New York Music Daily

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Tag: nashville gothic

Crooked Horse Bring Their Dark Americana to an Unexpected Friday Night Spot

Crooked Horse play disarmingly direct, catchy Nashville gothic and dark Americana. Their debut album is up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. They’re playing this Friday night, Jan 12 at 10:30 PM at Pine Box Rock Shop.

The album’s briskly marching opening track, Maybe, is a kiss-off anthem: it could be an acoustic version of a Walkabouts tune. “Maybe it’s everybody that leaves me with only maybe,” frontwoman Liz Rymes muses in her husky, impassioned voice. Guitarist Neal Johnson fires off a nimble flatpicking solo, then backs away for Bridget Nault’s river of minor-key accordion.

You Have to Know is a little less pissed off – “You’ll be better on your own” is the chorus – set to a catchy acoustic guitar loop over percussionist Aaron Kakos’ loping groove. The band pick up the pace with Omen and its tasty acoustic guitar multitracks: when the “wind blows in like an omen,” it’s obviously not carrying anything good.

Johnson sets a spiky, moody country-blues ambience in The Poet: “You crackle as you speak, the poet of defeat,” Rymes accuses, then the accordion and drums finally kick in. They break out the electric guitars in the snarling shuffle All For You, a brooding escape anthem – the question is who’s getting away, and to what.

The matter-of-factly defiant shuffle We Live Small makes a refreshingly optimistic anthem for the Trump-era depression: “We live small, but we live well,” Rymes asserts. The ominous vocal harmonies in the eerily strolling A Place Like This underscore the gloom, a chronicle of everything that’s out of reach in a dead-end town.

“Take a deep breath in the dark and just trust,” Rymes encourages in the moodily bouncing number after that. With its soaring, ghostly backing vocals, the scampering, bluegrass-tinged Lace Curtains is the catchiest and arguably best track on the album: “I don’t believe,” is the mantra. The album ends with Rotten, a sparse, hypnotic, anguished dirge. Catch this band on the way up before word gets out and you won’t be able to get in to see them.

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An Allusively Haunting New Album and a Low-Key Neighborhood Gig by Dark Songwriter Jaye Bartell

Gothic Americana crooner Jaye Bartell sings in a deadpan but rather guarded baritone. He plays with a ton of reverb on his guitar, whether with a steady clang or more sparsely. His songs don’t typically follow any kind of predictable verse/chorus pattern. On his latest album, In a Time of Trouble, a Wild Exultation – streaming at Bandcamp – he often just vamps along on a couple of major chords, vintage Velvets style. Which has a lulling effect…until he gets to the punchline, or the suspense in his hauntingly imagistic narratives builds to breaking point. Bartell is off on a long European tour next month; fans of dark lyrical rock in his adopted Greenpoint neighborhood can catch him Friday night, Dec 28 at around 9 at Troost.

Throughout Bartell’s work, the devil is in the details. “Think I picked a bad time to have a good time, hanging upside down,” he muses in the album’s opening track. “My confetti is stuck in the garden…the water’s coming higher than the edges.” Definitely not a wild exultation,

“Come walk in the dead grass,” Bartell instructs, “I have come to ruin you; I have come to room with you,” he announces, somewhat hesitatingly, in CawCawCaw. He leaves the monologue without a response: is he that heavily symbolic bird, or talking to the bird, or somebody else? That sensibility is what draws you into his songs. And he keeps you guessing – even as an image jumps out at you, it could be a red herring.

Angel Olsen sings calm harmonies in Give Erin a Compliment (So Kind). Both the vocals and the song’s country stroll bring to mind the late, great Joe Ben Plummer and his band, downtown New York cult favorites Douce Gimlet. The sparse arrangement of Wilderness – just a couple of jangly guitar tracks, lightly brushed drums and simple bass – is much the same. Like everything Bartell does, it works on many levels. Somewhere out there in the woods, “There must be somebody warm enough to mistake for love, somebody cold enough to just take some.”

