New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: pop rock

Jeanne Marie Boes Channels the Soul of a Troubled Time in New York

“I can’t take it anymore,” Jeanne Marie Boes intoned, hushed and low, standing resolutely behind her electric piano a couple of Fridays ago at the American Folk Art Museum. “All that’s left are roses underfoot.” She wasn’t talking politics: her big theme is heartbreak. And she takes it to the mountaintop, to forbidding heights, Wuthering, Wuthering, Wuthering Heights! Heathcliff, you bastard!

Yet much as Boes can bring the Kate Bush drama, and belt with anyone alive, she has incredible nuance, especially for somebody with such a big voice. As she moved effortlessly if vigorously between blue-eyed soul, brassy cabaret tones, saloon jazz and majestic art-rock, her mic technique wa a dead giveaway, from a close whisper to a distant wail. She may look like a typical sophomore on her way to, say, a Juilliard rehearsal room, but she’s been doing this a long time, starting as a pre-teen singing sensation in her native Queens. And her parents were cool, and encouraged her, and fifteen years down the line, she’s one of the most magnetic singers in town and a strong pianist as well. That song is the title track to her fantastic latest ep Holdin’ My Heart, streaming at her Bandcamp page. She’s probably doing that number along with plenty of others from a pretty deep catalog at LIC Bar on Nov 30 at 7 PM, where she’s opening for a drummer who used to play for Billy Joel and whose leadfoot thump has been sampled on a million hip-hop joints over the years.

“Look me in the eye, all I see is black,” was Boes’ opening line in the luridly desperate Strangers, which she took all the way up to an unexpectedly amusing trick ending. “Every time I fall in love, I fall hard,” she admitted as she opened The One, the ep’s darkly chromatic, suspensefully pulsing first track, part noir cabaret, part oldschool 60s soul, part towering Alan Parsons Project symphonic rock ballad.

Yet as much as she loves minor keys – there’s Chopin, and Tschaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff lurking behind her fingers – and as much raw pain as there is in her tales of abandonment and loss, she doesn’t come across as a sad person at all. In between songs, she smiled and chatted with the crowd, unselfconscious and down to earth, hardly the diva you might expect after hearing her reach for the rafters and hold on for dear life. And that sense of humor came across in a couple of coy soul ballads that wouldn’t have been out of place in, say, the Bettye Swan songbook. Fun fact: onstage, Boes always rocks a hat. Has she ever been seen without one? Go to the show in Queens and find out.

Boes is typical of the acts that impresario Lara Ewen – a first-rate songstress herself – books for the free Friday evening series at the Folk Art Museum, arguably Manhattan’s best remaining listening room. The next show there is Dec 2 starting at 5:30 PM with the rousingly rustic guy-girl harmonies of the Piedmont Bluz duo.

Band of Skulls Entertain Hell’s Kitchen With a Surprisingly Diverse, Hard Set

It’s about 9:30 when Band of Skulls hit the stage in Hell’s Kitchen, right at the river’s edge Thursday night. Terminal 5 smells like the inside of a bong. There are lots of couples, both kids and oldsters from across the river: it’s stoner date night. There’s a healthy crowd in the house, although the turnout wouldn’t have been enough to sell out Bowery Ballroom. Getting halfway to the stage, even with a sturdy laptop case slung over the shoulder, is no problem. This audience is mellow, courteous, considerate: hostility is not a stoner value. And there’s not a single stinky, annoying Bushwick trendoid to be seen anywhere.

The four-piece band open with a song that sounds like one of those rap-rock acts from the 90s – Limp Bizkit, maybe? – if that group had actually taken the time to listen to RZA’s murky, sinister Wu-Tang productions. A cynic would say that Band of Skulls have the metal for the guys and the phony “R&B” for the girls, but that doesn’t do the band justice: they’re a whole lot more than that, as their unfailingly catchy, roughly 90-minute set proved. It’s easy to see why people like this band. They’re all solid musicians, and constant touring has made them tight as a drum.

