New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: pete kennedy guitar

Pete Kennedy Releases a Great, Genuine New York Rock Record

Pete Kennedy is best known as half of celebrated art-folk duo the Kennedys, and one of the world’s great guitarists. Much as he has Richard Thompson-class chops and taste, Kennedy is also a first-rate songwriter. His latest album, Heart of Gotham, is streaming at Spotify. Together with his wife Maura, the Kennedys are playing the album release show tonight at around 9 at Bowery Electric on a killer triplebill with cult favorite Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner opening the night at 7, then another brilliant husband-wife duo, Tracy Island playing the album release show for their new one War No More (see yesterday’s writeup). Cover is a ridiculously cheap $9.

Two things distinguish this album. First, it’s a true solo effort: Pete Kennedy plays all the instruments, drums included. Secondly, it’s a song cycle, sort of the rock equivalent of Russell Shorto‘s classic New York history, Island at the Center of the World. Much as the idea of celebrating the many ethnicities who’ve made this city such a gorgeous melting pot might seem daunting – and potentially mawkish, and painfully P.C. – Kennedy pulls it off. Lyrically, the album is rich with historical references: people, places and drama from across the centuries. Musically, the obvious influence is an iconic New Yorker, Lou Reed, although the songs also ring with the celtic-tinged flair of the king of the downtown New York anthem, Willie Nile. The album begins and ends in Union Square, “a soapbox where streets tell their story,” as Kennedy puts it.

Tue to its title, The Bells Rang is a feast of jangly rock textures, a shout-out to resilience and triumph in hardscrabble Harlem. Williamsburg Bridge, counterintuitively and aptly salutes the Hispanic and Jewish communities that still cling to their turf on the south side of the neighborhood even as it’s overrun with yuppies, overpriced prefab condos and curated locavore tweetopia boites. And while the title of Never Stopped Believin’ might leave you with an “ew, Journey!” grimace, the optimism of its road-warrior narrative channels both Willie Nile and Woody Guthrie.

Likewise, with its web of mandolins and almost bagpipe-like waves of guitar, Unbreakable triumphantly reflects on the generations of Irish artisans who built so much of this city. Rise Above leaves the New York milieu behind for more pensive, personal ground, then People Like Me brings that idea around, a powerful reminder of how artistic communities aren’t just essential to a great city: that’s where people find their soulmates.

Harken, with its luscious layers of twelve-string guitar, is part Byrds, part Buddy Holly. The bittersweetly shuffling Asphodel references the latter of those artists as well as the mythological Greek purgatory. Riot in Bushwick refers not to police brutality but to a raid on a rockabilly shindig; it’s a launching pad for Kennedy’s bottomless bag of vintage 50s riffs.

New York reaches for art-rock majesty in the same vein as the Church, Kennedy’s guitar atmospherics evoking Peter Koppes at his stratospheric best. The album hits a peak with its most majestic anthem, Gotham Serenade – it’s not the only place where Kennedy quotes from Richard Thompson’s Wall of Death.

If all this seems like it romanticizes this city, consider that the songs on the album date from the previous decade and possibly before: the current era’s never-ending brain drain, and the devastation of all sorts of communities in a blitzkrieg of gentrification, aren’t addressed here. So consider this a fond look back at a past that’s just a few years behind us, even if it seems like a millenium away…and also a measure of hope for better days ahead after the real estate bubble bursts.

A Brilliant, New Wave-Tinged Debut Album and a Bowery Electric Release Show by Tracy Island

Let’s get any possible preconceptions out of the way, fast: Tracy Island are not a couplecore band. Multi-instrumentalists Liza Roure and her husband Ian Roure have played together for years, in the brilliantly lyrical Larch – which Ian fronts – and also in the late, great psychedelic new wave band Liza & the WonderWheels, in which Liza switched out her keys for a Strat. In the wake of the demise of the latter group, she’s been fronting a duo project, Tracy Island, with Ian on lead guitar. Now, at last, Tracy Island have a characteristically catchy, brand-new debut album, War No More, streaming online and an album release show coming up on November 3 at 8 PM at Bowery Electric. It’s a hell of a triplebill, with cult favorite Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner opening the night at 7 and then art-folk icons the Kennedys headlining at around 9, celebrating the release of guitar genius Pete Kennedy’s new album Heart of Gotham as well. Cover is a ridiculously reasonable $9.

