New York Music Daily

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Tag: noir blues

A Sepulchral, Saturnine Album and a Lower East Side Show from Dark Rock Guitarslinger Phil Gammage

Dark rock crooner Phil Gammage got his start as a teenager in the 1980s as the lead guitarist for legendary downtown NYC postpunk band Certain General. It’s probably safe to say that without them, there may have been no Jesus & Mary Chain or Brian Jonestown Massacre. While Certain General have been resurrected in various configurations over the years, Gammage has enjoyed a prolific career as a bandleader, sideman and small label honcho. His latest album Used Man for Sale is streaming at Bandcamp. He’s likely to air some of those songs out with his band on July 6 at around 9 at the Parkside, one of the few Lower East Side venues that hasn’t turned into a fulltime tourist trap.

The album opens with Arms of a Kind Woman, a blend of the purist Chicago blues that Gammage has been mining recently, but with a guarded Nick Cave optimism. Vocally, Gammage draws on both Cave and ’68 comeback-era Elvis, although Gammage could croon like this when Cave was still screaming about big Jesus trashcans. Interestingly, this record is more vocally than guitar-oriented — although the solo that ends it is a real monster.

Lowlit by Johnny Young’s oldschool slip-key honkytonk piano, Maybe Tomorrow is a gothic take on George Jones/Tammy Wynette C&W, Gammage’s brooding baritone in tandem with with Michele Butler’s uneasy harmonies over the slinky rhythm section of bassist Frank DiNunzio III and drummer Kevin Tooley (also of political rocker Mike Rimbaud’s band).

The band keeps the slinky, red-neon noir going through I Beg of You, part doomed fat Elvis, part haunted Otis Rush blues, with a knifes-edge guitar solo from the bandleader. The title track is a bitter oldschool soul ballad with a blue-flame guitar burn:

It’s my world, or what I tried to forget of it
All I am is a used man for sale
I had dreams, threw them all away
Hopes and schemes left for better days…

Ride With Railroad Bill is akin to 60s Johnny Cash fronting the Bad Seeds circa 1995.  Feeling the Hurt has echoes of Roy Orbison in rare optimistic mode: “It took me too long to get this far, and I paid too high of a price,” Gammage observes.

Before I Leave has an ominously vamping latin noir Doors/Frank Flight Band ambience: listen closely for a cool allusion to a classic cut from LA Woman. Fueled by Gammage’s slide work, Tenderloin comes across as a less frantic, more purist take on what Jon Spencer was doing 20 years ago (and sorry to bust anybody’s bubble, but even San Francisco’s Tenderloin district has been been overrun by yuppies).

“The city awaits, it’s your playground,” Gammage intones with crushing sarcasm in Lost in Loserville, a bluesy anti-gentrifier broadside and the album’s funniest track. It winds up with the Doorsy blues Staring Out Our Window. Gammage has been on a lot of good albums over the years, and this might be the best of them all; it’s inspiring to see a guy who’s been around this long at a high point in a four-decade artistic career.

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The Sideshow Tragedy Bring Their Visionary Apocalyptic Blues to the Rockwood

The last time this blog caught up with the Sideshow Tragedy, it was a couple of years ago late on a Friday night in the red neon backroom at Zirzamin, and the Austin noir blues band was killing it. Really killing it. Guitarist Nathan Singleton was airing out his bottomless bag of jagged minor-key licks, drummer Jeremy Harrell had a murderous stomp going and there were some special guests, if memory serves right – it had been a crazy night up to that point. Fast forward to 2015: Zirzamin is sadly gone, but the Austin band has a new album, Capital, streaming at Continental Record Services‘ site, and a similar small-room, Friday night show, in this case at the Rockwood on May 22 at 11 PM. This usually sedate space is in for a serious jolt of adrenaline, tempered slightly by the fact that the new album is somewhat more spare and haunting than the band’s previous, often unhinged gutter blues attack. It’s a concept album, a sinister, brilliantly metaphorical portrait of a nation gone off the rails in an orgy of greed and mass desperation. Fans of Humanwine will love this.

“Summer’s here, and the tramps are on the move, ten to a trailerbed from Chicago to LA…you can taste the decay,” Singleton broods in Number One, a corrosively relevant, cynical portrait of haves versus have-nots over a riff-rock groove that other bands would have turned into metal, but these guys do as a shuffle. Likewise, Blacked Out Windows, with some harmonically offcenter multitracks, could be Sonic Youth, but instead Singleton runs the riff over and over for an ominously hypnotic vibe: “Smoke and mirrors closing in…his carnival calm is easy to believe,” Singleton warns. “The palms of the priest are easy to grease.”

Singleton more or less talks the apocalyptic lyrics to Keys to the Kingdom as Harrell beats a frantic, funereal pulse on his tom-toms. The Winning Side, a similarly frantic, scampering anthem, sounds like Dylan’s It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding at doublespeed: “It’s not the thought that counts,” Singleton muses grimly. The title track works a dusky midtempo slide guitar groove, a caustically aphoristic parable of the 21 st century going back into the dark ages in a hurry. “You listen to the police scanner as your write your report, better fill your quota while you got time…you can’t see the horizon ’cause it don’t matter right now, so rob the beggars blind,” Singleton taunts. It’s arguably the best and most relevant song anybody’s released this year.

