What would Halloween month here be without the Warlocks? The well-loved psychedelic rockers’ latest album Songs from the Pale Eclipse is streaming at Bandcamp. It might be the most consistently tuneful record of 2018. Just about shadowy, jangly retro ultraviolet-rock band from the Mystic Braves to the Allah-Lahs to the Growlers owes a debt to these guys: they resurrected that acid-washed 60s sound first.
The album’s opening track, Only You, contrasts vast, echoey 80s goth chorus-box guitar on the verse with a gritty, distorted chorus: imagine the Chameleons UK if they actually could write a tune. Lonesome Bulldog is a lusciously jangly psych-folk anthem, frontman Bobby Hecksher’s hushed vocals channeling desolation and despair until guitarist John Christian Rees kicks in with some toxic distortion as the song winds out.
Easy to Forget has the same kind of moody, catchy, jangly newschool Laurel Canyon psych-folk four-chord vibe, Hecksher’s voice rising unexpectdly toward fullscale angst: it could be the great lost track from the Church’s Seance album.
“You make my hands clammy with tears,” Hecksher complains in Dance Alone, shifting back and forth between a wah-wah Beatles verse and stately chorus awash in watery guitar multitracks. All the guitars – Hecksher, Rees and Earl V. Miller – get into the picture as this mini-epic winds up.
You might expect a track tilted We Took All the Acid to be a surreal Revolution 9 trip-scape, but this one turns out to be a dreampop number, like early Lush with a guy out front. The band go back a couple of decades for the tightly propulsive, catchy, Love Is a Disease, driven by Christopher DiPino’s bass and Jason Anchondo’s drums. Then they fast-forward back to the 80s for the slow, undulating Drinking Song, another elegantly ornate Church Seance soundalike.
Special Today is especially moody for a love song. I Warned You has reverbtoned blues harp filtering through the vampy jangle and clang. The album’s final cut is The Arp Made Me Cry – that distinctive, slightly warpy, sharp-toned synth from the 70s must have really made a mark on Hecksher, at least enough to come up with this swirly ballad. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2018 page at the end of the year.
Halloween month this year is turning out to be a long, strange trip around here. In celebration of the creepiness coming up at the end of the month, there’s a sixth compilation in the Brown Acid series of obscure proto-metal and heavy psych treasures, most of them from the 60s and early 70s.
Most of the dozens of bands anthologized in the series never made more than a few singles at best. Many made only one. Some of those 45’s sell for thousands of dollars on the collectors market, but the Brown Acid folks have made them available for people who don’t have hedge funds or trust funds. And they actually pay royalties to the surviving artists. Imagine – buy the vinyl and you’re actually helping support some old weedhead.
The most recent vinyl release Brown Acid: The Sixth Trip – streaming at Bandcamp – is the most R&B, psychedelic soul and funk-influenced volume to date. It kicks off with No Parking, by San Franciso band Gold, which welds frantically scampering Blues Magoos garage rock to amped-up R&B. Like a lot of these singles, it’s mixed in mono, an effect which actually helps hold the convulsive outro together.
Inferno, by Canadian group Heat Exchange, comes across as a more nimble version of Cream, with tasty twin leads from guitar and organ and a shockingly good, biting alto sax solo before the wah-wah kicks in. Lovin’ You, by Travis (not the late 90s British arena-rock band) is a slinky,psychedelic soul groove that could almost pass for very early Hendrix. Enoch Smoky’s It’s Cruel distinguishes itself with one of the tastiest, fattest basslines in the entire series: don’t let the fact that it’s basically a supercharged Brill Building pop tune scare you off.
Backwood Memory’s Give Me Time is a vintage psychedelic soul nugget: it’s too bad the band never connected with a record label that could buy some airplay. One of the funnier titles in the collection, Luvin, Huggin & More, by Flight, sounds like a prototype for Bachman-Turner Overdrive recorded on somebody’s home stereo, guitars pinned in the red. Which comes as no surprise – six years after “releasing” this in 1974, bandleader Victor Blecman had a left-field new wave hit with Space Invaders.
