New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: motels band

A Soaringly Original, Artsy Debut Album and a Rockwood Show by Individualistic Singer Jennifer Hall

Chicago singer/bandleader Jennifer Hall‘s absolutely brilliant ep is streaming at Spotify. Part art-rock, part oldschool soul, it’s like nothing that’s been released in recent months. Here and there, Abby Travis comes to mind, but Hall is more influenced by vintage soul music, and where Travis gets balmy and Lynchian, Hall goes for gale-force impact. She’s at the big room at the Rockwood tonight, July 30 at 7 PM.

The ep opens with the dynamically rich Would You Walk Away, veering between airy minimalism and a soaring soul ballad as Jeff Lynne might have orchestrated it, with elegant instrumentation from Noam Wallenberg on guitars, Ben Joseph on keys and bass and Mat Roberts on drums. When Hall wails “I will be fading below the lamplight,” it’ll give you chills. The glimmering, propulsive ELO anthemics continue on the gorgeously arranged Beverly Road – as Hall explains, it’s a locale of the mind rather than either the one in Brooklyn (with the extra E) or the one in her hometown.

Time of Death opens as an enigmatic, psychedelically-tinged trip-hop tune and turns into a launching pad for some of Hall’s most intense, emphatic vocal pyrotechnics here. When I Went Falling has the synth (or is that a guitar effect?) doing a pizzicato string arrangement, working a spiky/lush dichotomy as Hall’s voice dances overhead. Make It Out Alive has a dramatic post-new wave pulse in the same vein as the Motels: the title is the mantra. The final track is Waking Hour, a surreallistically crescendoing breakup tableau that sounds the alarm about “Buckets full of fickle warning, of fallen victims of that fire.” What a great discovery, and what a breath of fresh air Hall is. There are a gazillion women out there singing music influenced by oldschool soul sounds, some of them very good, but no one more original than Hall. Let’s hope she comes to town more often.

Bebe Buell – Better Than Ever At the Hiro Ballroom

At this point Bebe Buell can rest on her laurels if she wants to. The legendary rock scenestress has written the well-received memoir Rebel Heart; raised a popular daughter (Liv Tyler); and in the 80s and early 90s, she led a couple of first-class bands who were sort of thinking person’s alternatives to Blondie. So it was something of a surprise, and a heartwarming one, to see Buell pack the Hiro Ballroom last night, fronting a tight new group and airing out a bunch of first-rate powerpop songs from her new album Hard Love. Some of those tunes evoked 80s new wave/popsters the Motels – especially since Buell is working her lower register with more authority than she used to – and some of them leaned back toward glamrock. But the best ones – in fact, almost everything she played – had a distinctly defiant, oldschool New York edge.

If you look at the video from thirty years ago, it’s obvious that Buell wasn’t out of her element with the guys she palled around with (Elvis Costello and the Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler, to name a couple). She really knew what she was doing in front of the mic, and she still does – this could be her finest hour. Backed by two guitars, inobtrusive synthesizer, drums and Joan Jett’s former bassist, Buell didn’t have anything on a laptop and she didn’t rely on her excellent backup singer to carry the tunes – although she did appreciate the harmonies. “She’s got my back,” Buell explained with an appreciative wink. The show kicked off on an impressively ominous note with the crunchy powerpop Sugar Sugar (no relation to the 60s pop ditty), with a gypsy punk edge that sounded like Vera Beren in a slightly less menacing mood. They got even crunchier after that with a glam/80s tune possibly titled Stop Look Listen. Several of the songs revisited a dark new wave vibe that evoked DollHouse, another New York band who should be better remembered than they are. “Turn out all the lights, she said,” Buell intoned on a particularly ominous, seductive one of those songs a little later in the set.

Normal Girl sounded like the Ramones doing the Runaways, toying with gender roles – Buell’s normal girls raise hell, mess with guys and don’t kiss ass. The Joey Ramone requiem Fly Black Angel got an epic glam-noir treatment, with a long, surprisingly ethereal outro: “Across this city headlights shine for you,” Buell sang over the brooding, watery swoosh and clang. You Got It All Wrong swung with a raging Dead Boys midtempo stomp welded to creepy, swooping upper-register synth; her cover of the Gang of Four’s I Love a Man in a Uniform ripped the sarcasm of the lyric from the margins and stuck it on the front page. The closing track on the new album, a big, crashing anthem called I Will Wait had a chilly unease that they sent flying with a cover of her old boyfriend Mick Jagger’s God Gave Me Everything. Throughout the show, Buell enticed the surprisingly young crowd to come toward the stage: “I want you to be close to me,” she assured them. And she made good on that promise. After the set was over, she went straight to the merch table to hang out with everyone, exactly what you’d want from someone who’d just done a song called the Mother of Rock n Roll.