What’s most obvious is that this crew is happiest at their heaviest, and so is the crowd. There’s a point toward the end of the show where guitarist Russell Marsden, bassist Emma Richardson and drummer Matt Hayward hit a tricky, stomping, tumbling passage straight out of The Ocean, by Led Zep. Marsden adds some over-the-edge, vintage Jimmy Page noise to his precise, slithery, Robin Trower vibrato while Richardson pounces on the changes. A muddy sound mix doesn’t do much to reveal what a nimble bassist she is, at one point flying up to the 14th fret or so while she’s singing, firing off a lick just as tricky, and not missing a beat. This is where the band’s chops are put to the test, and they pass that test flawlessly. It’s a fair bet that if they stick it out, beyond the last dying embers of what’s left of the radio-and-records era, they’ll be a hell of a metal band.

Throughout the rest of the show, they show off how eclectic they are. Early on, there’s an acid funk-tinged number that draws a straight line back to the MC5. There’s a heavy but dancey anthem that draws a line back to 80s goth. One of the numbers midway through sounds like a mashup of peak-era Oasis and, say, The Streets. Hayward proves to be a capable acoustic guitarist on the unexpectedly psych-folk ballad on which he plays both kickdrum and hi-hat simultaneously while not missing a guitar chord: neat trick. Keyboardist Milo Fitzpatrick stays out of the way but is a welcome presence when needed, whether providing twinkly psychedelic ambience or apprehensive organ, particularly during segues or suspenseful bridges. The high point of the set turns out to be a propulsive, Gemma Ray-style Euro-ghoulabilly number with a macabre metal chorus grafted on. That’s when the bullshit detector shut down and pure bliss sets in.

Lyrics don’t factor into what they do: we’re all brothers and sisters, and if you wanna find yourself, you gotta roam. Whatev. But the music so often kicks ass – and leaves you wishing they’d kick more. At the end of the show, Marsden – who has mastered the art of getting just enough feedback out of his stack of Fenders without shutting down the PA – balances high on one of the wedges, then raises his beautiful vintage Fender Jazzmaster, headstock up, balanced in his palm…and then flings it sideways into the stacks and leaves it feeding as he saunters offstage.

 

Avers Bring Their Catchy, Psychedelically-Tinged New Album to the Mercury

To what degree does allusiveness and indirectness describe Richmond band Avers‘ sound? Pretty well. Beyond having not one but four songwriters, they distinguish themselves with their sense of humor, exuberantly referencing and mashing up styles that date back as far as the 70s. Adrian Olsen, Alexandra Spalding, James Mason, and JL Hodges share vocals as well as their songs, with multi-instrumentalist Charlie Glenn pitching in on keys and guitar. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Omega Whatever – soon to be streaming at Bandcamp – on August 4 at 10:30 PM at the Mercury; adv tix are $10.

The wrly shuffling opening track, Vampire alludes to both Lou Reed and a cheeseball 80s goth hit, stadium rock spun through the warped prism of second-wave dreampop. Spalding sings the glam-tinged second cut, Everything Hz – damn, another great title just got taken, huh? – with an icy calm: “Take a pill, sleep it off, let it in…these are the days that everything Hz, these are the days in reverse.” If Spacehog weren’t so over-the-top, they would have sounded something like this.

With its catchy, Beatlesque blend of six and twelve-string guitars, Tongues is a dead ringer for Oasis circa 1996, but with better vocals. Insects is a lot simpler, and kind of a throwaway: the backward-masked guitar solo is the high point. Spalding returns to the mic for Low, another post-Velvets shuffle, looking back on “Flowers sent to my door…fancy bottles of shit you no longer can afford.” Then the band goes back toward swaying, midtempo Oasis territory for All You Are.

The fuzztone stomp of Holding On brings to mind vintage Brian Jonestown Massacre. The band blends that with a brightly clanging Oasis drive in Santa Anna. With its moody, wavery chorus-box guitars, Don’t Care looks back to the 80s, over the shoulder of Deer Tick. Then the band synthesizes every style they’ve mined up to this point – hypnotic post-Velvets psychedelia, towering 90s Britrock and a little uneasy 80s jangle – in My Mistakes. The album should stop there, but it doesn’t; the long, unfocused concluding track doesn’t add anything. And one of the guys in the group hasn’t outgrown the emo of his gradeschool years: that singsongey dorkiness pops up annoyingly once in awhile. Maybe he’s the weak link who could be replaced. Otherwise, Avers are proof that accessibility and intelligence don’t have to be incompatible.

