by her late dog Killjoy: “‘The dog would go sit in the yard for hours and stare like she was saying goodbye to the world,” Leckie explains. And the delicate Fly Away Little Sparrow is a dedication to her late brother, a suicide.

By contrast, Rainbow has a jaunty, glam-infused feel, like Warren Zevon on mushrooms. There’s also a much harder-rocking, eerily psychedelic take of the serial killer tale The Everywhere Man, which originally appeared on the Rudely Interrupted album. It’s another triumph for Leckie and her bleak yet resiliently individualistic vision. The new album’s not out yet but will be at all the usual spots in the next couple of weeks along with the rest of her darkly intense catalog.

Where Did All the Live Coverage Go, or, A La Recherche De Concerts Perdus

New York Music Daily was originally conceived as a live music blog. In the very first month or so here, there was more concert coverage than there’s been in all of 2014 up to now.

What’s up with that? Has New York Music Daily morphed into just another generic “look who’s on tour” blog? Not necessarily.

OK – a cold winter, followed by a temporary lack of general mobility, made it awfully easy to focus on whittling down an enormous stack of albums instead of stumbling through pools of salty sludge night after night. And the abrupt closure of Zirzamin last summer – where this blog ran a music salon for the better part of a year – put an end to one of the few remaining genuine scenes in a town further and further balkanized by the proliferation (some would say overproliferation) of outer-borough neighorhood bars with live music. Zirzamin made a blogger’s job obscenely easy – it was one-stop shopping, sometimes three or four good acts on a given night. Since then, keeping track of the best acts who passed through there has become a lot more time-consuming. In the spirit of keeping a scene alive, this is a long-overdue look at some usual suspects who haven’t let the loss of that venue phase them.

Full disclosure: Lorraine Leckie was a partner in booking the Zirzamin salon. And why not: she has impeccable taste and likes residencies (beats having to pay for rehearsal space, right?). She’s been doing a monthly Friday or Saturday night show going way back to her days in the Banjo Jim’s scene. When Banjo Jim’s closed, she moved to Otto’s, but that place isn’t really set up to handle to loud bands with vocals (and her band the Demons can be LOUD). So Zirzamin, with its pristine sonics, was a logical move. Lately she’s had a monthly Friday night gig at Sidewalk – her next one is June 20 at 11. Sometimes she plays a rock set with the Demons, sometimes she does her quietly menacing chamber pop stuff. Her January show there (yeah, this is going back a ways) was a showcase for her Lou Reed-influenced glamrock and lots of Hendrix-inspired pyrotechnics from lead guitarist Hugh Pool, capped off with a long, volcanic take of one of her signature Canadian gothic anthems, Ontario. The show before that was a solo set where Leckie alternated between Stratocaster and piano, featuring a lot of sardonic, brooding chamber pop songs, many of them from Leckie’s collaboration with Anthony Haden-Guest, Rudely Interrupted.

Baritone crooner/powerpop tunesmith/sharp lyricist Walter Ego is another Zirzamin regular who’s more or less migrated to Sidewalk. Like Leckie, he’s been doing about a show a month there lately – the next one is on June 19 at 9 – as well as playing bass in Mac McCarty‘s gothic Americana band. Walter Ego was most recently witnessed doing double duty, playing both a solo set – including a rare cover, an impassioned version of Peter Gabriel’s Biko, dedicated to the late Nelson Mandela – followed by a careening show with McCarty’s band at the Path Cafe back when there was still snow on the ground. As much fun as that bill was – McCarty’s lickety-split take of Henry, Oh Henry, an absolutely creepy cemetery-folk tune, being just one of many highlights – that venue proved itself completely unsuitable, sonically and spacewise, for full-band rock shows. Walter Ego’s previous solo show at Sidewalk was a lot more sonically accomodating (if you can imagine that), emphasis on similarly creepy material like the subway suicide narrative 12-9, the gorgeous noir cabaret waltz Half Past Late and the even more darkly gorgeous, metaphorically-charged chamber pop song I Am the Glass.

J O’Brien is the latest A-list songwriter to turn up at Sidewalk, coming off a monthly Zirzamin residency. His solo set on twelve-string guitar there last month followed a pretty wild, high-voltage show by wryly howling punkgrass/oldtimey band the Grand. Most of their songs are about drinking. They’ve got fiddle and cajon and resonator guitar and standup bass and a girl on harmony vocals who also plays the saw. They sound like a stripped-down, more punk New Brooklyn take on the Old Crow Medicine Show and they drew a big crowd who loved them. O’Brien fed off that energy, mixing animated acoustic versions of surreal, hyperliterate mod-punk flavored songs from his days with cult favorites the Dog Show, as well as some newer material with a biting political edge. Like Ray Davies, somebody he often resembles, O’Brien remains populist to the core.

Resonator guitarist/bluesmama Mamie Minch most likely never played Zirzamin, probably since she’s such a staple of the Barbes scene. She’s also opened her own guitar repair shop, Brooklyn Lutherie, in the old American Can Company building in Gowanus where Issue Project Room was for several years. They’re New York’s only woman-owned guitar and stringed instrument repair shop – how cool is that? Being an experienced luthier, Minch has a deep address book, and has staged a couple of excellent acoustic shows in the space since she opened. The first featured New Orleans Balkan/Romany band the G String Orchestra doing a hauntingly exhilarating trio show with violin, accordion and bass. No doubt there will be more.