Two Guns pairs Harrell’s shuffling, misty cymbals against Singleton’s uneasily precise slide guitar and menacing stream of metaphors: “The rockets’ eternal red glare, the shooting off of lights and flares, it’s getting dark out there.” So when Singleton finally reaches the point where he works a song around a major-key hook – with the only slightly less troubled Animal Song, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Marcellus Hall catalog – there’s a sense of relief, however temporary.

Let the Love Go Down returns to a death-obsessed theme with a series of fire-and-brimstone metaphors over a relentlessly rolling and tumbling drive.The album ends with Plow Song, a spiky resonator guitar-fueled trip through a postapocalyptic landscape where you’re bound to end up with “a gun for all seasons and a bit in your mouth.” Powerful words from a Texas band. Best album of the year? One of the top handful, no question.

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.

Two Cool Singles and a Funny Video

A lot of people send  videos and singles here. Most of those folks aren’t playing New York anytime soon, so those videos and songs sit…and sit…and sit. While it’s not likely that any of that stuff is going to go stale, there comes a point where it’s old news…meanwhile, all those songs are screaming to be heard. Songs are like people, you know?

So over the next few weeks, prepare to be bombarded by a steady stream of them, a few at a time, so as to keep you entertained without being overwhelmed. Here we go!

The Chemistry Set reinvents the Hendrix classic Love or Confusion as an Indian jam (soundcloud)

Mail the Horse’s Yer So Gone is a Rhodes-fueled noir blues song with some killer unhinged Steve Wynn style guitar (also soundcloud).

And here’s a LMFAO moment via youtube: watch the bartender pour the world’s shittiest drink at :39. The crappy autotune pop song isn’t worth hearing, but that scene is priceless.

JD Wilkes Brings One of His Great Bands to the Knitting Factory

Isn’t it cool when a band lives up to the name they have the balls to call themselves? From the early zeros through about the turn of the past decade, high-voltage Nashville gothic band the Legendary Shack Shakers became a cult favorite and a popular draw on the midsize club circuit. Lately frontman JD Wilkes, one of the real mavens of punk blues and Americana, has concentrated on his other, more blues-oriented project the Dirt Daubers. Wilkes’ latest Cheetah Chrome-produced recording, Wild Moon, features that appropriately named band (a dirt dauber is a particularly vicious wasp native to the Bible Belt), but most recently he’s been back with the Legendary Shack Shakers for a couple of tours, with an upcoming show on 9/11 at around 10 at the Knitting Factory. Tix are $14.

The new Dirt Daubers album – which other than a single Youtube clip of the title track, isn’t due out til Sept 24 – opens with a brief, brisk instrumental, Rod Hamdallah’s frenetic guitar intertwining with Wilkes’ Little Walter-style chromatic harp. Wilkes’ wife Jessica sings the swinging, snarling, noir gutter blues Apples & Oranges, with its Iggy Pop references and vernacular lyrics:

You can follow me down, hold my feet to the fire
Turn my pockets inside out
You know I’m in for a penny, down for a pound …
I’m taking my debts to the afterlife

With its screaming, bent-note Hamdallah guitar and twisted fire-and-brimstone imagery, the album’s title track continues in a careening noir blues vein. Drive brings to mind New York gutter blues band Knoxville Girls, but with better production values, another droll Iggy quote and a brief, gritty Wurlitzer solo from the frontman. His wife sings the shuffling No Rest for the Wicked, her seductive lyric contrasting with all the creepy guitar chromatics.

Wilkes’ low, haphazard minor-key piano adds to the doomed ambience on the suicide ballad No More My Love. Angel Crown brings to mind early Jon Spencer in simmering, low-key mode, with a creepy lyric about a dead baby underscored by echoey chromatic harp and Hamdallah’s broodingly rustic series of chords. Let It Fly is much the same but faster, followed by the torchy, lurid Clairy Browne-ish shuffle You Know I Love You, with more of that red-neon piano and smoky baritone sax from Tom Waits sideman Ralph Carney.

The macabre stomp Hidey Hole is the album’s creepiest track – what’s down in that hidey hole, anyway? – an appropriate place for Hamdallah to fire off his most memorable, menacing guitar solo. Throughout the album, there’s more than a hint of hypnotically unwinding Mississippi hill country blues, especially on Don’t Thrill Me No More, which is basically a long, moody one-chord jam.

River Song brings back a punk blues bounce, like a more lo-fi take on what Dylan did on Love & Theft. The album winds up with God Fearing People, which sounds like Smokestack Lightning at triplespeed. Dark, offhandedly savage, lo-fi electric blues doesn’t get any better than this. It wouldn’t be out of the question to hope for some of this stuff at Wilkes’ show at the Knit with his old band.