Midnight Horsemen, by Truth & Janey, has a loping, funky beat and a doublespeed bridge that almost falls apart: if REO Speedwagon had started out in the 60s, they might have sounded something like this. My Life, by West Minst’r, is the most generic riff-rock track here, although the befuddled lyrics are really funny.
Purgatory’s Polar Expedition is a hippie blues bounce that could be Brownsville Station covering the Doors. Boston hippie Johnny Barnes’ Steele Rail Blues could be early Thin Lizzy. before the label censors edited out the weed references: it’s the one track here that could have been edited down to two minutes fifty seconds without sacrificing anything. The album winds up on a high point with Chicago rockers Zendik’s wickedly catchy, 13th Floor Elevators-tinged There No Peace. The biting diminished chords and “god is dead” mantra make you wish there was more material from this talented, insightful crew.
Devil’s horns raised to the skies for the tireless playlisters here who’ve dedicated literally thousands of hours to giving this music the audience it’s deserved for decades but never reached until recently.
Friday night at Drom, a crowd of women in brightly colored dresses twirled in front of the stage as the resonant clang of a couple of mandolas rang out from the stage above them. Newpoli percussionist Fabio Pirozzolo spun out a slinky clip-clop beat on his big round tamburello while violinist Karen Burciaga and multi-reed player Dan Meyers sent their contrasting textures wafting and bounding through the mix, bassist Jeff McAuliffe cutting through with a biting, trebly tone. The band’s two charismatic frontwomen, Carmen Marsico and Angela Rossi left the stage and went down to join the fun. The only thing missing at the grand finale of this year’s New York Gypsy Festival was the pervasive smell of garlic and basil. Then again, the kitchen at Drom turns out cuisine from points further north and east.
Newpoli specialize in Italian folk music, but they play more originals than traditional material, and their influences are global. They’re as dynamic a jamband as they are a dance band. Meyers’ most electrifying solo was a long, otherworldly, tone-bending one on which he played zurla, the Balkan reed instrument that looks like a cornet but sounds like a lower-register oboe. By contrast, Reijonen’s most riveting moments onstage came during a suspenseful, Arabic-tinged, chromatic intro. Burciaga danced through an endless supply of punchy phrases, often in tandem with the mandolas, Bjorn Wennas often switching to acoustic guitar.
The two women who lead the band make a striking contrast. Petite and intense in a green tie-dyed print, Rossi often evoked the otherworldly microtones of the Balkans. Tall, blonde and swaying in her long linen summer dress, her eyes closed much of the time, Carmen Marsico has more of a classic American soul voice. Throughout the night, the two would often trade off verses as well as leading the dancers during two pouncing, edgy tarantellas, the first a shapeshifting original, the second a more rustic traditional number.
Their original material, many of the songs drawn from their most recent album Mediterraneo, has understatedly potent relevance. Marsico introduced the night’s most anthemic number. ‘Na Voce Sola (One Single Voice) as a revolutionary call to unite against fascism (something the Italians unfortunately knew as intimately as Americans do now). Other songs traced themes of displacement, whether in times of war or otherwise, the womens’ voices harmonizing with as much resilient elegance as fullscale minor-key angst.
Toward the end of the show, they tackled a traditional tune which on the new album is about ten minutes long and, for non-Italian speakers at least, becomes pretty interminable. Onstage, they made short work of it – literally – cutting it down to about half the time and keeping everybody, dancers and listeners, in the game as Meyers’ wood flutes punctured through the hypnotic bounce. Newpoli’s next gig is at 8 PM on Oct 12 at the Avalon Theatre,
40 E Dover St. in Easton, Maryland; general admission is $25.
What’s more Halloweenish than LSD? If you’re lucky, you associate it with laughing fits and the ability to consume ridiculous amounts of alcohol without feeling it. But anyone who’s experienced knows the flipside, which can be the distilled essence of macabre. Very few of the songs in the Brown Acid compilations actually reference the drug, pro or con. Do these playlists, whose raison d’etre is to exhume buried treasures from the 60s and 70s at the magic moment when psychedelia got really heavy and started to morph into metal, actually make a good soundtrack for tripping? Depends on your taste – or maybe your condition.
