New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: molly ruth

Breanna Barbara Brings Her Haunting, Intense, Enveloping Psychedelic Blues to Berlin

Blues guitarist/songwriter Breanna Barbara’s debut album Mirage Dreams – due out this Friday, and soon to be streaming at Bandcamp – blends the otherwordly, hypnotic tumbles and rolls of Mississippi hill country icons R.L. Burnside and T-Model Ford with the raw desperation of early 90s gutter rock bands like the Chrome Cranks and the lysergic menace of the 13th Floor Elevators. As relentlessly dark as her music is, there’s actually a happy backstory to how the album came to be. It’s a triumph of good ears and a throwback to an earlier era when there was much more of a music industry.

Back in 2014, she recorded a bunch of songs on her phone and slapped them up on Bandcamp. Then she sent those files to Andrija Tokic, who produced both the Alabama Shakes and Hurray for the Riff Raff. Tokic, being a purist, was taken by the raw intensity of Breanna Barbara’s music, and decided to make an oldfashioned, big-room studio album with her. They assembled a crack Nashville band including most of Clear Plastic Masks (Matt Menold on lead guitar and organ, Charles Garmendia on drums, and Eduardo DuQuesne on bass), plus Ben Trimble of Fly Golden Eagle on keys; Jon Etes on upright bass, pedal steel and keys, and David Grant sharing drum duties, The result is one of the most stunningly, darkly individualistic releases of 2016. Breanna Barbara is playing the album release show at around 10 PM on July 22 at Berlin, under 2A.

The album’s careening opening track is Sailin’, Sailin’, its chilling Requiem for a Dream-influenced imagery awash in a sea of guitars and garage-rock organ. And then it’s suddenly over. Who Are You, a defiant individualist’s anthem, is your classic one-chord jam, lit up with DuQuesne’s high-register bass riffs and more of that creepy organ in the background. The Race has an echoey ominousness to match Breanna Barbara’s airy, wary vocals and the lyrics’ grim undercurrent: it reminds of the Bright Smoke in their earliest, bluesiest moments. Menold’s creepy chromatic multitracks complete the picture.

She lets her vocals cut loose on the slowly marauding, dynamically shifting, metaphorically-charged Nothin’ But Your Lovin’, bringing to mind Molly Ruth’s most recent electric work. The band builds a delicious Carnival of Souls ambience with boomy drums, a web of tremolo guitars and phantasmagorical keys in Baby Where You Are. The story draws on a funny incident where Breanna Barbara lent her phone to a stranger who needed to get in touch with his girlfriend – as it turned out, he’d been just been sprung from jail after getting caught jumping a subway turnstile..

The album’s title track is also its most psychedelic, the bandleader’s hypnotically tremolo-picked Telecaster contrasting with her howling vocals. She follows that with the album’s lone cover, reinventing Melanie’s Some Say (I Got Devil) with equal parts gothic menace and punk fury. By contrast, the spare, lingering I’m All Right – the oldest original on the album – brings to mind something from the first Hole album reduced to lowest terms.

The sardonic Jessie Mae Hemphill-influenced Where’s My Baby has an epic, trippy sweep, the whole band – bass, drums, organ and a tsunami of guitars – all on overdrive. The vengefully crescendoing Go Back blends all sorts of cool reverb and icy vintage chorus-box guitar textures. The album’s most harrowing number, Daddy Dear, rises and falls in waves of spare reverb guitar and deep-space elecric piano, tracing the grim trajectory of a deadly drug overdose. The final cut is the stark, death-obsessed Wood Demon. Whether you consider this psychedelia or blues – and it’s both – it’s one of the best albums of the year. And this band is amazing live – their opening set at this past Saturday’s festival at Pier 97 over on the west side raised the bar impossibly high for the rest of the night.

The Best New York Concerts of 2015

On one hand, pulling this page together is always a lot of fun – and there could be a late addition or two, since the year’s not over yet. Of all the year-end lists here, including the Best Songs of 2015 and Best Albums of 2015, this is the most individualistic – everybody’s got their own – and reflective of the various scenes in this blog’s endangered but still vital hometown.

