New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: pete o’connell bass

Yet Another Wildly Diverse Album From the Brilliantly Psychedelic, Lyrical Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys are a rarity in the world of psychedelic music: a lyrically-driven band fronted by a charismatic woman with a shattering, powerful wail. Guitarist/singer Sarah Mucho cut her teeth in the cabaret world, winning prestigious MAC awards….when she wasn’t belting over loud guitars as an underage kid out front of the funky, enigmatic Noxes Pond, a popular act at the peak of what was an incredibly fertile Lower East Side rock scene back in the early zeros. Noxes Pond morphed into volcanically epic art-rock band System Noise, one of the best New York groups of the past decade or so, then Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege went in a more acoustic, Americana-flavored direction with the Sometime Boys.

They earned the #1 song of the year here back in 2014 for their hauntingly crescendoing, gospel-fueled anthem The Great Escape. Their new album The Perfect Home – streaming at Bandcamp – is a mind-warpingly diverse collection of originals and covers. There aren’t many other bands capable of making the stretch between a country-flavored take of the Supersuckers’ deadpan, cynical Barricade and a similarly wry hard-funk cover of the Talking Heads’ Houses in Motion.

The other covers are a similarly mixed bag. Mucho’s angst-fueled, blues-drenched delivery over guest Mara Rosenbloom’s organ and the slinky rhythm section of bassist Pete O’Connell and drummer Jay Cowit takes the old Allman Brothers southern stoner standard Whipping Post to unexpected levels of intensity, Likewise, Pink Floyd’s Fearless has a bounce missing from the art-folk original on the Meddle album, along with a balmy, wise, nuanced vocal from Mucho and a starry, swirly jam at the end. And their slinky, gospel-influenced take of Tom Waits’ Way Down in the Hole is a clinic in erudite, purist blues playing.

But the album’s best songs are the originals. Unnatural Disasters has careening, Stonesy stadium rock over a bubbly groove and a characteristically sardonic but determined lyric from Mucho. The group are at their most dizzyingly eclectic on the European hit single Architect Love Letter, blending elements of bluegrass, soukous, honkytonk and an enveloping, dreampop-flavored outro.

Leege’s mournful washes of slide guitar, Rosenbloom’s pointillistic electric piano and Mucho’s brooding, gospel-tinged vocals mingle over a nimble bluegrass shuffle beat in Painted Bones. And the defiance and hard-won triumph in Mucho’s voice in the feminist anthem Women of the World – a snarling mashup of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Poi Dog Pondering, maybe – is a visceral thrill. Good to see one of New York’s most original, distinctive bands still going strong. They’re just back from European tour; watch this space for upcoming hometown shows.

Two Shows in a Week From One of New York’s Most Individualistic, Entertaining Bands

It’s hard to think of a New York band with a more original, distinctive sound than the Sometime Boys. They can do straight-up funk, or country, or elegant chamber pop or wildly guitar-fueled psychedelia, but they’re more likely to combine all those styles. With her full-throttle, brassy alto voice and sardonic sense of humor, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho is a charismatic presence in front of the band, but the whole group – lead guitarist Kurt Leege, bassist Pete O’Connell and drummer Jay Cowit – have sizzling chops as well. They’ve got a couple of shows coming up, the first at 9:30 PM on Friday the 19th at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick, then they’re headlining at 10 PM at Cake Shop on an excellent billwith Paula Carino’s similarly lyrical, intensely catchy Regular Einstein opening the night at 8.

This blog most recently caught the Sometime Boys at Freddy’s on a Friday night right around Thanksgiving. They opened on an Americana soul tip with a funky beat, Leege flicking off some warm vintage Memphis licks as the song wound up. The next number’s playful hook brought to mind the Grateful Dead circa 1969; the band hit a more straightforward dance-rock pulse as Mucho’s voice soared to the rafters, Leege taking an all-too-brief, bluesy solo that suddenly veered off in a much darker direction before Mucho came back in to brightened things up. Later in the set, they again brought to mind the Dead, this time at that band’a early 80s peak.