The album’s most chilling number is Swim Colleen. Shifting back and forth between waltz time, Bartell keeps the suspense going most of the way through. On the surface, it’s a beach tableau, but of course there are unexpected depths:

Scream at the waves
The waves scream back
There’s no ship coming in
There never has been
Swim, Colleen, swim

Army of One is Bartell at his most self-effacingly wry  – does General Superego have it in for loafing Private Ego?  Contrastingly, Mercy seems to be pretty straightforward – it’s akin to Jonathan Richman, or Lee Feldman at his most faux-naive. Bartell builds another brooding waterside scenario in the otherwise gentle Ferry Boat: it’s easy to imagine Nico singing it on Chelsea Girl.  

“I can’t think of anyone else with whom I’d ever go out of doors,” Bartell insists in  Out of Doors – but who wants to date an agoraphobic, right? The methodically swaying, Laurel Canyon psych-tinged Feeling Better Pilgrim is much the same – this guy may be ok, but a lot of people (water imagery alert!) aren’t. The final cut is If I Am Only For Myself Then What Am I, which, with delicate glockenspiel in the background, offers a sliver of hope. E

Earlier in the fall, at Bartell’s most recent gig at Troost – his home base between tours – he sang much more powerfully, even dramatically, than he does in the studio. This acoustic set mixed up some of the more low-key numbers from this album and a couple of sepulchral tales from his fantastic 2016 release, Loyalty. But the high point might have been an absolutely chilling take of the Brecht/Weill classic September Song, reinvented with more than a hint of noir bolero. “That was magic,” one spectator in the crowd murmured afterward. 

The Rural Alberta Advantage Bring Their Catchy Stomp to NYC This Weekend

The Rural Alberta Advantage’s latest album The Wild – streaming at Bandcamp and available on vinyl – is full of stomping, catchy Canadian gothic anthems and some more lighthearted material at the tail end. While frontman/guitarist Nils Edenloff’s tunesmithing here is pretty vigorous and upbeat, a persistent gloom often hangs overhead. This band could be the Sadies’ little brothers, or a deeper Deer Tick. They’re playing tonight, Nov 3 at around 10 at Rough Trade; if you’re going, hopefully you already have your $20 advance tix because it’s five bucks extra at the door. The same applies to the Bowery Ballroom show tomorrow night, Nov 4. Another good if completely different band, the sleek, new wave-flavored Yukon Blonde, open both of these Canuck twinbills at 9 PM.

The album opens with the murder ballad Beacon Hill, a dirty, noisy take on Sadies dark Americana that drummer Paul Banwatt pushes with a parade-ground stomp, as he does in a lot of places here. The uneasy Bad Luck Again sways along over Edenloff’s jangly layers of fingerpicked guitar and builds to a big stadium-rock peak. Then the band takes the intensity to redline with the thundering, frantic Dead/Alive, a sort of mashup of the Walkabouts and American Ambulance with a little Celtic tinge from Robin Hatch’s accordion. Wild Grin, a later track, is the song’s reverse image

Brother has a brooding newgrass atmosphere over a marching beat: imagine if Trampled By Turtles really trampled. Toughen Up has an interesting hand-drum beat and swooshy Twin Peaks organ but also an awful emo-ish lead vocal: it’s places like his where you wish that Edenloff would give up on trying to hit those high notes and just chill.

White Lights comes across as a more earnest take on mid-90s Wilco, while Alright sounds like acoustic Oasis. The steady, determinedly jangly Selfish Dreams could be a Sadies outtake; the album ends with Letting Go, shifting back and forth between a subdued Deer Tick shuffle and hard-hitting stadium exuberance, an unlikely triumphant breakup anthem.

Kacy & Clayton Haunt the Mercury Lounge

Maybe getting robbed lit a fire under Kacy & Clayton. Or else haunting performances which border on the transcendent are just their steez. Last night at Mercury Lounge was like that – hours after guitarist Clayton Linthicum had fifty-four bucks stolen from him, and then some creep swiped his partner Kacy Anderson’s shoes. “That was our toll money,” the Saskatchewan-born singer told the crowd. If it’s any consolation, this band won’t need to worry about toll money if they keep playing shows like this one.