There are now six Brown acid collections available for stoners and fans of what was called hard rock back in the 60s and 70s. Each compilation is very eclectic: there’s doom metal, stoner boogie, a surprising amount of psychedelic soul, and heavy psych. The fifth one, which is streaming at Bandcamp and available on vinyl, turns out to be more garage and Britrock-influenced.
Track one is No Reason, by Captain Foam, a catchy piece of tumbling Dave Clark Five Britpop turbocharged with fuzzy guitars with the reverb turned all the way up, in the same vein as Spooky Tooth or the Move at their heaviest. The spacy instrumental bridge leaves you wanting several minutes more.
George Brigman’s Blowin’ Smoke is a Hendrix knockoff without the Hendrix – they could have left this one in its dusty sleeve. But Nothing in the Sun, a 1968 rarity by Milwaukee rockers Finch, is a post-Velvets gem: it’s more proto-glam than proto-metal, cheap amps driven to deliver every ounce of buzz and feedback they can as the lead guitar goes up the scale.
The smoky organ over the trebly, jagged heartbeat bassline in Cybernaut’s instrumental Clockwork sounds like Uriah Heep with a Ph.D. – the rhythmic changes are a neat psychedelic touch. The album’s A-side ends with Fargo’s Abbadon, its weirdo religious imagery and twisted early Moody Blues-meet-the-MC5 vibe.
Side 2 opens with Mammoth, by Mammoth (yup), adding a wild, woolly edge to what would otherwise be a mostly one-chord, early Kinks-ish R&B vamp. Icky Blicky, by Flasher opens with the turn of a key in the ignition and then hits a psychedelic soul pulse: Rare Earth comes to mind in this surreal tale about a guy so high he apparently can’t move his car. Fireball, by obscure Canadian band Lance, is a grittier take on what Bowie was doing on Aladdin Sane, while Zebra’s cover of Helter Skelter goes in a psychedelic soul direction and is a little slower than the original (how did the compilers afford what it must have cost to license this?!?!)
The album’s final cut is Lick It, by Thor – keep in mind that this was made long before Spinal Tap, and before gangsta rap made coyly smutty rock innuendos seem like a quaint artifact. Cowbell and fuzztones rule here, a growling lead track half-buried in the mix. The song isn’t quite as funny as Be On My Side, by Fragile & the Eggs, but it’s close. Further proof that the major label history of rock music only tells a tiny fraction of the story.
The high point of Blackberry Smoke’s Manhattan show this past evening happened about midway through, a twisted, surreal kaleidoscope of sunbaked Georgia clay refracted upward into grim, grey Pink Floyd atmospherics, anchored by drummer Brit Turner’s steady sway. As frontman/guitarist Charlie Starr pulled away from the center with a sudden, Gilmouresque howl, Paul Jackson stayed steady, plucking icy chordlets from his hollow-body Gretsch to light up the somber mist. Keyboardist Brandon Still, who up to this point had switched effortlessly from funky, echoey Fender Rhodes to some spot-on honkytonk piano, built a black swirl of organ beneath the ominous skies above.
By the time the jam was over, Starr had referenced Hendrix, the Grateful Dead (several times) and maybe Neil Young before leading the band into a dirtbag verse or two of the Beatles’ Come Together. Bassist Richard Turner’s graceful, boomy McCartney licks were almost comical, in contrast with the grimy detour the band had suddenly taken. Maybe it wasn’t as cartoonishly funny as the Aerosmith cover, but it worked as comic relief. And it was one of umpteen moments during the show reaffirming the eternal popularity of jambands – and why Blackberry Smoke are one of the best in the business.