On the other hand, whittling this page down to a manageable number always hurts a little. With apologies to everyone who didn’t make the cut, for reasons of space or otherwise – seriously, nobody’s got the time to sift through the hundred or so concerts that realistically deserve to be on this page – this list feels bare-bones, even with a grand total of 28 shows.

In terms of epic sweep, intensity and gravitas, the year’s best concert was by Iran’s Dastan Ensemble in September at Roulette. This performance marked the New York debut of intense young singer Mahdieh Mohammadkhani, who aired out her powerful voice in a series of original suites on themes of gender equality by members of the ensemble, along with some dusky, austere traditional songs.

Since trying to rank the rest of these shows would be impossible, they’re listed as they happened:

Karla Rose and Mark Sinnis & 825 at the Treehouse at 2A, 2/15/15
The frontwoman of noir rockers Karla Rose & the Thorns in a chillingly intimate duo performance with her Tickled Pinks bandmate Stephanie Layton, followed by the Nashville gothic crooner and his massive oldschool honkytonk band.

Molly Ruth and Lorraine Leckie at the Mercury, 3/12/15
A savage, careening set by the angst-fueled punk-blues siren and her new band, followed by the Canadian gothic songstress and her volcanic group with newly elected Blues Hall of Fame guitarist Hugh Pool.

Lazy Lions and Regular Einstein at Rock Shop, 3/20/15
A feast of lyrical double entendres, edgy new wave and punk-inspired tunesmithing. Jim Allen’s band were playing their first gig since 2008 and picked up like they never stopped; Paula Carino’s recently resurrected original band from the 90s were just as unstoppable.

The Shootout Band and a nameless if good pickup band led by John Sharples at the Mercury, 3/22/15
Cover bands get very little space here for reasons that should be obvious, but the Shootout Band devote themselves to doing a scary-good replication of Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights, Erica Smith shattering in her role as Linda Thompson and Bubble’s Dave Foster doing a spot-on-Richard. Afterward, multi-instrumentalist John Sharples led a similarly talented bunch song by song through Graham Parker’s cult favorite Squeezing Out Sparks album

Ensemble Hilka, Black Sea Hotel and the Ukrainian Village Voices at the Ukrainian Museum, 4/25/15
In their first performance in over three years (see Lazy Lions above), the Ukrainian choral group ran through a rustic, otherworldly performance of ancient songs from the area around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site. Innovative Bulgarian/Balkan trio Black Sea Hotel and then the esteemed East Village community singers were no less otherworldly.

Mamie Minch and Laura Cantrell at Union Hall, 5/5/15
Resonator guitar badass and pan-Americana songstress Minch, and then Cantrell – the reigning queen of retro country sounds – each took their elegant rusticity to new places. Cantrell’s final stand of a monthlong residency here, a mighty electric show, was also awfully good.

Emel Mathlouthi and Niyaz at the World Financial Center, 5/8/15
Menacingly triumphant, politically-fueled Arabic art-rock from Mathlouthi and then mystically hypnotic, propulsive Iranian dancefloor grooves from Niyaz.

Rachelle Garniez and Carol Lipnik at Joe’s Pub, 5/14/15
Noir cabaret, stark Americana, soul/gospel and deviously funny between song repartee from multi-instrumentalist Garniez, followed by the magically surreal art-rock of Lipnik and her spine-tingling four-octave voice in a duo show with pianist Matt Kanelos.

Amy Rigby at Hifi Bar, 5/28/15
The final show of her monthlong residency was a trio set with her husband Wreckless Eric and bassist daughter Hazel, a richly lyrical, puristically tuneful, characteristically hilarious career retrospective

Erica Smith, Mary Spencer Knapp, Pete Cenedella, Monica Passin and the Tickled Pinks at the Treehouse at 2A, 5/31/15
Guitarist and purist tunesmith Passin, a.k.a L’il Mo, put this bill together as one of her frequent “Field of Stars” songwriters-in-the-round nights here. Smith was part of a lot of good shows this year because she’s so in demand; this was a rare chance to hear her dark Americana in a solo acoustic setting, joined by eclectic accordionist Knapp (of Toot Sweet), irrepressible American Ambulance frontman Cenedella, and a surprise appearance by coyly edgy swing harmony trio the Tickled Pinks (Karla Rose, Stephanie Layton and Kate Sland).