Of Clocks & Clouds Bring Their Brooding Bombast to the East Village

Drugs, death and a persistent unease permeate Of Clocks & Clouds‘ new album Better Off, streaming at Bandcamp. On one level, those themes have been done to death over the years. On the other, the band has an absolutely unique sound, blending moody, intricately orchestrated European stadium rock with psychedelia, a little garage rock and hints of metal. Another cool thing about them is that they play instrumentals as well as vocal numbers. They’re playing the album release show at the downstairs space at Webster Hall on July 16 at 8 PM; cover is $10.

The album’s brief, hypnotic overture, Burn a Hole rises out of vintage video game blips and bleeps to a synthy, gothic pulse. She Had to Go makes trip-hop out of a reverbtoned 60s dark garage rock tune, then the guitars and bass reach toward metallic heights, a portrait of a femme fatale. “The cocaine fix exploding in her eyes…wasting all your precious time, the lies she told me somehow got to you,” frontman/guitarist Joe Salgo recounts.

When She’s High blends dub reggae touches into its gracefully tumbling groove, then builds to an anthemic scramble propelled by bassist Caravaggio Loria and drummer Ross Procaccio, eventually hitting a deliciously macabre, swirling peak. Likewise, the instrumental Open Heart Failure grows from moody reflecting-pool sonics to a majestically pounding motorik theme. Another Life is a weird mashup of the Police and hair-metal, then Komorebi, another instrumental, goes in a far more successful and cinematic direction with the same theme.

The album’s title track blends those atmospherics into a brooding, slowly swaying anthem tailor-made for smoke machines and one foot up on the monitor. Don’t write these guys off as mallternative: there’s a lot of creativity here. It’s easy to imagine them going even further in a psychedelic direction as they grow.

A Look Back at Last Year’s Vocal Summit With Amanda Thorpe and Her Siren Friends

More about that Amanda Thorpe show coming up on June 13 at 8 PM at Hifi Bar. She’s playing in the intimate space in the back, where the Britfolk and chamber pop songwriter – the closest thing to Linda Thompson that this generation has produced – will be joined by guitarists Don Piper and her longtime Bedsit Poets bandmate Edward Rogers.

Mary Lee Kortes was one of three other women who joined Thorpe late last year onstage at the Treehouse at 2A for a summit meeting of four of the most haunting voices in all of rock. It was one of the half-dozen most spellbinding shows of the year: vocally speaking, no other performance all year came close. The quartet of Thorpe, Kortes, Lianne Smith and Debby Schwartz each played guitar, singing in the round, trading songs, joining voices as duos and trios and once or twice in four-part harmony: pure, unaffected, spine-tingling intensity.

Thorpe has an ambered delivery that can be either coyly fun or woundedly resigned in the low registers, but when she cuts loose and soars way up, that’s when the firepower really kicks in. Likewise, Smith channels hushed nunace as much as poignancy, has a spun-steel upper register and has never written better than she’s doing now. With her metalcutter crystalline tone and ability to effortlessly leap octaves, Kortes is probably one of the half-dozen best singers in the world, never mind the rock world. Schwartz, the former Aquanettas frontwoman, might have the most distinctive voice of all four singers,  both plaintive and atmospheric with a tinge of grit. She and Smith – who also draws on rockabilly, Americana and psychedelia – share an indie rock background. Kortes draws on all sorts of Americana, and like Thorpe is equally adept at jazz.

Smith had her Strat with the reverb turned up as she usually does. A typically allusive new number parsed the understated ache and longing from eyes that are “bright, bright, bright” in circumstances that are hardly “right, right, right” – chilling, especially in contrast to the power she unleashed on the chorus. A spare, skeletal, southern soul-tinged new song gave her a platform for the kind of simmering vengeance that Dusty Springfield would have killed for.

Schwartz aired out the sardonic, understatedly brooding Dreaming New York City in the Middle of LA and also the evening’s high point among many, a viscerally  spine-tinglingtake of the otherwise enigmatic, minor-key anthem Hills of Violent Green. Kortes’s high points were the wickedly catchy, darkly chromatic, soaring Vegas noir-tinged Learn from What I Dream and the jaunty, uneasily defiant oldtimey swing tune Big Times, along with a swinging, embittered, coiled-cobra new song that might have been the evening’s single best number.

