New York Music Daily

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Bluegrass Bass Star Missy Raines Puts Out an Intriguing, Original Rock Album

Bassist Missy Raines is a star in the bluegrass world, but her album New Frontier with her band the New Hip is an electric rock record. Much of it is 80s rock. Those songs sounds a lot like the Smiths, but with an emphasis on Johnny Marr guitar (Ethan Ballinger’s lingering, unresolved chords, surf allusions and distant angst) rather than what the Bushwick blog-pop groups steal from that band (cross your legs daintily and repeat with the proper affectation: “Oh, Bryce darling, it was nothing!”). The rest of the album is more straight-up janglerock than it is Americana-flavored. It turns out that Raines is not only a superb bassist but also an excellent singer, with a matter-of-fact, low-key delivery that’s sometimes hushed, sometimes seductive, sometimes channeling a simmering unease.

The opening track, Learn, shifts from a catchy, swaying verse with a hint of a trip-hop beat to an echoing, broodingly anthemic late 80s Britrock chorus. Raines follows that with Blackest Crow, a methodically swaying, understatedly ominous goodbye anthem, like Liz Tormes fronting the Room. The album’s title track works a ringing two-chord vamp that reminds of the Railway Children, Jarrod Walker’s mandolin and Ballinger’s guitar trading off elegantly. Nightingale traces a night ride through Florida with an Angel from Montgomery type hook that grows more mysterious and seductively lush on the chorus – it would be a standout Sheryl Crow song.

Long Way Back Home uneasily contemplates the temptations of fame and everything that comes with it – maybe you don’t become what you dream of being after all. Where You Found Me ramps up the ominousness with its resonant pools of guitar, like Lush with a gently resolute American accent, and Raines’ opaque lyrics: is this a story being told from beyond the grave? Likewise, Kites, a slow, brooding ballad, like a harder-edged Mazzy Star.

When the Day Is Done works a slowly swaying, moody blend of Americana and 80s Britrock. What’s the Callin’ For begins with a hint of bluegrass but then becomes a growling highway rock tune lit up by a searing guitar solo, part country and part dreampop: it’s a neat touch. The album ends with American Crow, a somber, metaphorically-charged bird-on-a-wire tableau. It’s quite a change of pace for Raines, but like all good musicians, she’s obviously listened and played far outside her regular style: she could be a fish out of water here, but she’s not.

Dead Leaf Echo’s Debut Album: A Rainy Day Treat

Dead Leaf Echo plays the release show for their debut album Thought & Language on Feb 27 at 10:30 at the Mercury Lounge for $10. If this had come out on 4AD in 1989, it would be regarded as a classic of its kind today. The band name is well-chosen: their music has a vividly chilly autumnal feel as well as a reverberating, hypnotic ambience.  Wet, shimmery, frequently icy layers of guitar mist swirl and echo through simple, catchy hooks that often bring to mind bands like My Bloody Valentine and Lush in their early years. Call it shoegaze, or dreampop, or goth, it’s a mix of all three.

The album’s opening track, Conception, sets the tone, a rain-drenched soundscape morphing into an insistent, cyclical hook, riffs echoing dubwise throughout the mix. The second cut, Kingmaker opens bright and ringing like mid-80s Cure, echoey guitar screams fading into white noise a la the Church. That band is echoed even more vividly on Featherform, a mix of elegant jangle and nebulous shoegaze, its clangy lines rising insistently and then blending into a lushback drop for a baroque-tinged outro. It segues into Internal with its dreaminess juxtaposed against steady bass chords, once again building into an intricate, majestically enveloping web of sound.

Language of the Waves blends the catchy, chiming bounce of late 80s bands like the Mighty Lemon Drops with more ornate sonics. Memorytraces (a free download) is the album’s best and loudest song, a swaying, catchy anthem with a terse, incisive flange guitar solo and a lush, distantly jangling outro with biting harmonic flourishes. Like many of the tracks here, it segues into the next one, Birth, with it simple, direct bass pulse, pensive anthemicness and insistently crescendoing guy/girl vocals.