Kacy & Clayton’s signature style takes the darkly rustic sound that was coming out of Laurel Canyon – and many Laurel Canyons of the mind – in the late 60s, and adds both guitar sting and a distant Twin Peaks menace. Anderson’s voice packs a gentle wallop, a honeyed, ambered soprano sparkling with blue notes and a Turboglide vibrato that she slips into to max outo the unease or ambiguity in a phrase. The stylistic resemblance to Jenifer Jackson is striking, not only vocally but in terms of chord changes and choruses. At times, it was as if this was 2002 and it was Jackson and Oren Bloedow up there onstage.

Linthicum is the rare guitarist who sounds like Richard Thompson but doesn’t rip him off wholesale. Linthicum fingerpicked with a sometimes savage agility throughout the set, running his vintage Gibson SG through a tremolo pedal to raise the blue-neon, Lynchian intensity little by little. Sometimes the effect was as if he was playing a twelve-string, which made sense considering how much Thompson was influenced by Roger McGuinn, another guy Linthicum can channel when he feels like it.

Even on the night’s closest thing to a blithe, upbeat number, Linthicum kicked it off with a biting minor-key psych-folk riff. The matter-of-fact, morose waltz they opened left the crowd speechless, Anderson setting the tone for the night with her low-key grace on the mic, her brown eyes fixing a bleak thousand-yard stare in the lights. They’d revisit that ambience later in the set; in between, the group pulsed their way through the night’s most hypnotic number, The Light of Day, then went down into the shadows and the brambles with more ominous, swaying psych-folk balladry before taking a detour toward oldschool C&W.

They also did a couple of covers, adding new levels of unease to Calgary, by the Great Speckled Bird – Ian and Sylvia Tyson’s psych-folk band – and then reaching for comic relief in an otherwise pointless take of one-hit wonders Brewer & Shipley’s One Toke Over the Line.

Linthicum isn’t the only guy in the band who’s serious about getting the most Lynchian textures out of his axe. Anderson’s acoustic resonated with a moody low-midrange jangle, while bassist Shuyler Jansen varied his lows and highs, often way up the fretboard to add to the serpentine clang. Drummer Mike Silverman switched between sticks and mallets for a muted thud to max out the suspense. Kacy & Clayton’s current tour continue; they’re at the Parlor Room, 32 Masonic St. in Northhampton, Massachusetts tonight at 8 for $15.

Dark Americana Bandleader Mark Sinnis Revisits His Old Haunts Upstate

Today’s Halloween episode concerns an eerie coincidence in the career of dark Americana crooner Mark Sinnis. You can watch the video – or get the scoop here if you’re multitasking. See, a few years back, Sinnis was shooting video in an upstate New York cemetery. Needing some headstone imagery, he lay down on a random grave. Later, while editing the footage, he was stunned to discover that Mary Ann Slauson, the woman interred there, died on Sinnis’ birthday…in 1846. Pure chance, a message from the great beyond, or a past-life revelation? To this day, Sinnis isn’t sure – but he got a song out of it.

Now based in North Carolina, he’s regrouping his epic Hudson Valley band 825 for a couple of pre-Halloween weekend shows on Oct 28 at 8 PM and then on Sunday afternoon, Oct 29 at 4 PM at Sue’s Sunset House in Peekskill; cover is $5. If you’re wondering what relevance those shows could have for residents of the five boroughs, the venue couldn’t be easier to get to – it’s about a block north of the Peekskill Metro-North station. Be aware that the last train back to Manhattan  Saturday night leaves at half past eleven, with a transfer at Croton-Harmon. You can also catch a nonstop train back to Grand Central an  hour earlier. 

Sinnis and the band played a weekend stand there this past summer, without any rehearsal…and slayed. These guys know his material inside out. Trumpeters Lee Compton and Brian Aspinwall gave some of the material a mariachi feel, when Aspinwall wasn’t playing pedal steel on the more oldschool C&W numbers, or keys as well on a couple of the more subdued tunes. Drummer Michael Lillard kept a swinging country shuffle or honkytonk sway going; bassist Mike Gross took some serpentine leads as the Saturday night show got crazier.