Although Tracy Island is a duo project, this is a full-band album. Ian handles the bass and Liza the drums, for a tersely tight groove; in the spirit of the WonderWheels, this is otherwise strictly a guitar album, no keys. The two open with a WonderWheels song, What You Want, a perfect marriage between cheery 60s Carnaby Street riffage and vamping, watery, chorus-box new wave. Likewise, the metaphorically-loaded Playing Checkers, Ian’s icy strobe guitar rising over its balletesque rhythms up to its vintage soul-infused chorus. Then the two go back to the skinny-tie era with the seductively propulsive Midnight Lightning.

Low Strung reaches back toward 70s folk-rock, but with a Beatlesque stroll. Can Better Days Be Far Behind is a real stunner, especially by comparison to the cheery material that precedes it, rising from a brooding, wary stroll to Ian’s blacklit, reverbtoned Roye Albrighton art-rock incisions. The album’s most gorgeous and troubled number is Cold Wind, the duo’s aching vocal harmonies over Ian’s ominously chugging bassline and supercooled rivulets of vintage chorus-box guitar. The enigmatic instrumental break midway through offers a fond nod back to the surprisingly focused jamming that the WonderWheels would often break out.

The moody ambience continues with the plaintive Land of Opportunity, part early 70s pastoral Pink Floyd, part Richard & Linda Thompson, part new wave: “This is not the first time life has let me down,” Liza broods. From there the two take an unexpectedly successful detour into simmeringly wounded Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris Americana with I Spy. The album comes full circle, back to catchy new wave with Message in My Head and its wry shout-outs to a classic by X and also a 70s pop cheeseball by somebody else. Ian’s meticulously timbred blend of flash and focus have never been in better form, and the same can be said for Liza’s early-spring brook of a voice, so clear that you can see yourself all the way to its depths. You’ll see this albun on the best of 2015 page here at the end of next month.

And for a fun look back at how crazy the WonderWheels could get, click the listen button here and scroll down to the “Hall of Eds,” three pretty wild live versions of the concert favorite Eddie Come Down from over the years.

Tara O’Grady Salutes the Irish Influence in New Orleans Jazz

A lot of people don’t realize how much of an Irish influence there is in New Orleans jazz. But the Crescent City was a major port of call and received plenty of immigrants during the Potato Famine years and subsequently. So it’s hardly a surprise that the rich musical tradition they brought with them would become part of the city’s multicultural fabric. Torchy chanteuse Tara O’Grady pays tribute to that cross-pollination on her fourth album, Irish Bayou. She’s playing the album release show Thursday, March 26 at 7 PM at the Metropolitan Room, 34 W 22nd St. Cover is $20 – if you really want to go whole-hog, it’s $85 for the show plus open bar. Hmmm….

Although the album hasn’t hit the web yet, there are a couple of tracks up at O’Grady’s youtube channel. The opening tune, I Love You with All My Blood is an oldschool soul strut played as ukulele swing. And A Rude Awakening is a tartly slow-burning blues shout-out to early feminist Irish-American novelist Kate Chopin, lit up with some understately slashing Michael Howell guitar.

What’s the rest sound like? Lots of shuffles. As the Rain Fell Upon Bourbon Street is a bittersweet, ragtime-inflected number, pianist Sasha Papernik pairing against Justin Poindexter’s Hawaiian-infused slide guitar resonance. Carry Me Home is a deliciously vicious, accordion-fueled second-line shuffle that builds to a fullscale blaze. Dry Dem Bones, a deep-fried Little Feat-style remake of the old gospel tune, sways along on the groove from drummer Ryan Vaughn and bassist David Shaich. Ghosts of New Orleans follows a similar theme as the band swings it hard.

“You’re the olives in my muffulata from Central Grocery,” O’Grady croons in Heaping Helping of My Love, which builds to a jaunty dixieland dancefloor bounce. “We can order in some beignets and eat them in bed!” she entreats. The best track here is My Fall Romance, an original that sounds like a Billie Holiday swing classic from the 30s, O’Grady’s sassy, imperturbable alto delivery matched by trumpeter Jordan Sandke’s soulful muted lines. The most relevant number, the burning Take Me Home, reminds how much Irish immigrants have struggled  under the radar in this country.

There are also a couple of covers here; Louis Armstrong’s Irish Black Bottom, reinvented as a funk tune with some wry hip-hop flavor, and My Irish Molly-O redone as oldtimey swing with a coy Michael Hashim clarinet solo. And NYC guitar legend Pete Kennedy of the Kennedys – who have a reputedly amazing new album of their own due out soon – figures into the mix somewhere. One assumes that he’s responsible for all that edgy tremolo-picking.