Child rises out of a hazy tone poem of sorts to a breathless pace, followed by the rising and receding waves of Thought, distantly majestic slide guitar moving through the mix. Dream of the Soft is sort of a gentler take on the blend of folk and new wave that the Railway Children began their career with, a New Order-ish bass hook rising and eventually pushing everything to the side.

The bouncy Heavensent is sort ofa  hybrid of the Cure, Lush and the Coctean Twins, period-perfect wthout being cheesy or a ripoff. By contrast, the slowly atmospheric Gesture reverts to early 90s Church sonics and dramatic heft. She Breathes goes for more of a late 80s pop feel amidst the grey-sky ambience, while Birthright brings in a marching goth vibe.

Flowerspeak, with its bass hook anchoring the spacious, minimalist melody, could be the Police if they’d stuck around after Synchronicity. The album ends with Language and its contrasting high/low, light/dark textures and echoey raindroplet guitar awash in banks of reverb. It’s music to get lost in, a treat for fans of dark, pensive, rainy-day music. One thing on this album that would be good to hear more of is guitarist Ana B.’s voice: she nails the moody uncertainty of the era the band has embraced. It’s tempting to say that they’ve coldly embraced it, but that be an extreme for a band whose sense of the understated and the enigmatic is their greatest asset.

Bern & the Brights: Better Than Ever

The Rosie the Riveter style portrait on Hoboken, New Jersey band Bern & the Brights’ new album Work echoes their 2010 debut, Swing Shift Maisies – these women (and guys) have really been busting lately. Their second album signals a major shift in the band’s sound: with the departure of violinist Nicole Scorsone, they’ve tightened their songwriting, with greater focus and emphasis on hooks instead of psychedelic vamps and chamber-rock interludes. Frontwoman/lead guitarist Bernadette Malavarca’s vocals are more casual, more diverse and a lot more subtle: she’s getting twice the impact out of half the effort, often with a coy chirp similar to guitarist/singer Catherine McGowan’s own style. Bassist Sean Fafara serves as a second lead guitarist with his edgy, melodic runs when he’s not holding steady and terse alongside drummer Jose Ulloa Rea. As much as the band has gone for a more cohesive style, their songwriting is still impressively diverse and unpredictable.

The opening track, Slave Driver, is a reggae song with some deviously LOL dub tinges – and then suddenly it picks up to a warmly swaying, backbeat chorus. Malavarca adds an ominously spaghetti western-flavored guitar solo when least expected…and then the band takes it down to dub, and then back up again. The second track, War & Games nicks that cloying riff by the Cure that doesn’t seem like it’ll ever disappear and builds to brightly clanging 80s British guitar-pop, something akin to a female-fronted version of the Mighty Lemon Drops or the Railway Children. I See Red is not a Split Enz cover but an original, once again juxtaposing a biting reggae pulse against another one of those irresistibly catchy, bouncy choruses. They follow that with Sick of Seeing You – as in “sick of seeing you in my dreams, get out!” – it’s part Celtic-tinged stadium rock, part reggae, with luscious layers of viciously tremolo-picked guitar.

Irish Boys harks back to the band’s earlier sound, veering between minor-key soul and indie atonality until yet another catchy chorus kicks in. The band follows that with As Long As I’m Alive, a neat and guitarishly delicious mix of loping electric bluegrass and highway rock. The final cut, Thieves Creeps & Automatons looks at the kind of people who “throw their weight around and watch you drown,” who are gonna find you, the two women sing with a casual menace on the chorus. Malavarca’s jaunty, nimble bit of an electrified Irish reel afterward is one of the album’s high points. Another winner from a band that just gets better and better. They’re at Zirzamin on Oct 16 at a little aftter 8.