Multi-instrumentalist Stephen Gara started off both shows on banjo but also played jawbone and finally bagpipe toward the end. Lead guitarist W.D. Fortay – formerly known as Smokey Chipotle – aired out his vast assortment of classic country, rockabilly and retro rock licks, playing a couple of gorgeous hollowbody Guild models through an old Fender tube amp with the reverb way up.

Sinnis saved the weekend’s best song, Tough Love Is All She’s Got – a propulsive, corrosively vindictive minor-key number – for the Sunday show. One of the weekend’s few covers, Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons was also reinvented as a revenge song with an inventive, oldtime chain-gang blues arrangement. Otherwise, Sinnis’ song titles pretty much speak for themselves: The Undertaker in My Rearview Mirror, One Red Rose Among the Dying Leaves, and I’ll Have Another Drink of Whiskey (‘Cause Death Is Not So Faraway), to name just three. It’s hard to remember a crowd having so much fun watching a band sing about imminent doom and unrelenting despair. Although with Sinnis, he’ll always have another song about death, but whiskey is not that faraway.

A word about the venue: it’s something straight out of a David Lynch film, a real oldschool upstate New York roadhouse. Local characters gather to watch football and the later it gets, the stranger the clientele becomes (the football crowd tends to filter out after the game ends). The one concession to the 21st century is the microbrew selection; the kitchen serves burgers, fries and such. Service is laid-back and unpretentious, as you would expect at a place like this. The onion rings are highly recommended: homemade, thick, haphazardly hand-cut and fried to a crispy brown crunch in generous amounts of batter. They go well with Tabasco.

A Brooding New Album and a Brooklyn Show from Dark Country Band the Whiskey Charmers

Ann Arbor dark country band the Whiskey Charmers made a big splash with their 2015 debut album. Their new one, The Valley – streaming at Bandcamp – takes their Lynchian twang and shuffle and raises the energy: this is much more of a blue-flame electric rock record. They’re making a rare New York appearance tonight, August 18 at 8 PM at the Way Station, making the trek out to the fringes of Bed-Stuy worth your while.

Lawrence Daversa’s bone-bleached slide guitar builds lingering menace throughout the album’s opening track, Desert, frontwoman/guitarist Carrie Shepard voicing an understatedly lurid scenario that probably doesn’t end well: it’s up to the listener to solve this mystery.

Brian Ferriby’s boomy drumbeat and Daniel “Ozzie” Andrews’ tersely slinky bass propel the defiant, honkytonk-flavored title track, about banishing an evil spirit who could be either dead or very much alive. The simply titled Melody is a straight-up, morose oldschool C&W shuffle: Shepard turns the art of crafting a tune into a metaphor for a relationship that probably won’t go anywhere.

The band returns to loping desert rock in Meet Me There, Shepard’s understatedly simmering vocals channeling hurt and abandonment: “Don’t you care that I was falling down the stairs?” she wants to know. Then Daversa detours into snarling Nashville noir in Dirty Little Blues: that creepy little ch-cha of a bridge is killer.

The band slow things down with the low-key Americana rock burner Fireproof and then bring back the luridly longing ambience in Full Moon, lit up by Daversa’s slashing, vintage electric Neil Young riffage. And his sinuous, resonant country lines in the bittersweet Songbird might be the the album’s most gorgeous moments, anchored by David Roof’s vividly murky organ.

“Been looking for you lately on my lawn…been looking for you in the back of my car,” Shepard muses in the swaying, melancholy Red Wine. The album’s most epic track is Coal, a majestically gloomy, metaphorically bristling anthem that could be the Dream Syndicate at their countriest, capped off by a searing, careening Daversa solo. The album winds up with Warnings, an Americana-pop song in Halloween disguise. You have been warned: this band is going places. Catch them now before it costs you big bucks at a venue like Bowery Ballroom.

What to Do When a Great New York Band Gets Priced Out of Town

Greetings from North Carolina!