Joining voices with Treehouse impresario and guitar monster Tom Clark, Thorpe elevated a sad Everly Brothers song far above early 60s folk-revival stuff, to the level of something from the Skooshny catalog, maybe. She channeled the most nuance of anyone, especially in a handful of shadowy, noir-tinged reinventions of Great American Songbook jazz-pop from the Yip Harburg catalog, which she memorably recorded in 2014. A longtime staple of the Lower East Side scene back when it was about art far more than commerce, she rarely makes it back to town these days: if you missed her the first time around, now’s your chance not to miss out again.

A Vivid, Elegant New Album and a Murray Hill Show from Singer Heather Nova

Singer Heather Nova may have been throwing fire at the sun since the 90s, but she’s undiminished as a songwriter. Her voice has taken on a bit more of a wintry tinge than in her heyday, when she was cranking out one European hit after another, but she still hits the high notes with an enigmatic intensity, from a whisper to a wail. Her latest album, The Way It Feels, is streaming at Spotify. She’s got a relatively rare New York show coming up on April 6 at 7:30 PM at the Cutting Room; $22.50 advance tix are available at their ticket window.

The album opens with the angst-driven Treehouse, an ocean of atmospheric guitars and strings moving in and out like the tide over spare fingerpicked lines, gracefully rising to towering art-rock, part Aussie legends the Church, part Nicole Atkins. The shuffling Sea Glass, with its insistent rhyme scheme and pensive oceanside metaphors, brings to mind Mary Lee Kortes at her poppiest.

“Every day is like Pompeii,” Nova muses as The Archaeologist opens, a stark throwback to Nova’s 90s adventures in trip-hop. Girl on the Mountain layers a moody Britfolk verse and one of Nova’s signature, breathtaking, surprise choruses over a similar groove that rises to an icy majesty. Lie Down in the Bed You’ve Made isn’t the kiss-off anthem you might expect: it’s a seduction ballad, like a more country Aimee Mann.

With its catchy four-chord hook and artful piano/vibraphone chamber-pop arrangement, the woundedly resigned On My Radar is a more warmly organic throwback to Nova’s 90s work. Her breathy vocals gives Sleeping Dogs a disarming intimacy against a broodingly artsy Britfolk backdrop. The psychedelic pop ballad Sea Change morphs cleverly in and out of a 6/8 rhythm, awash in swirly keyboards and spare, glittering guitars. Nova follows that with the album’s most ethereal cut, This Humanness, weighing emotional baggage and the inevitable passage of time.

Over an intricate web of acoustic guitars and cello, I’m Air is Nova at her inscrutably counterintuitive best, moving in an unexpectedly triumphant, symphonic direction, an update on an old Moody Blues theme. With its archetypal metaphors, Women’s Hands tackles heavy themes like societally-inflicted self-hatred and insecurity. The album winds up with the oldtimey-tinged ukulele waltz Moon River Days. Good to see someone who quietly and methodically built one of the most consistently catchy catalogs of the past twenty years or so still at it and still going strong.

Above the Moon Bring Their Edgy Intensity to a Jersey City Triplebill Friday Night

This Friday, March 11 starting at 8 there’s a solid bill of three female-fronted acts at the Citizen, 332 2nd St. in Jersey City, about six blocks from the Grove St. Path station. The opening band, Pepperwine, works a sassy saloon blues vibe. Headliner Debra Devi, one of the most exhilarating and bluesily purist lead guitarists in psychedelic rock, plays a rare solo set.. In between there’s Above the Moon. who have an edgy, very 90s sound, blending noisy indie rock and propulsive powerpop in the same vein as Versus. Frontwoman/guitarist Kate Griffin has an edge in her voice that brings to mind Fontaine Toups and Ursa Minor‘s Michelle Casillas, although Above the Moon have a heavier sound, with their two guitars.

Their debut ep is up at Bandcamp as a free download. The opening track, Coat, has Griffin and lead player James Harrison’s guitars punching at each other up to the big, catchy chorus where they join forces. It’s an escape anthem of sorts: “It’s so warm I’ll leave my coat behind, for someone else to find, I won’t need it anymore,” Griffin asserts.