Obviously, most jambands don’t have the songs, or the snide lyrical impact that Blackberry Smoke’s most recent material has. They had the crowd singing along practically from the first chorus of Fire in the Hole, the outlaw redneck rock anthem they used to open the show. Just like the last time these guys passed through town, the audience was fistpumping and raising devil’s horns to Waiting for the Thunder, Starr’s ripsnorting, fryolator-guitar fueled diatribe about the divergence between the rich and the underclasses. The song is a lot more vivid than that statement – and it was awfully validating to see a bunch of out-of-towners getting down with a protest anthem. Even if Lynyrd Skynyrd could have written a song like this one, they never would have gotten away with it.
Whether Blackberry Smoke are doing that, or twangy party anthems – and there were plenty of those in the mix – they haven’t lost touch with their populist roots. Case in point: Best Seat in the House, from the band’s latest full-length album, Find a Light, a cynical, backbeat-driven anthem told from the defiant point of view of a working class kid whose ambition doesn’t go much further than that.
Likewise, the funniest point of the evening was when Starr introduced Run Away From It All, a muted, brooding would-be escapee’s tale to open a brief more-or-less acoustic segment. “We haven’t had much luck with radio,” he admitted. “Then I looked around the house and couldn’t remember if I owned a radio.” Over a long enough timeline, all technologies’ survival rates drop to zero.
In contrast with that stark cynicism, the band ran through plenty of sidewinding stomps, a simmering peach pie of southern twang and Stonesy snarl. And then they’d suddenly get serious with a gloomy, toweringly lingering, cinematic mini-epic like the death-obsessed Running Through Time.
The seemingly endless Blackberry Smoke tour continues; the next stop with anything approaching affordable tickets is at Sept 13 at 7:30 PM at the Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S Main St. in Concord, New Hampshire where it will cost Granite Staters $35 to get in.
Saturday night at Pete’s Candy Store, violinist Concetta Abbate held the crowd silent through a beguiling, sometimes entrancing, sometimes sprightly set of original vocal and instrumental numbers, in a duo set with similarly nuanced drummer Ben Engel. Abbate is your typical in-demand string player: one day she’ll be playing Haydn, the next psychedelic Mayan folk with Inti & the Moon, or with Rose Thomas Bannister’s haunting art-rock band.
Abbate’s own material defies categorization. It’s elegant, minutely detailed and rarely ends up where it began. Shifting between pensive ambience, graceful baroque-tinged riffs and gently churning pizzicato phrases, she made all those stylistic leaps and bounds look easy. Most of her songs are under three minutes long, so she came up with several diptychs and triptychs.
A mini-suite from her most recent studio album Falling in Time gave her a launching pad from which to sail to the top of her vocal register – for someone who sings as calmly and often quietly as she does, she has enormous range. The best of the originals might have been a lilting, rather anthemic new one, contemplating how the Brooklyn-Queens border is a graveyard – literally – and allusively referencing the blitzkrieg of gentrification that’s extending that situation, metaphorically at least.
The lone cover in her set was a muted, straightforward chamber-pop arrangement of the Smiths’ There Is a Light That Never Goes Out, arguably even more cruelly bittersweet than the original since Abbate didn’t go over the top with her vocals, letting the lyrics’ angst and longing speak for themselves. Engel’s masterfully suspenseful drumming grounded the music’s upper registers while adding considerable suspense. Whether playing with brushes or mallets, from rustling whispers to spot-on imitations of Arabic drums – boomy daf and gently popping dumbek – he was always in one good place or another.
Abbate’s next gig is at the Park Church Coop at 129 Russell St. in Greenpoint on Sept 9 at 2 PM, joining an chamber ensemble for a killer program of her own work plus material by women composers Missy Mazzoli, Whitney George, Anna Bon and Kate Amrine. There’s no G train this weekend, so you’ll have to take the L to Bedford and walk. Cover is $10 and includes snacks. Abbate is also playing solo at the small room at the Rockwood on Sept 30 at 3 (three) PM.
Martin Bisi is a legend of the New York underground – and he’s hardly a stranger in many other worlds as well. As a young engineer in 1983, he vaulted to prominence by winning a Grammy for his work on Herbie Hancock’s hit Rockit, which would go on to be sampled by thousands of hip-hop acts over the decades. The vast list of acts Bisi has worked with at his legendary Gowanus digs BC Studios runs from Sonic Youth to John Zorn to the Dresden Dolls.