 

Yet Another Richly Tuneful Album From the King of Retro Britrock, Edward Rogers

Born in Birmingham, England, crooner/songwriter Edward Rogers has been a staple of cutting-edge lyrical New York rock since the 80s. A connoisseur of retro British tunesmithing, he’s got a characteristically brilliant new album, Kaye – a homage to the Soft Machine’s Kevin Ayers – streaming at his web page and an album release show at 7 PM on August 17 at Joe’s Pub. Advance tix are $16 and highly recommended because Rogers’ shows there tend to sell out.

For this gig, he’ll have pretty much the same all-star band he enlisted to record the album, live in the studio: James Mastro and Don Piper on guitars; Sal Maida on bass; Dennis Diken on drums; Joe McGinty on keyboards; and Tish & Snooky on backing vocals What’s obvious right off the bat is that although Ayers’ writing is an obvious influence, Rogers’ songs here have the same lushly arranged mid-to-late 70s-style anthemic Britrock sound of the tracks on his previous album, Porcelain, from 2011. The lone cover here, Ayers’ After the Show, gets a jaunty neo-glam treatment, right down to the droll twin guitar leads.

The opening track, My Street kicks off with a snarling, low-register Mastro guitar hook, a decidedly ambiguous look back at a gritty upbringing. There’s a briefly evocative, psychedelic bridge that rises to a searing web of guitar leads that’s viscerally breathtaking. With its lingering spaghetti western tinges, the angst-ridden No Color for Loneliness is sort of a mashup of Bowie’s 1984 with late 60s Vegas noir.

Street Fashion keeps the glamrock vibe going while raising the guitar amperage (that’s Don Fleming and the Ladybug Transistor’s Gary Olson joining the melee with Mastro), Rogers contemptuously contemplating the shallowness that continues to invade and pervade his adopted city. Worry for the World blends funk tinges into a sunny chimepop tune that contrasts with Rogers’ gloomy lyric. The waltzing, summery yet elegaic title track is a wistful shout-out to Ayers, and the most Soft Machine-influenced song here:

You don’t shine if you don’t burn
Hide the mystery so well learned
I’ll bet you walked and turned
And touched the brain that never learned

Fueled by Byrdsy twelve-string guitar, What Happened to the News Today takes a snide swipe at how the media-industrial complex distracts us from what’s really going on. Copper Coin could be a 60s Zombies hit taken about five years into the future with a mostly acoustic, flamenco-tinged arrangement – is that Pete Kennedy playing guitar?

Rogers keeps the delicate acoustic ambience going with Borrowed & Blue. Then he hits a peak with the haunting, organ-fueled Fear of the Unknown, which could pass for a standout track on an early 70s Strawbs album. The album winds up with an apprehensively sprawling psychedelic jam, Peter Pan Dream and then a tantalizingly brief choral reprise of the ninth track.

Tara O’Grady Brings Her Distinctive, Badass Swing to the Rockwood

Torchy chanteuse Tara O’Grady leads one of the most badass oldtime swing bands you’ll ever hear. One thing that distinguishes her from the legions of come-hither, moldy fig frontwomen is that O’Grady writes her own songs – when she’s at the top of her game, which she generally seems to be, they sound like classics from the 1930s. Which is especially cool since she originally hails not from, say, New Orleans or Kansas City but from Ireland. As you would expect, she occasionally takes a detour into lively Celtic sounds. Her latest album is A Celt in the Cotton Club, streaming at Spotify. She’s fronting a killer quartet with guitar genius Pete Kennedy (one half of the Kennedys) at the third stage at the Rockwood (enter around the corner on Orchard Street) at 7:30 PM on March 28; cover is $15 plus a $10 drink minimum.

O’Grady’s nuanced alto voice strikes a balance between goodnatured sass and serious trouble on the album’s opening track, On Feeling Blue – she leaves you woundering which you’re going to get from her, maybe both. This one is a duet with a hungover-sounding guy – she wants to get up and go with a macchiato, he wants chocolate and resists pulling himself of bed before noon. They sing it as a waltz and then hit a swing shuffle groove with a smoky, incisive tenor sax solo from Michael Hashim

The second track, You Won’t Get Me There Tonight is a kiss-off shuffle fueled by banjo and smoky tenor, Hashin doing triple duty on clarinet and bass clarinet as well – her guy can’t activate al her charms so she’s happy with a bottle of gin instead. A terse bossa-flavored cover of the old folk song Black Is the Color sets a melismatic, noirish tenor sol0 from Hashim – this band’s not-so-secret weapon – over the this-close-to-explosive shuffle groove of bassist Kelly Friesen and drummer Andrew Burns.