Jim Allen, Kendall Meade and Ward White at Hifi Bar, 6/15/15
Songsmith Allen doesn’t get around as much as a lot of the other acts here, but he really makes his gigs count: this was a glimpse of his aphoristic, lyrical Americana side. Meade, frontwoman of the late, great, catchy Mascott, held the crowd rapt with her voice and her hooks, then White went for deep literary menace with a little glamrock edge.

Glass House Ensemble and Muzsikas at NYU’s Skirball Center, 6/17/15
Trumpeter Frank London’s collaboration with an all-star Hungarian group, recreating rare pre-Holocaust Jewish sounds, followed by the more stripped-down, rustic but high-voltage Hungarian folk trio.

The Claudettes and Big Lazy at Barbes, 7/11/15
Fiery, sometimes hilariously theatrical barrelhouse piano soul followed by New York’s most menacing, state-of-the-art noir soundtrack band. Big Lazy have an ongoing monthly Barbes residency; their two sets this past May were particularly scary.

The Bright Smoke at the Mercury, 7/25/15
This was the show where intense frontwoman Mia Wilson’s blues-inspired psychedelic art-rock band made the quantum leap and earned comparisons to Joy Division.

Robin Aigner & Parlour Game at Barbes, 8/8/15
The torchy, wickedly lyrical oldtimey/Americana songstress at the top of her captivating game with a trio including poignant, powerful violinist/pianist Rima Fand.

Ember Schrag, Alec K Redfearn & the Eyesores and Escape by Ostrich at Trans-Pecos, 8/23/15
The fearsomely talented Schrag did double duty at this show, first playing her own murderously lyrical, Shakespeare-influenced art-rock with her own band, then switching from guitar to organ in Redfearn’s equally murderous Balkan psychedelic group. Jangly no wave jamband Escape by Ostrich took the evening into the wee hours.

Sweet Soubrette and Kotorino at Joe’s Pub, 9/2/15
This time it was menacing chanteuse Ellia Bisker who did double duty, first fronting her richly horn-driven noir soul band, then adding her voice to the noir latin art-rock of Kotorino.

The Shannon Baker/Erica Seguine Jazz Orchestra at Shrine, 9/7/15
Lots of good jazz shows this past year, none more unpredictably fascinating and lushly gorgeous than the epic performance by this unique, shapeshifting large ensemble uptown.

Kelley Swindall at LIC Bar, 9/16/15
The noir Americana songwriter and murder ballad purveyor usually leads a band; this solo gig was a rare chance to get up close and personal with her creepily philosophical southern gothic narratives

Charming Disaster at Pete’s Candy Store, 9/30/15
Speaking of twisted narratives, this multi-instrumentalist murder ballad/noir song project by Bisker and Morris (look up three notches) never sounded more menacing – and epically inspired – than they did here.

Jenifer Jackson at a house concert on the Upper West Side, 10/1/15
A long-awaited return home by the now Austin-based Americana/jazz/psychedelic songwriter, in a rare trio show with amazingly virtuosic multi-instrumentalist Kullen Fuchs and violinist Claudia Chopek

Liz Tormes and Linda Draper at the American Folk Art Museum, 10/23/15
A rare solo acoustic dark Americana twinbill by two of the most potently, poignantly lyrical songsmiths in that shadowy demimonde.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices and MacMcCarty & the Kidd Twist Band at Sidewalk, 11/6/15
Murphy has defined New York noir for a long time – and now he’s gone electric, with searing results. McCarty has more of a Celtic folk-rock edge and equally haunting, politically-fueled story-songs.

Karla Rose & the Thorns at the Mercury, 11/17/15
Enigmatic reverb guitar-fueled Twin Peaks torch songs, stampeding southwestern gothic bolero rock, ominously echoey psychedelia, venomous saloon blues and stiletto between-song repartee from another artist who made multiple appearances on this list because everybody wants her to sing with them.