His new album BC 35 – streaming at Bandcamp – was recorded in front of a live audience there over the course of a marathon weekend in January of 2016, a historic event very enthusiastically reviewed here. True to form, Bisi also recorded it and played with many of the groups on the bill, in celebration of the studio’s 35th anniversary. Much as he’s as distinctive and darkly erudite a guitarist as he is a producer, he’s somewhere in the mix here on three tracks: characteristically, he isn’t being ostentatious. His latest gig is at El Cortez on Sept 1 at around 8 on a killer triplebill, in between the perennially sick, twisted noiserock of the Sediment Club and the headliners, no wave sax legends James Chance & the Contortions. Cover is $20.
The order of the tracks leaps back and forth between the Saturday and Sunday sessions. The album’s most notable cut is Details of the Madness, the first recording and live performance by 80s noiserock legends Live Skull (who call themselves New Old Skull here) since 1998. guitarist Mark C, bassist Marnie Greenholz Jaffe and drummer Rich Hutchins pick up like they never left off, enigmatically catchy, icy guitar multitracks over a relentless fuzztone swing that slows with an ominous nod to Joy Division.
Some of these tracks are improvisations, including the album’s opening number, Nowhere Near the Rainbow. Original Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert gives Parlor Walls guitarist Alyse Lamb, Skeleton Boy from Woman and Lubricated Goat’s Stu Spasm a slinky pulse for sputters and squall punctuated by the occasional anthemic goth riff. SYNESTHESIA! – an Alice Donut reunion, more or less – is similar but much dirtier. Denton’s Dive – with Hutchins, Skeleton Boy, Dave W, Phil Puleo and Ivan Up – is practically ten minutes of sludgecore, dissociative reverbtoned noise and swaying atrocity exhibition atmosphere.
Here’s how this blog described the Sunday session jam What a Jerk: “Algis Kisys of Swans jousted with ex-Cop Shoot Cop bassist Jack Natz and drummer Jim Coleman for a ferocious blast through a hornet’s nest of needle-pinning fuzztones and booming low-register chords.” What’s here is a judicious edit – if noiserock jams can be judiciously edited, Bisi’s definitely the man for the job. After that, Tidal Channel’s no wave synth-and-spoken-word piece Humash Wealth Management, Inc. keeps the assault going full force.
JG Thirlwell’s characteristically creepy, southwestern gothic overture Downhill features Insect Ark’s Dana Schechter on bass and violinist Laura Ortman leading a full string section. It is probably less memorable for being this blog’s owner’s most recent appearance on album, as part of the impromptu “BC Radiophonic Choir.”
The lineup on The Animals Speak Truth includes Barbez’s Dan Kaufman on guitar, Botanica’s Paul Wallfisch on organ and keys and the Dresden Dolls’ Brian Viglione on drums, maintaining the lingering lysergic menace in a vamping instrumental that picks up to a grimly tumbling, clustering pace.
Looking back to the weekend reportage again: “Susu guitarist Andrea Havis and drummer Oliver Rivera Drew (who made a tight rhythm section with baritone guitarist Diego Ferri, both of whom play in Bisi’s European touring band) backed Arrow’s soaring frontwoman Jeannie Fry through a swirl of post-MBV maelstrom sonics and wary, moodily crescendoing postpunk jangle.“ That’s His Word Against Mine, by JADO.
White Hills’ echoey End of the Line offers contrast as well as the weekend’s lone reference point to Brian Eno, BC Studios’ co-founder. Bolstered by Wallfisch and Viglione, noir singer/guitarist Ajda the Turkish Queen’s toweringly gorgeous, Lynchian waltz Take This Ride is the strongest track here. The album concludes with a noisy, hypnotically pulsing jam by Cinema Cinema plus David Lackner and Mikel Dos Santos, and more Tidal Channel assault. Warts and all, you’ll see this on the best albums of 2018 page at the end of the year, a magical piece of history. What a treat it was to be witness to most of it.