Cowit drove the band’s cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a jaunty New Orleans second-line bounce, O’Connell taking a solo over Leege’s ragtime-flavored licks, the violinist from the Philly bluegrass band who opened the show (and were excellent) invited up to add a lively one of her own. From there the band went in a more enigmatically dynamic direction with the title track to their latest album, Riverbed and then a scratchy no wave funk number, Leege building an echoey vortex of reverb that he finally pulled out of with a shriek at the top of the fretboard.

Mucho and Cowit duetted on a droll bluegrass-flavored take of the big crowd favorite Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies and then really got the crowd going with their version of Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad. Not even counting the covers, this band has a lot more material than what’s on their three albums, and they brought back an enigmatically resonant dancefloor vibe with the set’s next song.

The night’s most intense number was also the quietest one. The Great Escape. Cowit built gentle clouds of mist with his cymbals as Mucho pulled back and let her haunting lyrics speak for themselves throughout this elegantly gospel-tinged chronicle of a late-night suicide. One of the closing tunes was an epic take of the Allman Brothers’ Whipping Post that went on for at least ten minutes, Leege finally hitting his distortion pedal for his most volcanically angst-fueled solo of the night. These are just some of the flavors the band might bring to the stage in Bushwick and on their old turf on the Lower East.

A Wild, Psychedelic Manhattan Show and an Upcoming Brooklyn Gig from the Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys make elegant, meticulously crafted albums that blend elements of bluegrass, delta blues, funk, soul and artsy chamber pop. Their most recent one, Riverbed, is one of 2014’s most compelling and eclectic releases. But onstage, they transform into a ferocious jamband: as improvisational rock crews go, there is no other New York band who are better at it, and that includes Steve Wynn‘s volcanic Miracle 3. The Sometime Boys are playing two long sets at the Way Station on the border of Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene on Sept 26 at 10 PM, and it’s free.

Their long show at the end of this past month at Bar 9 in Hell’s Kitchen – much of which has been immortalized on youtube – had everything the band is known for: expansive, explosive solos, mighty peaks, whispery lows, stop-on-a-dime changes, a sense of humor and a handful of covers that spanned the genres just as their originals do. The band’s brain trust, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege were known for putting on the occasional and spectacularly good cover night in their previous band, the mighty System Noise: their series of sold-out David Bowie nights are legendary. So it was no surprise to see Mucho reinvent Aretha’s Chain of Fools with a surprisingly nuanced bitterness (and a long, dancingly delicious Leege guitar solo); to deliver a rousingly New Orleans-flavored take of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a menacingly gleeful grin; or to hear her actually enunciate the lyrics of the dadrock standard Burn Down the Mission, unlike the guy who set it to music and sang it. And midway through the show, they invited their similarly charismatic pal Mark Bailey (no relation to the Houston Astros backstop) up to deliver vigorous versions of tunes by Neil Young, Jack White and the Proclaimers.

But it was the originals that everybody had come out for, which took centerstage. The opening number, the bluegrass-tinged Buskin’, peaked out with a jaunty Rebecca Weiner Tompkins violin solo. Mucho got a droll, sarcastic audience singalong going on the bouncy, zydeco-inflected Pharaoh, the band taking it down to just vocals before Leege pulled the beast back on the rails. Bird House began with a menacing art-rock guitar intro before they took it into noir folk territory, to a long, relentless, Jerry Garcia-esque solo that Leege capped off with an ominous Pink Floyd quote.

Likewise, the funky A Life Worth Living – a song that brought to mind an even earlier Mucho/Leege project, Noxes Pond – echoed the Grateful Dead at their peak. They went into more straight-ahead funk for the defiantly lyrical Modern Age, a little later bringing down the lights for a broodingly waltzing version of the country-tinged lament Master Misery, from the band’s debut album Any Day Now.

The best of the covers was an extended, tranced-out jam on Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced: the way Leege, drummer Jay Cowit and keyboardist/mandolinist Gypsy George matched the album version’s kaleidoscopic, psychedelic fragments and rhythmic blips was as funny as it was impressively faithful to both the spirit and the essence of the original.