The Sometime Boys at Freddy’s, 11/20/15
One of New York’s most individualistic, catchy, groove-driven bands ran through a sizzling set of haunting, gospel-inflected ballads, jaunty newgrass, acoustic funk and blue-flame guitar psychedelia

Amanda Thorpe, Mary Lee Kortes, Lianne Smith and Debby Schwartz at the Treehouse at 2A, 11/22/15
Impresario Tom Clark remarked that there might never have been so much talent onstage here as there was this particular evening, with noir Britfolk songwriter Thorpe, the soaring and savagely lyrical Kortes, the ever-darker and mesmerizing Smith and the powerful, dreampop/Americana-influenced Schwartz. For that matter, there have been few nights on any stage anywhere in this city with this much lyrical and vocal power, ever.

Like last year, the numbers here suggest many interesting things. Eighteen of these shows were in Manhattan, eight were in Brooklyn and two in Queens, which is open to multiple interpretations. More instructive is the fact that half of the twenty-eight were free shows where the audience passed around a tip bucket rather than paying a cover at the door. Most interestingly, women artists dominated this list, even more so than they did last year: an astonishing 39 of the 53 acts here were either women playing solo or fronting a group. That’s a trend. You’re going to see more of that here on the Best Albums of 2015 and Best Songs of 2015 pages at the end of this month.

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.

The 30 Best NYC Concerts of 2013

Of all the year-end lists here, which also include the year’s best songs and best albums, the best New York concerts list is usually the most fun to pull together. For one, it’s the most individual. The Bushwick indie rock clique may go to all the same shows together because they’re terrified of giving anyone the impression that they can think for themselves, but among the 99%, everybody has their own unique bunch of favorites from the past year.

This is also the easiest list to assemble. Every year, there are thousands of songs and hundreds of albums to sift through; the number of shows is thankfully a lot more manageable.

But this year, tragedy struck. The night of January 19, arguably the best New York rock show of 2013 featured a headline act whose core members would be murdered only a few months later. Lush art-rock/dance-rock band the Yellow Dogs topped the bill at the now-shuttered Public Assembly as part of a phenomenal lineup which began with female-fronted dreampop band Butter the Children, then reggae/soul band Osekre & the Lucky Bastards and the Brooklyn What playing a scorching, intense album release show for their latest one, Hot Wine. The Brooklyn What would go on to share another bill with the Iranian expats before a disgruntled ex-bandmate ambushed the group in their sleep in south Williamsburg in mid-November.

Otherwise, the game plan for this page was to list twenty shows. In the process of whittling the number down, it became obvious that there was no way to fairly choose any less than thirty. This city may be mired in a crushing economic depression, but somehow New York musicians rose above it and made 2013 a year to remember. The 29 other best shows of the year, from this perspective anyway, in chronological order:

Changing Modes at Spike Hill, 1/19/13. It was cool to be able to sneak away from the Brooklyn What/Yellow Dogs extravaganza around the corner to see this slashingly lyrical, female-fronted, keyboard-driven art-rock/new wave rock crew. They were missing one of their three singers, but the music was still killer.

Molly Ruth at Zirzamin, 1/27/13. From November of 2012 through this past July, when the club closed suddenly, this blog booked a lot of shows at the basement space on Houston Street. Given a supportive venue and unlimited access to New York’s best talent, what an amazing time that was! Molly Ruth’s fearless charisma and wickedly acerbic, assaultive punk-blues songs made for one of the best nights there.

Richard Thompson at Joe’s Pub, 2/5/13. Absolutely no plans to see this, tickets being as ridiculously overpriced as they were. Publicist sends an eleventh-hour email: wanna go? Sure! The veteran rocker who might be the greatest guitarist of all time – and maybe the greatest rock songwriter of all time – was at the top of his game, leading a power trio.

Jerome O’Brien and Beninghove’s Hangmen at Zirzamin, 2/18/13. This wasn’t one of the nights booked by this blog, but it could have been: the former frontman of literate punk/R&B rockers the Dog Show airing out old classics and deviously witty new material, solo acoustic on 12-string guitar, followed by saxophonist/composer Bryan Beninghove’s careening, menacing, psychedelic noir surf/crime jazz band.

The Polyse Project and Shofar at the Lincoln Center Atrium, 2/21/13. The two Polish groups made their US debut playing obscure, haunting folk tunes from the pre-Holocaust Polish-Jewish badlands along with equally haunting, lingering jazz reinventions of some of those themes.