Bassist Shawn Murphy and drummer John Gramuglia give Easy a brisk groove that anchors it rather than letting it drift into skittish Strokes territory. Out of the Woods,with its burning, multitracked downstroke guitars and Griffin’s calmly warm vocals, is the closest thing to Versus here;  The final cut is a kiss-off number, Loving & Leaving, Griffin clear and resolute over a web of stabbing, bellicose minor-key guitar.

These songs have a sense of defiance and optimism despite it all. Blast this on your way home from work or school and feel good about yourself again. Discovering bands like Above the Moon makes all the drudge work of a music blog worth the effort.

Lily & Madeleine Bring Charm and Psychedelia to Joe’s Pub

Lily & Madeleine are the bastard child of Madder Rose and Sigur Ros. It’s hard to resist using a word like “bastard” to describe them since “bitch” would be way, way too much of a stretch. Lily & Madeleine are the kind of women you can bring home to meet mom. With their crystalline soprano voices and unselfconscious Midwestern warmth, they charmed and entranced a sold-out, similarly Midwestern crowd last night at Joe’s Pub.

Highs were bouncing all over the place early in the set.. “Nate, we have feedback up here, I believe it’s coming from the second front monitor,” Madeleine explained to the sound guy. “Is there anything we can do on our end to remedy the situation?” she inquired, bright and chipper. Others would have scowled, stopped their set, even. Not these two. They soldiered on, and things eventually worked out ok.

What is not to like about this sister duo? They harmonize beautifully. They play a whole bunch of different instruments. Their band is tight and they have the absolutely brilliant Shannon Hayden as their lead instrumentalist. Their songs are catchy. They release them on vinyl. What coldhearted curmudgeon wouldn’t want a vinyl copy of the new Lily & Madeleine album? Seriously.

Lily & Madeleine’s music is a mashup of trip-hop, psychedelia and chamber pop. It’s a very 90s sound, probably best appreciated under the influence of marijuana. Although the two sisters definitely weren’t stoned, and from the looks of it most of the multi-generational crowd didn’t seem to be either. Maybe other than one bespectacled dude who was so zooted that he couldn’t figure out what to order from the menu, so he just asked the waitress to bring him whatever she recommended. He ended up devouring a small plate of what looked like kung po shrimp.

Both sisters played tersely and eloquently on piano and multi-keys; Lily also played tightly competent rhythm on a beautiful white Strat. They let the notes linger, not wasting anything: resonance is one of the keys to their sound. Rhythm is another. Dummer Kate Siefker grabbed the ka-CHUNK, ka-CHUNK beat with both hands and swung it to the next level with her imaginatively tumbling cascades, unexpected textures and dynamic presence: she really felt the room and hung back when the music was most delicate, spinning a gracefully intricate, nocturnal web. And the way she almost imperceptibly shifted from the trip-hop to a straight-up, four-on-the-floor drive, as a couple of songs gathered steam, was artful to the extreme.

Hayden was a one-woman orchestra, switching deftly between electric mandolin, electric cello and lead guitar, often in the same song. Beyond the enveloping, low-register washes she’s best known for (she’s got a fantastic solo album just out), she ran her mando through a bunch of pedals, turning hammering flurries of Dick Dale tremolo-picking into a forest of reverberating notes. And she made the most of what little time she got on lead guitar, taking one of the songs to Memphis on the wings of some warmly purist Muscle Shoals licks.

Places figure into a lot of the duo’s songs. An early number offered a hazily nocturnal Colorado swimming pool reminiscence. A later song set in Chicago bordered on the lurid but didn’t quite go there. That’s this band’s strongest suit: they tantalize you with their hooks, sometimes crystallized, sometimes fragmentary.. Interestingly, one of the trippiest numbers of the night, Westfield, was also the techiest, bouncing along on the pulse from Siefker’s syndrums. They closed the set with Nothing, an understatedly bitter, Beatlesque kiss-off anthem that wouldn’t be out of place in the Gary Louris songbook, Madeleine on lead vocals. The encores were a propulsive guitar-pop tune and a lowlit, minimalist cover of Sea of Love with Lily on piano, a gentle way to send everyone back out into what had become an uncharacteristically wintry night.

Lily & Madeleine’s marathon US tour continues; upcoming dates through May are here.