A Noir Masterpiece from Karla Moheno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haunting, Atmospheric, Blues-Infused Intensity from the Bright Smoke

The Bright Smoke is the more-or-less solo project from Mia Wilson, whose raw, wounded wail and menacing minor-key songwriting made her previous band the French Exit one of New York’s most riveting live acts for a couple of years in the late zeros. Her songwriting on the Bright Smoke’s new album Virginia Et. Al. is more blues-infused, in the same vein as a young PJ Harvey but more atmospheric. Likewise, her vocals here are more low-key and world-weary but no less haunted and intense. The recording quality is lush yet direct: organic instrumentation, darkly enveloping sonics. Along with Wilson’s guitars and vocals, producer Q. Ledbetter adds guitar and bass tracks over lo-fi percussion samples and loops.

Wilson’s stark blues lines resonate with a rustic, haunting quality on the opening track, God Willing. “God willing the creek don’t rise,” becomes a mantra. “My hands are shaking,” Wilson intones as simple, biting guitar layers linger in the background like a coiled snake that’s about to strike.

Sea Level is the rare song that’s Joy Division-influenced without being slavishily imitative. With its ba-BUMP beat and catchy, mournfully bluesy melody, it also brings to mind the Stooges classic I Need Somebody. “Do you know what it’s like to wake up after trying not to wake up again?” Wilson asks. Slow Burn is slightly more upbeat, like the Banana Album-era Velvets taking a stab at a classic country song. The ache in Wilson’s voice is visceral as she waves someone away for good.

Pure Light is the longest, most hypnotic track here, the low resonance of Wilson’s voice contrasting with the guitars’ overtones, gentle but uneasy slides and creepily tinkling piano overhead. “Can you feel the wind come to make you wild again?” Wilson asks on the next track – but the answer isn’t clear, and it’s as if the wind she’s talking about could freeze everything over, again with a minor-key, minimalist Joy Division intensity. The last track, Free, is ostensibly a demo, but Wilson obviously knew she had a gem when she recorded it. It’s a dirge, just simple guitar, vocals and a piano drenched in natural reverb and enough out of tune that it maxes out the horror factor: “What a beautiful means to an otherwise painful end,” Wilson muses, a vivid elegy for someone who chose to kill himself or herself by drowning. You want intense? The Bright Smoke’s next gig is at Lit on Second Ave. at 8 PM on Jan 18.

Eerie Jagged Noir Blues from Austin’s Sideshow Tragedy

Sometimes it boils down to cred. The presence of Dimestore Dance Band’s noir gypsy guitar mastermind Jack Martin on Austin band the Sideshow Tragedy‘s album Persona instantly makes it worth a listen – it’s up at their Bandcamp page. For anybody who likes the idea of the Black Keys but finds them impossibly tame, the Sideshow Tragedy will not disappoint: they are the real deal. They’re upstairs at Bowery Electric, guessing at around 10 PM on May 15 and then at Zirzamin at 10 on May 17. If dark twisted surreal country blues is your thing, this will hook you up for the duration. Frontman/guitarist Nathan Singleton took the entire blues dictionary, distilled it, lined it up down the bar and then did shots of it until he had the whole thing in his system. And then recorded this album, for the most part just with drummer Jeremy Harrell. It’s like the Gun Club, but more raw, or like Dylan at his most haphazard and interesting – and funny. Singleton’s wry sense of humor is a welcome change from all dese wotbo blueschillun who done take da blues so serious, uh huh – there’s none of that blackface BS here.

Another cool thing about this record is that aside from Martin’s jagged guitar on the haunting, Otis Rush-influenced fifth track, The Bet, the rest of the album is all Singleton. He’s a one-man blues army, sometimes wailing with a slide, sometimes fingerpicking, sometimes slashing and roaring as he builds a doomed, menacing ambience. The album’s opening track, AM in Chicago sets the tone, an evil, reverb-drenched roadhouse vamp over tumbling drums: “A structure fire in the tower of song, a prisoner’s wish before he’s gone.” That the Leonard Cohen reference isn’t absurdly out of place speaks for itself.

“If you won’t believe me, I’ll keep telling you lies,” Singleton smirks over tasty layers of steady, shuffling slide guitar on Gasoline, then adds a sly, funky edge that reminds of Jon Spencer on the pulsing Something to Do. If there’s anything here you could call a hit single, it’s the wickedly catchy Satellite, bringing in a rare, upbeat major-key vibe.

Vasseline is a swirling, Steve Wynn style desert rock stomp. The title track, a snide portrait of a status-grubbing groupie type, opens with bit of feedback, early 70s stoner metal throuth the prism of punk, and then goes scampering. The exasperated I’m Gonna Be Your Man has distant echoes of the early Yardbirds and cool reverb on the vocals and the drums. The album winds up with the menacingly swaying Long Way Down, a hypnotic Howlin’ Wolf style groove, resonator guitar carrying the brooding tune over a wash of eerie distortion.