Trio Tritticali at Zirzamin, 2/24/13. Of all the shows booked by this blog at this venue, this was the most fun. Not only did the eclectic string trio play a sizzling mix of original indie classical, tango and Middle Eastern material, they also served as house band. Lorraine Leckie, Walter Ego and a bunch of other A-list songwriters got the benefit of a brilliant string section behind them.

Black Sea Hotel and Lorraine Leckie at Zirzamin, 3/3/13. The three women of the otherworldly Balkan a-cappella group and the Canadian gothic songstress might not seem like the ideal segue, but they built a dark ambience that Leckie and her band set ablaze.

Daphne Lee Martin at the Way Station, 3/6/13. The torchy, deviously literate songwriter and her killer band aired out songs from Martin’s excellent new album, refusing to let a horrible sound mix and a loud bar crowd that wouldn’t listen distract them from their sultry, sometimes luridly swinging intensity.

Tift Merritt and Simone Dinnerstein at Merkin Concert Hall, 3/21/13. The Americana chanteuse and classical pianist began their duo show with the lights off and kept them low throughout a deliciously nocturnal mix of chamber pop and art-rock.

Drina Seay at Zirzamin, 3/24/13. One of the great voices in Americana brought her sophisticated countrypolitan band for a mix of noir blues, honkytonk and more rocking songs.

Serena Jost at Joe’s Pub, 4/9/13. The cellist and art-rock songwriter brought her brilliant band and burned through songs from her equally brilliant new album A Bird Will Sing.

Brazda and Big Lazy at Barbes, 4/12/13. Eclectic singer Shelley Thomas’ edgy Balkan group followed by the first live show in six years by NYC’s most thrilling noir instrumental band.

The Sweet Bitters at Zirzamin, 4/21/13. A rare, impromptu NYC show by A-list tunesmith Sharon Goldman and Nina Schmir’s folk-pop duo plus cellist Martha Colby, mixing otherworldly harmonies, edgy lyrics and a triumphant good-to-be-back vibe.

Eva Salina at the American Folk Art Museum, 5/3/13. One of the most intense, original voices in Balkan music, in a riveting, rare solo show: just vocals and accordion.

Bryan & the Aardvarks at Subculture, 5/14/13. The glimmering, nocturnal, vibraphone-driven Americana jazz sextet put on one of the most lushly evocative, richly noir shows of the year.

Emel Mathlouthi at the Alliance Française, 5/22/13. Even without her full band – who were absent due to visa issues – the Tunisian Siouxsie Sioux played a subtle yet ferociously intense mix of Middle Eastern art-rock and Arabic liberation anthems.

A Conspiracy of Beards at Drom, 5/24/13. The mighty all-male San Francisco choir sang their own imaginative large-scale arrangements of Leonard Cohen classics that were haunting and intense but  just as often playful and funny.

Eilen Jewell at City Winery, 7/9/13. The Queen of the Minor Key with her amazing band featuring lead guitarist Jerry Miller, one of the most sizzling players in Americana.

The Go-Go’s at Coney Island, 8/1/13. Who would have thought that the original, breakthrough all-female new wave band would still be together (with a new bassist) thirty-three years after they started…and that they’d sound more rambunctious than ever?

El Gusto at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 8/3/13. While we’re on the topic of old bands, this bunch of virtuoso Algerian chaabi musicians were making their US debut fifty-three years after they’d broken up, in 1960. And they picked up right where they left off.

The Larch at Bowery Electric, 8/8/13. Playing mostly new, unrecorded material, Brooklyn’s finest psychedelic new wave outfit were at the top of their sardonically lyrical, guitar-fueled game.

Rosin Coven and Amanda Palmer at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 8/9/13. AFP was as fearless and charismatic and fun to watch as you could possibly want, but the story here was the opening act, whose wild, canivalesque art-rock upstaged the headliners.

Kotorino at Joe’s Pub, 8/29/13. Speaking of carnivalesque, this Brooklyn circus-rock outfit keeps getting larger and more menacing, this time out playing the album release show for their excellent second album Better Than This.

Till By Turning playing bassoonist Katherine Young’s Four-Chambered Heart at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Brooklyn, 9/6/13. This isn’t a classical music blog, but Young – who has made a name for herself in jazz improvisation as well as chamber music – established herself as one of the most individualistic and powerful composers in town with this chilling suite, inspired by Olivier Messiaen’s prison camp epic, Quartet for the End of Time.