Considering how many thousands of New York artists have been priced out of town by gentrification and the real estate bubble, sometimes you have to leave the state to see them. Case in point: ferocious Americana rock vets Ninth House, who played earlier this evening on the big stage at frontman/bassist Mark Sinnis’ home base, Beale Street Barber Shop in Wilmington, North Carolina. It’s combination retro rock-themed haircut joint, music venue, art gallery and vintage store in what appears to be the happening hood in a college town with a well-preserved historic district.

In their ten years in New York, Ninth House started out as a hard-hitting but elegant art-rock band, then went through a series of guitarists who took their music in more of an epic gothic direction and towards jamband territory. As the years went by, Sinnis brought more of a dark Americana focus to the music, which Doktor John of the Aquarian called “cemetery and western.” The handle stuck, and applies even more to the honktyonk and vintage C&W sounds that Sinnis has pursued under his own name.

Ninth House hadn’t played together in over a year. Drummer Francis Xavier – Sinnis’ brother – lives in upstate New York, and guitarist Keith Otten now calls Florida home. They had one rehearsal for this show, but picked up without missing a beat. Otten is one of the great musical wits in all of rock, bringing an unexpected element to Sinnis’ brooding, death-obsessed songcraft. This time out some of that humor was pretty broad – the lonesome trainwhistles in the Nashville gothic shuffle Cold Night in December, for example – but the rest was more subtle and devious. Was he going to extend that outro until he’d finished channeling Social Distortion? Uh huh.

While the set veered into honkytonk as the evening wore on, the restless energy never wavered. The dusky warmth of Ninth House – the band’s signature song – and Down Beneath were balanced by an explosive take of the big escape anthem Long Stray Whim and an absolutely savage bolero-rock version of Fallible Friend, both older songs. Sinnis didn’t push the angst in his resonant baritone as far as he usually does in a bitterly graceful run through Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me, another tune from the early zeros, but that gave him plenty of headroom for when he finally went up the scale. And Injury Home, a darkly blues-infused minor-key anthem, was just short of unhinged.

The hard honkytonk stuff – Wine and Whiskey and the Devil Makes Three, I’ll Have Another Glass of Whiskey (Because Death Is Not So Far Away), and a cover of Ernest Tubb’s Driving Nails in My Coffin – energized the crowd, as did the surprise cold ending of a scorching electric cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky. They closed with an Elvis medley, Elvis impersonator Alex J. Mitchell taking the stage to lead the band Vegas-style through a medley of Mystery Train, Little Sister and a couple of other 50s hits.

Sinnis’ next solo gig is on June 3 at 8 PM at his home base, Beale Street Barber Shop, 616B Castle St. in Wilmington. His next New York area gigs will be June 24 at 8 PM and then the next day, June 25 at 4 PM with his mighty ten-piece honkytonk band 825 at Sue’s Sunset House, 137 North Water St. in Peekskill, NY. The bar is just steps from the Peekskill Metro North station.

While we’re at it, a shout-out to Funck’s Restaurant in Annville, Pennsylvania for their handmade onion rings, a welcome break from the storm that lasted well into Virginia on the drive down. The spacious, comfortable woodframe joint’s kitchen gives you a decent portion, on the pricy side – eight bucks – fried to a crisp that’s just pliable enough not to be flaky. The balance of onion and breading turned out to be perfect; so was the balance of flavor between crunchy outside and the single tasty, sweet, generously cut ring inside. Even better, the rings came with a slightly astringent, grainy horseradish dip that added an unexpectedly welcome dimension of extra heat. This branch of the business – there are two others – has casual but very prompt service. Their menu also includes giant club sandwiches that could have been both lunch and dinner if a couple of peeps in the posse hadn’t been so hungry.

Joshua James Brings His Gothic Americana to the Mercury Tonight

Joshua James plays a surrealistic 21st century take on Nashville gothic and folk noir. He likes minor keys and ominous nature imagery. The production on his new album, My Spirit Sister – not yet streaming at Bandcamp, but due there at the end of the month and serendipitously available on vinyl – manages to be sleek and digital without dulling the edge of James’ song cycle. There’s an understatedly symphonic sweep to what’s essentially a theme and variations. He’s got a gig tonight with his band at the Mercury at 8. If you didn’t already get your $15 advance ticket, it’ll cost you three bucks more, which is as pricy as that venue gets these days. But James is worth it.