Revisiting and Looking Ahead to a Bunch of Great Acoustic Shows

Karen Dalhstrom is one of the four first-rate songwriters in Bobtown, who with their unearthly four-part harmonies and creepy tunesmithing are arguably the most distinctive noir Americana band on the planet. They’re playing the album release show for their long-awaited new album, A History of Ghosts on the big stage downstairs at Hill Country at 9:30 PM on Jan 14. Not to take anything away from her work with that band, but Dahlstrom is also a solo artist, with a killer album of her own, Gem State, a collection of songs set in frontier-era Idaho and written in a period-perfect oldtime vernacular. It was good to be able to catch one of her infrequent solo shows awhile back at the American Folk Art Museum across the Broadway/Columbus triangle up by Lincoln Center.

Taking advantage of the space’s natural reverb, Dahlstrom aired out several of the songs from that album, including a goosebump-inducing a-cappella version of Streets of Pocatello, a menacing, hardscrabble hobo’s tale. Miner’s Bride, an even more doomed narrative told by a mail-order bride sent off to an uncertain fate on the high plains, was every bit as haunting. But the high point of the show – and one most spine-tingling moments at any concert in town last year – was her version of Galena. The Idaho city takes its name from a woman, maybe a Russian or Polish immigrant, mother or wife to one of the men who flocked there during the Gold Rush. Over a sad, elegantly waltzing tune, Dahlstrom brought the sudden rise and equally sudden decline of this boomtown to life, aptly personifed as a woman, who ends up “A penny curiosity, old bones in a pinewood vale,” Dahlstrom’s elegaic alto rising just a little from almost a whisper, to low and mournful.

Lara Ewen, the crystalline-voiced Americana songstress who hosts the pretty-much-weekly free Friday evening afterwork acoustic shows at the Folk Art Museum, told the crowd that this show was roughly the fourth time she’d booked Dahlstrom for a gig there: if that’s not instant cred, nothing is. As you would expect, there have been plenty of other excellent shows there in recent months. Sweet Soubrette, the more pop-oriented project of singer/ukulele player Ellia Bisker (who has a murderously good new album with the creepy Charming Disaster, her duo with Kotorino‘s Jeff Morris, due out shortly) swung through to play a stripped-down trio set. The highlight of that one was the eerily glimmering Burning City, an evocation of the bombing and subsequent firestorms in WWII Berlin.

Greg Cornell of the Cornell Brothers played a fascinating duo set there. What an interesting, and original, and excellent guitarist this guy is. Few other players rely on the low strings as much, and as imaginatively, and tunefully, as this guy does. His style is somewhere between bluegrass flatpicking and janglerock, and it’s completely his own. It helps that his songs are as anthemic and catchy as they are.

Another individualistic act, folk noir duo Mark Rogers and Mary Byrne – whose debut album I Line My Days Along Your Weight has been burning up the internet lately – got the call to pinch-hit for an act who’d cancelled, and hit one out of the park with their hypnotically moody, allusively lyrical songs. Byrne switched between guitar and a vintage mandolin, singing with a wary, carefully modulated, wounded delivery as Rogers nonchalantly aired out a deep and equally considered mix of classic blues, folk and bluegrass licks that merged seamlessly into Byrne’s somber, crepuscular narratives.

There seem to be two Caitlin Bells playing music in New York these days; purist oldtime Americana singer Caitlin Marie Bell is the talented one. She shares a pensive, rustic quality with Rogers and Byrne, mining the classic folk repertoire from the 1800s for her all-too-brief solo acoustic set there. Her high, resonant vocals soared over her nimble guitar fingerpicking as she made her way through warmly bucolic, Appalachian flavored front porch material along with a couple of darker, more incisive, blues-infused numbers.

Another purist folk musician from a completely different idiom, Pete Rushefsky played a rapturous, often exhilarating, glistening set there a few weeks later. His axe is the tsimbl, the pointillistically rippling, otherworldly Ukraininan Jewish hammered dulcimer that’s the forerunner of the Hungarian cimbalom and the western European zither. The first part of his set featured him leading a trio with two violins leaping and dancing against the tsimbl’s lush undercurrent; the second featured his wife doubling on flute and vocals, delivering several obscure treats from the Ukraininan folk tradition. What’s especially interesting about Rushefsky’s songbook is that much of it sounds completely different fom the boisterous, carnivalesque Romany-flavored klezmer music from points further west: this was both more somber and lustrous.