Matthew Grimm at Rodeo Bar, 9/13/13. The former and occasionally current Hangdogs frontman – who’s sort of the Stephen Colbert of heartland rock – played a mix of wryly hilarious and white-knuckle intense Americana rock and powerpop numbers from his latest album Songs in the Key of Your Face.

Salaam at Alwan for the Arts, 10/26/13. Multi-instrumentalist Dena El Saffar’s eclectic Middle Eastern band burned through a mix of originals and classics from Iran, with special guests from her brother Amir’s equally intense jazz quintet.

Carol Lipnik, Villa Delirium, Big Lazy and Mamie Minch at Barbes, 10/31/13. The queen of Coney Island phantasmagoria with her noir chamber pop band, followed by John Kruth’s gleefully twisted circus rock outfit, NYC’s creepiest crime jazz/noir instrumental band (yeah, they made this list twice – they’re that good) with all-purpose retro Americana siren Minch taking a characteristically lurid turn in front of the mic.

Kayhan Kalhor and Ali Bahrami Fard at the Asia Society, 11/16/13. The Iranian fiddle player and composer joined with the santoor virtuoso for a glimmering, wrenchingly intense suite inspired by the harrowing experiences of their fellow citizens during the Khomeini years.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices at the Parkside, 11/23/13. This list ends on a high note with this city’s most politically aware, charismatic noir rocker and his scorching, blues-infused band, careening through a mix of old classics and newly reworked material.

Molly Ruth: A Force of Nature at Sunday Salon 12

Molly Ruth sings with a wounded, raw but crystalline wail that will peel your skin. Sunday night at Zirzamin after the salon that this blog puts on every week, the charismatic songwriter left the crowd stunned and silent with her assaultive and wickedly catchy blend of oldtime acoustic blues, country and punk rock. Easy as it is to mix sex and religion for shock value, Molly Ruth does it as entertainingly as Tammy Faye Starlite. But Molly Ruth looks way back to guys like Blind Blake and before, sometimes mixing her metaphors, sometimes letting loose with a murderous exasperation. She barely said a word between songs, but she didn’t need to: her songs speak for themselves. Playing solo, she nonchalantly shifted between subtly fingerpicked blues, nimble ragtime, and a little straight-up country. The opening number, My Revelation’s Taking a Long Time to Come set the tone immediately. As funny as it was – “It may be little and weak, or it may break me into a million pieces,” she deadpanned – the not-so-hidden subtext that mingled with the mix of gospel and juicy innuendo was raw rage, the personal as political. Like a young Bob Dylan, she blends oldtime blues vernacular with a stream-of-consciousness surrealism. But she doesn’t rip off Dylan, lyrically or vocally, and she varied her vocals depending on the content of the song. She took that idea to its logical extreme on the night’s funniest number, where she played two characters, one more and more desperate for some kind of validation, the other sadistically playing oblivious and numb.

Maybe unintentionally, a bit of a Lucinda Williams vibe crept into the fullblown jealous insanity of the long, crescendoing punk-blues anthem A Million Fucking Whores (click the link above for a killer video from the Mercury Lounge last year). Ironically, the song that Molly Ruth belted the most intensely was a seemingly sincere, righteous (yeah, right) cover of Stand By Your Man. A casually biting fingerstyle blues sent her off searching for an alter ego who might have dropped everything and gone off to Africa “to escape expensive rent.” Loaded imagery – desolate extraterrestrial vistas, people cowering from some unnamed calamity or evil force, blood and guts and fire and brimstone – ran amok, but the plaintive, piercing way she delivered those scenes, they didn’t come across as over-the top. But they did pack a wallop. The narrator in the last song didn’t want to be cremated: she pleaded to be dismembered instead. And God, whatever he or it may be, was to be feared 24/7 –  for all the right reasons. Molly Ruth has been writing up a storm lately but hasn’t played a lot of shows (maybe that explains why) – she’ll be at Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club sometime in April.