The album’s indelibly catchy opening track is Broken Tongue. It’s like the shadow side of a 60s Simon and Garfunkel folk-rock hit, with shivery digital reverb effects on the many layers of guitars over a steady backbeat anchored by bassist Isaac Russell and drummer Timmy Walsh. In his flinty twang, the Nebraskan songwriter ponders alienation and the struggle to communicate through the debris of a lifetime worth of damage.

As the similarly brooding yet propulsive Coyote Calling moves along, the guitars of James and Evan Coulombe slash and stab through the digital haze: in a subtle way, it’s the album’s funniest song. It segues into Real Love, a creepy hitchhiking narrative which mirrors the opening track. Is the “mighty wind that’s gonna lift you up” a tornado, a fire-and-brimstone religious metaphor, or both?

The crushing, distorted electric guitars return in Golden Bird, a druggy, apocalyptic tale that unwinds amidst the contrast of high lonesome, reverbtoned guitar twang and a crushing, distorted chordal attack. James paints an understatedly cynical portrait of rural white ghetto nickel-and-diming: it’s like Tom Waits backed by Jessie Kilguss’ band.

In a swaying Wallflowers/Deer Tick rock vein, Pretty Feather is the first pop-oriented number here. Backbone Bend, which nicks the chord progression from a familiar Prince hit, strays further beyond Americana than any of the other tracks. Losin’ My Mind is a tasty reverb guitar-fueled update on vintage 60s acoustic Dylan. In Dark Cloud, James weaves a richly detailed story about a young couple hanging on by their fingernails: you can see the end coming a mile away, but it still packs  an impact. The cycle winds up with the Springsteen-folk of Blackbird Sorrow, which is a decent song, although the ending is too pat: dark clouds don’t usually vanish from the sky as fast and inexplicably as they do here. It’ll be interesting to see where James goes after this.

The Cactus Blossoms’ Moody Americana Hits the Spot Gently at Lincoln Center

Last night at the Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center, the Cactus Blossoms built a lowlit, Lynchian ambience, rising out of it occasionally with hints of rockabilly, Tex-Mex and a detour into rambunctious Vegas noir. It was indicative of how much edgier the American Songbook series here is now. Tonight’s show features blue-flame oldschool soul songstress Ruby Amanfu; showtime is 8 PM, and be aware that latecomers aren’t allowed in.

It wouldn’t be overhype to mention brothers Jack Torrey, who played artfully terse leads on a shortscale Guild guitar, and rhythm guitarist sibling Page Burkum in the same sentence as the Everlys or the Louvins. Their blend of voices is every bit as celestial, and often heartbreaking as either of those two iconic Americana acts, and they work it for all it’s worth. Burkum didn’t talk to the audience at all; Torrey didn’t do that much either, and then only with a laconic, aw-shucks Midwestern modesty.

The night’s most stunningly relevant number was the disconsolate border ballad Adios Maria. Awash in longing and doomed acceptance, it spoke for anyone dreading deportation, or, possibly even worse, an early-morning raid to snare a loved one. Introducing a shuffling, vintage C&W flavored take of Chuck Berry’s Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Torrey spoke of being on tour in Europe during the Presidential inauguration back in January and missing Obama’s presence in the Oval Office. “I hope they hear this over at the Trump Tower,” he deadpanned.

Otherwise, this band lets the music speak for itself.If there ever was a retro group for this era, the Cactus Blossoms are it. Even the upbeat Happy Man, with its 50s R&B allusions, positioned its central character in a gloomy context. The most surrealistically dark of all the songs, Burkum’s Powder Blue, used the Twin Peaks theme as a stepping-off point to build a backdrop that was equal parts lovestruck rapture and understated dread. Torrey’s more country-flavored Queen of Them All worked that territory with similar, wounded grace; then the band picked up the pace with a swaying cover of the Kinks’ Who’ll Be the Next In Line, followed by Torrey’s honkytonk-spiced kissoff anthem A Sad Day to Be You.