Where Rushefsky worked a pensive, hypnotic ambience, Sharon Goldman was her usual direct self: the acoustic rock tunesmith can say more in a few words than most people can in a whole album. She can also be drop-dead funny, although this time out her set was more about painting pictures, whether an unexpectedly triumphant late summer Park Slope scenario, or the ominous foreshadowing of the morning of 9/11…or a coy couple competing over a pint of ice cream. Goldman bought them to life with catchy chord changes on the guitar and her richly modulated, subtly nuanced vocals.

And Ewen booked a pretty perfect choice for Halloween: Jessi Robertson. She’s got an unearthly wail to rival anyone, and this time out had made herself up as a bloody corpse or accident victim or something similarly gruesome. So when she cut loose with “You’re gonna burn, my love,” on the chorus of the first song on her excellent new album, it worked on every conceivable level. And after she’d done a few similarly harrowing numbers, going off-mic and singing without any amplification, she did a cruelly funny country song with a title something along the lines of I Hope I Hurt You As Much As You Hurt Me.

Goldman, like so many others in the vanguard of acoustic music, likes house concerts: her next one is in Jersey City on Jan 25 at 8 PM, email for info. Sweet Soubrette are at Freddy’s on Jan 22. And the American Folk Art Museum’s free, 5:30 PM Friday concert series resumes on Jan 9 with first-class, politically-fueled lyricist and anthemic folk-rock songwriter Niall Connolly headlining at around half past six.

Kristin Hoffmann Plays an Intimate West Village New Year’s Eve Show

If you like art-rock with elegant, baroque-tinged melodies, precisely nuanced piano, hypnotic rhythms and out-of-this-world gorgeous, dynamic vocals, Kristin Hoffmann is playing a New Year’s Eve show starting at around quarter to midnight at her longtime West Village haunt, Caffe Vivaldi at 32 Jones St. just off Bleecker. There are two dinner seatings (VERY EXPENSIVE) before then. The club calendar says “open house 1-3 AM” which can be interpreted any number of ways: assuming open bar might not be the safest bet.

In addition to her sweeping, often achingly intense work as a solo artist, Hoffmann is the singer in NASA’s Bella Gaia multimedia extravaganza, with whom she tours the globe. The Juilliard-trained singer is also in demand in the contemporary classical world: her latest album in that field is her Unfolding Secrets collaboration with cinematic Italian composer Marco Missinato. At her most recent Saturday night Caffe Vivaldi gig, Hoffmann sang one of those warmly neoromantic, colorful themes with a soaring, operatically-tinged intensity, adding just a hint of vibrato at the end of phrase when the music called for a little extra voltage. A little later, she brought the crowd to their feet with an even more high-octane, arioso rendition of Ave Maria.

But it’s her originals that people come out for here, and she played to the crowd. As precise and catchy as Hoffmann’s hooks are, there’s an angst-ridden undercurrent throughout her music. Hoffmann is a Libra: balance is a major theme with her, something she seems to grapple with and manages to achieve through her music’s gusty swells and majestic tectonic shifts. This was an electroacoustic performance, Hoffmann at the piano playing along to orchestration and beats on her tablet, Premik Russell Tubbs serving as a one-man band behnd her on – take a deep breath – lapsteel, alto sax, bass flute and wind synth.

The lingering, resonant washes from his lapsteel grounded several of the songs, notably the suspensefully brooding art-trip-hop of the opening number, The Magic and a later anthem, Falling, about jumping off a cliff – metaphorically speaking. On another song, Hoffmann worked an insistent piano riff that brought to mind Carol Lipnik‘s more minimalist work. As the show went on, Hoffmann aired out her many voices : an impassioned, confident alto, a stratospheric, spine-tingling soprano as many of the songs would hit a peak, and a no-nonsense soul approach on a rousing Aretha Franklin-influenced ballad. She kept that vibe going with a plaintive, similarly soulful take of Joni Mitchell’s River. Meanwhile, Tubbs, who’d been adding judicious textures via his many wind instruments – and a jaunty sax solo on River – went back to lapsteel for his most adrenalizing, crescendoing solo of the night on another big anthem. Hoffmann wound up her first set with a stately lullaby of sorts, a spaciously syncopated mood piece and a similarly nocturnal number that brought to mind the old Cindy Lauper hit Time After Time.