Cowit and Mucho matter-of-factly exchanged hostilities on a duet of the tongue-in-cheek newgrass romp Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies, Leege wrapping it up with yet another methodically intense solo. Much as Mucho worked all the magic in her vocal arsenal, from smoky, sultry lows to stratospheric highs, it was Leege who really got the crowd screaming. Counterintuitively, they wound up the set with The Great Escape, a quietly glimmering suicide ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on the Dead’s American Beauty (and is currently this blog’s pick for best song of 2014). That took the bar crowd by surprise, but by the second verse they were quiet and listening again. It was a gentle reminder that this band has the muscle to overpower the yakking crowds at the Way Station.

Diverse, Soulful, Sometimes Shattering Americana from the Sometime Boys

With their catchy tunes, purist country blues-flavored guitar and violin and jaunty acoustic grooves, you’d never guess that the Sometime Boys started out as a spinoff of noisy, ferociously intense art-rock band System Noise. Which goes to show just how versatile that band’s brain trust, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Kurt Leege can be. The Sometime Boys have a characteristically diverse, tuneful, smart new album Riverbed, streaming online, and a show coming up on August 28 at 9 PM at Bar Nine, 807 9th Ave. (53/54).

Summery, pastoral themes rub edges with funky rhythms, some folk noir, an instrumental and the album’s centerpiece, The Great Escape, a genuinely shattering song which might be a surprise to those unfamiliar with the Sometime Boys’ predecessor band. And it’s the best song any band has released so far this year. Mucho gets props and wins MAC cabaret awards for her gale-force, wounded contralto delivery and stratospheric, four-octave range, but she starts this one with practically a whisper as drummer Jay Cowit’s cymbals swoosh over Leege’s terse, warmly nocturnal acoustic work:

Wide awake
The night’s alive
I almost taste the black
This cold, it breeds
Bitter views
There’s no turning back
On the ground
Surrounded by
Expired fallen leaves
All now that’s left
Are crooked lines
Can’t flee the forest for the trees

Mucho hints at gospel and then picks up with a wail as the chorus kicks in, “Fade away, into me.” You don’t usually fade away with a wail but that’s what Mucho does here, then brings it down into the second and last verse, a bitter reflection on the lure of victory and the harsh reality of defeat. Leege’s elegantly virtuosic electric guitar and Pete O’Connell’s increasingly intense bass pick it up from there; it seems to end optimistically. It’s a long song, about five and a half minutes long: stream it, but don’t multitask when you do it because you really need to just let it wash over you and hit you upside the head. If you’ve ever faded away into yourself, scowling out at the lights in the distance and wishing you were there and not slaving away at some stupid dayjob – or whatever makes you scowl – this could be your theme song.

The folk noir shuffle The Bird House is another absolutely brilliant track. Rebecca Weiner Tompkins’ plaintive violin, which usually serves as the band’s main lead instrument, wanders forlornly as Mucho relates the eerie tale of a woman alone and abandoned and losing it. Leege takes it out with a spiky solo that mingles with Mucho’s graceful, haunting, hypnotic, wordless vocals.

Several of the tracks are updates on tunes by an even earlier Mucho/Leege incarnation, the delightfully funky, opaquely intriguing Noxes Pond. Much as Mucho’s writing tends toward the somber and serious, she has a devilish sense of humor, which comes front and center on Fake Dead Girlfriend. With a poker-faced calm over clustery, fingerpicked guitar and stately violin, Mucho explains that her family might think she’s nuts, but the world actually could use more people like her imaginary dead pal.

The rest of the album works a push-pull between a carefree, bucolic ambience and clenched-teeth angst. The album’s funkiest track, Modern Age, is an unlikely blend of soul-pop and Americana, Mucho insisting that “You can have my turn, I wanna watch it all burn.” The pensively sailing, bluegrass-tinged title track seems to be told from the point of view of a suicide. A Life Worth Living is more upbeat, hinting at a classic Grateful Dead theme, with a long, lusciously crescendoing multitracked electric guitar solo fom Leege. Irish Drinking Song isn’t the slightest bit Irish, but it’s a great drinking song, in a late-period Bukowski vein.