O’Grady casually celebrates raging against the dying of the light on the waltzing lullaby In Belfast Tonight, then picks up the pace with Go Lassie Go, which is the folk standard Wild Mountain Thyme done as lickety-split swing with another sizzling Hashim tenor solo. The oldschool soul/blues ballad To be Missing the Sun features a spot-on B.B. King-inspired guitar solo from Justin Poindexter.

O’Grady follows the carefree shuffle Love Me Madly Lashes with the creepy and historically rich That’s What the Miners Would Say, a noir blues that traces the trail of Irish immigrants who followed the seam of coal under the Atlantic all the way to these shores. She brings Bessie Smith into this century on the slow blues Where’s My Valentine: she sees a guy on a Vespa with a bottle of Chablis on Waverly Place and wonders, “Where is my box of truffles, still in Belgium I suppose…I just want someone to text me a love note on my goddamn Blackberry.”

The band goes back to a vintage 60s soul ballad groove on La Dee Da, then O’Grady goes more Celtic as the album winds up. The sultry Gardenia Girl namechecks a box set worth of Lady Day songs, imagining her as an Irish lass named Nora Fagan; O’Grady and the band close by transforming the folk song Too Ra Loo Ra into a warmly swaying vintage 60s soul ballad.

Don Piper and Edward Rogers vs. the Sound

The Cutting Room’s new Curry Hill space isn’t officially open yet, which is a good thing: at this point in the renovations, the sonics at that unfinished industrial basement at Kent and South First in Williamsburg are better than they are here. Last night Don Piper and his band, and then Edward Rogers (playing the cd release for his new one, Porcelain) battled those sonics. Both played magnificently; both lost the battle. Piper has never written better than he’s writing now, equal parts smart Neil Finn purist pop, thoughtful Mumford & Sons Americana and blue-eyed soul. His superb seven-piece band included Gary Langol on organ, Ray Sapirstein on cornet, Konrad Meissner on drums and Briana Winter on vocal harmonies. After the show, Sapirstein likened this group to a chamber music ensemble, a spot-on comparison: they have the easy camaraderie and expert chops you’d expect from a string quartet. And Piper’s slow-to-midtempo songs leave plenty of space for those virtuoso players to add their own inimitably terse, thoughtful ideas. In just under an hour onstage, they swung casually and methodically from artsy pop songs, to a little further out into the country and back again, with a couple of Bill Withers-ish numbers to turn the heat up a little. Piper’s an excellent singer, especially when he uses the top of his range: too frequently, those frequencies got lost.

‘”We start out at about 1972 and end around 1976,” Rogers told the crowd as he took the stage with his band: Piper, Pete Kennedy and James Mastro on guitars, Joe McGinty on keys, Sal Maida on bass and Meissner on drums again plus a parade of singers. The new album pays homage to the glam era, especially the opening track, The Biba Crowd, a look back at a boutique that served as a focal point for British musicians of that era much as Malcolm McLaren’s Sex did in punk’s earliest days. The band gave it a Celtic-fueled stomp, Mastro’s blazing Mick Ronson-esque lines mostly lost to the sound mix. At the end of a careening, intense version of the apocalyptic Topping the World, Rogers backed off, intoning the song’s mantra, “Chaos rules your destiny” just a couple of times before letting the music fall away. Whether this was intentional, or only an indication that Rogers was sick of trying to holler over the band, the effect was powerful. They wrestled with a handful of big Bowie-esque rockers, as well as the plaintive drunkard’s lament No More Tears Left in the Bottle and then a real showstopper, Commodore Hotel, a poignant, unselfconsciously beautiful ballad sung by its author, George Usher over McGinty’s ornate yet judicious keyboards.

Passing the Sunshine, a catchy 60s psychedelic pop gem from Rogers’ previous album Sparkle Lane, was especially biting, a metaphorically-charged amble through a neighborhood in the process of being priced out of itself. When Rogers brought up Don Fleming to play lead guitar on Separate Walls, it was as if the ghost of Ron Asheton had taken over the stage – to say that Fleming raised the energy level was an understatement, but there was only so much he could do to cut through the mix. After a deliciously raw version of the album’s title track, a song that would have fit perfectly on a late 80s Church album, they ended the show with drony, Syd Barrett-influenced, Black Angels-style murk-rock, which might have been a brave move at another venue; here, it simply seemed that they’d finally found something that made sense in the room. McGinty worked a harmonium furiously as the guitars howled and shrieked and Rogers railed against posers in newly gentrified neighborhoods everywhere.

Morricone Youth, who are always a treat, were next on the bill. But as it turned out, there was one single bathroom serving at least a few hundred people, a prospect discouraging enough to make it an early night.