They went into sardonic, rockabilly-tinged territory for Clown Collector and drew the night’s loudest applause with the surprisingly jaunty Stoplight Kisses. Burkum and Torrey wove their harmonies with the kind of intuitive chemistry that you would expect from family members, while the latter parsed the songs with muted early-rock leads, slinky Nashville licks and hints of electrified bluegrass. And the rhythm section was tremendous. Bassist Andy Carroll swung as judiciously as Torrey did, playing his Guild hollowbody model just a hair behind the beat with a little treble bite in his tone. Drummer Chris Hepola switched judiciously from sticks to brushes, pushing the quieter numbers with a rapt rimshot beat, then breaking out his mallets for the voodoo groove of the obscure Vegas C&W novelty Uncle John’s Bongos. For their first encore, the brothers voiced the high/low contrasts of the Beatles’ This Boy rather than the moodier internal harmonies, something of a departure from what they’d been doing all night. The Cactus Blossoms’ tour continues; their next stop is in their hometown Minneapolis on around 10 PM on April 14 at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Union Theatre.

Dark Crooner Mark Sinnis Releases His Catchiest, Hardest Country Record

There’s not a little irony in that baritone crooner Mark Sinnis’ catchiest and hardest country record comes out of the most difficult and arguably most complicated time in his life as a recording artist. His latest album, One Red Rose Among the Dying Leaves – streaming at Spotify – picks up the doomed tangent he began in 2012 with It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter. At that point, his marriage was on life support this one traces the despair that followed in its wake, yet paradoxically it’s Sinnis’ most hopeful album ever. Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

As you might expect from Sinnis’ most traditional country album, there’s plenty of reverence for and references to to a century of tradition. The Elvis homage In Tupelo opens it; a homage to New York’s one and only country station, 1050 WHN, which aired at that frequency on the AM dial from 1941 to 1987, closes it on a similarly nostalgic note.

In between, there’s On This Thanksgiving Day, a cruel Johnny Cash-flavored anthem chronicling Sinnis’ departure/eviction from his Westchester home (he’s since resettled in North Carolina). There’s the towering, angst-fueled, Orbison-esque bolero that serves as the album’s title traack, inspired by an actual flower Sinnis discovered the day he moved out of his home in the frigid winter of 2014. It graces the album’s back cover.

Why Should I Cry Over You is a brisk, propulsive minor-key honkytonk blues number. There are a couple of older songs dating from Sinnis’ days fronting gothic-tinged art rock band Ninth House, notably the haunting When the Sun Bows to the Moon – “You create your own atmosphere, breathe your own tainted air” – and the creeping, low-key, doomed Jealousy.

There’s surprisingly upbeat, optimistic material here too. Love, Love Love (You’re Such a Four Letter Word) is a funny and wickedly catchy update on Don Gibson-style 1960s country-pop. Five Days, Seven Nights looks back to the roots of alt-country and bands like the Mekons, but with more finesse. Where It All Ends, a 70s style country ballad, serves as the album’s quietly triumphant coda.

Siting at the Heartbreak Saloon wouldn’t be out of place in the classic-era Merle Haggard songbook. And the album’s best song, Tough Love Is All She’s Got, is one of the all-time greatest kiss-off anthems ever written. See, on the surface, this retro chick – as he tells it, Sinnis’ ex – looks like a classic car from 1956 or so. But wait – pop the hood! Fans of classic country from Lefty Frizzell, to Waylon and Willie, to Jack Grace will love this album A period-perfect and smart, tersely recorded performance from multi-instrumentalists Stephen Gara-  who plays everything from banjo to bagpipes – ass well as W. D. Fortay on lead guitar, Ken Lockwood on fiddle, Brian Aspinwall on pedal steel and trumpet, Lee Compton on lead trumpet, Mike Gross on bass and Michael Lillard on drums.