Every Sunday at 5 PM, New York Music Daily presents the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin, where some of New York’s edgiest songwriters and musicians trade songs and cross-pollinate in the old Zinc Bar space at Houston and LaGuardia. There’s never a cover charge; the club has cheap beer, good Tex-Mex food, and the public is welcome to attend. Participation is by invitation only: you never know who might show up. The featured set at 7 PM this Sunday, Feb 3 is by brilliant guitarist and wry, purist Americana songwriter Homeboy Steve Antonakos.

Sunday Salon #2 – Gaining Traction

Every Sunday starting at 5 PM, New York Music Daily presents the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin, in the old Zinc Bar space on Houston St. just west of LaGuardia Place. Last Sunday’s was Salon #2. Conceived as a place for elite songwriters to work up new material in a supportive milieu with the possibility of spontaneous interaction with their fellow A-listers, this one was more about individual contributions. The one unexpected turn came when Rick Snyder asked the sound guy to join him on bass for a trio of catchy, John Prine-ish Americana rock tunes and the sound guy obliged.

There were other highlights. LJ Murphy, who’s playing here on Dec 9, burned through a handful of relatively new versions including the lusciously new wave flavored Imperfect Strangers and a snarling Wall Street afterwork scenario, Happy Hour. Salon co-founder Lorraine Leckie, who played a soaring, rivetingly psychedelic set of chamber pop collaborations with Anthony Haden-Guest the following night at the Mercury, warmed up her pipes with a handful of creepy, sarcastic numbers. But the star of the evening, by pretty much everybody’s reckoning, was Molly Ruth. She too would go on to play an assaultively intense set at the Mercury the following night; this time out, she treated the crowd to a pretty hilarious look at a one-sided relationship, playing both voices in the conversation; a little later on, she did an absolutely morbid Robert Johnson-style blues set in the Rockies. She could have told the crowd that it was an obscure blues classic and nobody would have guessed it was an original.

Love Camp 7 followed with a set of their own. Seemingly finished in 2010 after the sudden death of their brilliant drummer and harmony singer Dave Campbell, the three surviving members have recently regrouped and have been playing a handful of semi-acoustic shows. This one was a mix of new tunes as well as a bunch from their absolutely brilliant 2012 album, Love Camp VII, part tongue-in-cheek Beatles homage and part cynical look at the 60s. Hearing these wickedly catchy, wickedly lyrical songs stripped down to just a three-piece was a revelation.

The Beatles stuff blended bittersweetness and a cruel sarcasm that was often just as unsparingly funny as the Rutles, bandleader Dann Baker’s acoustic guitar mingling with Steve Antonakos’ stingingly precise, staccato electric, Bruce Hathaway taking a handful of lead vocals when he wasn’t adding harmonies. They followed the wry Rubbber Soul with the bouncy Beatles 65 and its recurrent Hollies reference, its baroque guitar duet of sorts in the middle a possible parody of the Fab Four’s neoclassical adventures…or just an attempt to outdo them at chamber pop. Either way, it worked.

They did a request for an older song, The World Is Full of Dianas, its snarky lyric and catchy jangle juxtaposed with jazzy, Brazilian tinged sophistication, and tongue-in-cheek Society’s Child quote. Three of the set’s best songs were new ones: One Turquoise Afternoon, blending catchy vintage-60s psych-folk with teens bite, and an absolutely gorgeous number that built from a steadily pulsing, apprehensive, chromatically-fueled verse to a jazzy pensiveness. Horseshoe Canyon Road looked at a fast-disappearing childhood through the envious eyes of child star Mickey Dolenz, who never got to hang out and ride bikes with the rest of the neighborhood kids since he was always getting ready to go onstage or get off it.

They parodied early metal bands like the Pretty Things with Beatles 6, a corrosively riff-driven look at the record industry and made fun of themselves and fellow music snobs with Other Music, a backhanded tribute to the Astor Place record store and its ineffably hip clientele. Abbey Road turned the Youngbloods Get Together into an alienation anthem, while Help put the failings of everybody in the Beatles under the microscope – except for Ringo, since there’s no need for a microscope with him. They took unexpected detours into hardcore, surf music, faux-Indian raga rock and finally wound up on the catchy janglerock note where they started. They might be back here – watch this space.

The Sunday Salon at Zirzamin is free of charge and the public is always welcome to come and watch.