Pharaoh, another Noxes Pond song reinvented as newgrass, juxtaposes lithe, vintage Jerry Garcia-esque guitar with Mucho’s snarling, metaphorically bristling fire-and-brimstone imagery. There’s also the gracefully shapeshifting instrumental Wine Dark Sea; the comedic urban country number Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies; the balmy, sultry, gospel-tinged lullaby A Quiet Land; Buskin’, a tribute to performers in public spaces everywhere, and a brief instrumenal reprise at the end. The production is artful and pristine: all the layers of acoustic and electric textures build an ambience that on one hand sounds antique, yet absolutely unique and in the here and now. This band should be vastly better known than they are.

The Sometime Boys Strike Again

The Sometime Boys started out as an infrequent acoustic side project from guitarist Kurt Leege and singer Sarah Mucho of art-rockers System Noise. When their main band went on hiatus, the Sometime Boys became their main focus: a year or so later, they’re suddenly one of New York’s best bands. Their debut album, Any Day Now was one of 2011’s best, and their gentle but intense and unselfconsciously beautiful new one Ice and Blood is a strong contender for best of 2012. It’s a mix of brisk bluegrass vamps, soulful acoustic funk, spiky blues, gospel, straight-up rock and a couple of classic covers that they completely reinvent. This time out the core of Leege and Mucho is abetted by Pete O’Connell on bass, Rebecca Weiner Tompkins on violin, Jay Cowitt on drums and Erik James on piano, accordion and keyboards. While the instrumentation tends to be rustic and the melodies steeped in traditional Americana, their sound is unique and eclectic to the extreme, with elements of 70s jamrock and funk intermingled with swing jazz, ragtime and oldtime country music.

The album begins with Winter Solstice and ends with its summery counterpart. The first holds out hope on the year’s darkest day, Mucho musing about “what fun we missed when leaves were left unturned” against jaunty ragtime piano and insistent violin. The second is a crescendoing, optimistic showcase for Mucho at her most soaring and spine-tingling, packed with neat polyrhythms, a slinky bass groove and a warmly Jerry Garcia-esque guitar solo that slowly and hypnotically winds out. They take Eden, an older song by Noxes Pond, the predecessor band to System Noise and jazz it up with dreamy Rhodes piano, Mucho at her most nuanced. “”I have no need for miracles, just ice and blood and all that’s real, I’ll heal myself,” she asserts with a quiet intensity. She sings of an icy clarity, but her voice is the furthest thing from icy: a star in the cabaret world, where she’s won multiple MAC awards (the cabaret equivalent of a Grammy), she’s one of New York’s most gripping vocalists in any style of music. She blends a raw torchiness with a commanding jazz sophistication on a syncopated piano swing version of Brother Can You Spare a Dime, bringing the anthem alive for a new generation of the down-and-out. By contrast, she transforms the Beatles’ Mother Nature’s Son into a wary gospel number over Cowitt’s perfect Ringo evocation.

Unsurprisingly, the best songs here are originals. The absolutely gorgeous organ-driven anthem Drop by Drop might be the single best song of the year so far: it’s a sad, elegaic country waltz that builds to an angst-fueled grandeur. Slowly, its forlorn narrator comes to grips with the fact that the person “who’s supposed to love me most” is turning into a ghost before her eyes, underscored by Leege’s tersely biting, bittersweet acoustic guitar.  The Good People of Brooklyn, with its ragtime piano and stark violin, pensively yet ecstatically pays tribute to Mucho’s adopted “city of trees,” an unselfconsciously heartwarming message of hope for the 99% struggling through “another day, another turning of the screw.” Igloo, a broodingly atmospheric mix of fingerpicked guitar and accordion, builds a haunting ambience that could be the apocalypse, or just a portrait of clinical depression, where someone can “Curl under this blanket/It’s peaceful in our early graves.” There are also a couple of duets, one a folk-pop tune, the other an acoustic goth rock song, and also a bouncily shuffling pop song that sounds like Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac. The whole album is streaming at Soundcloud; the Sometime Boys play the album release show for this one on May 31 at 9 PM at the Parkside.