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Tag: rebecca turner music

Rebecca Turner Brings Her Richly Jangly, Anthemic Songcraft Back to the East Village

Songwriter Rebecca Turner earned a devoted following around the turn of the century for her catchy, anthemic blend of janglerock, Laurel Canyon folk-pop and the occasional detour into starker acoustic folk or more ornate psychedelia. In a lot of ways, she represents the vanguard of ex-Brooklynite musicians caught between the very tail end of the cds-and-college-radio era and the age of streaming and vinyl. She puts out albums at her own pace (she’s working on a new one, helmed in the studio by husband/bassist Scott Anthony, recently responsible for remastering the Feelies’ latest vinyl reissues). She also has an 8 PM gig coming up on May 7 at Hifi Bar, the scene of her most recent Manhattan gig.

That was last year, and it was killer. She had a five-piece backing unit for that one including Anthony on bass and Rich Feridun on six-string lead guitar; John Sharples, playing twelve-string, was the band’s not-so-secret weapon. They opened with a backbeat-driven anthem with torrents of lyrics and tantalizingly unresolved chord changes. The Cat That Can Be Alone, she explained, was inspired by an Anita O’Day quote relayed by Love Camp 7’s Dann Baker, something along the lines of “The cat that can be alone is better off than the cat that can’t.” It turned out to be a bouncy Beatlesque number, Turner soaring to the top of her range with a hint of country twang. She and the band wound it up with a tongue-in-cheek segue into the O’Day version of Tenderly.

Turner’s next number was period-perfect Lakeside Lounge rock from around 2000, a mashup of  swaying vintage 70s C&W-tinged with Blonde on Blonde era Dylan, The set hit a peak midway through with a rousingly jangling take of the Byrdsy anthem The Way She is Now, Sharples choosing his spots and leaving them out to glisten in the bar’s low lights.

Another backbeat anthem, That Did It, was part 60s electric Dylan, part Amy Rigby at her jangliest, with a delicious blend of six and twelve-string guitars meshing with Turner’s acoustic. She followed with Idiot, a similarly catchy, wryly propulsive number. A low-key, matter-of-factly fingerpicked take of the ballad Comfort You Up brought the lights down, Erica Smith joining to add lush low harmonies. Then they picked up the pace again with the lilting, bucolic My Morning.

The cover that had everyone in the crowd mystified was a BeeGees song from the 60s, Sun in My Morning, Sharples’ twelve-string filtering down into it as if in a Turner painting. Arguably the best song of the night was a new one, Tom Tom, shimmering in the twin-guitar jangle, up to a suspenseful turnaround on the chorus and a fiery, twangy Feridun solo. For the encore, Turner aired out what’s become her signature song, Brooklyn Is So Big. It was cute and wistful when it came out: it’s heartbreaking now, considering how many of Turner’s contemporaries have been priced out. It’s a good bet Turner and the band will bust out a lot of this material at the show this weekend.

Erica Smith Brings Her Poignant, Spectacular Voice and Eclectically Shattering Songs to the East Village

Erica Smith is one of New York’s most distinctive and often harrowing voices in folk noir and Americana. But even in this city, Smith’s ability to shift effortlessly from style to style is pretty spectacular. In addition to performing her own music, she’s currently a member of both the Richard Thompson cover group the Shootout Band – in which she puts her own stamp on Linda Thompson’s vocals – and also the explosive gospel-rock band Lizzie and the Sinners. Smith can belt a blues ballad or deliver a plaintive Appalachian narrative with anyone. And she’s also a versatile jazz stylist. Her latest album, a jazz recording with her band the 99 Cent Dreams, is One for My Baby, streaming at Spotify. She’s got a gig coming up on an excellent twinbill at Hifi Bar on May 10 at 7:30 PM; similarly lyrical and somewhat sunnier Americana singer Rebecca Turner follows at around 8:30 PM.

There’s a tragic backstory here: as it turned out, this was the final recording by the great New York drummer Dave Campbell. Perhaps best known for his serpentine, turn-on-a-dime work with psychedelic rock band Love Camp 7, Campbell was also a terrific swing jazz player with a flair for Brazilian grooves, which comes across vividly on the more upbeat tunes here. This is a collection of counterintuitive versions of standards recorded with rock band instrumentation – electric guitar, bass, drums and Leif Arntzen’s soulful muted trumpet on two numbers – along with an obscure treasure by one of this era’s great lit-rock songwriters. It opens with The Very Thought of You, where Smith distinguishes her version from the famous Billie Holliday take with her inscrutable delivery, growing more playfully optimistic as she goes along. Guitarist Dann Baker (also of Love Camp 7) mashes up Barney Kessel and Wes Montgomery as he follows Smith’s emotional trajectory.

Interestingly, there are a couple of songs commonly associated with Sinatra here. Smith does I Could Write a Book as ebullient, optimistic swing: the song feels like it’s about jump out of its shoes, but Smith holds it in check over a slightly ahead-of-the-beat bassline And she does the title track a tad faster than the Ol’ Blue Eyes original, echoing the bartender’s desire to call it a night as much as the wee-hours angst of the lyrics, Baker with her every step of the way through an alternately woozy and vividly brooding interpretation.

She does Rodgers and Hart’s It Never Entered My Mind as lingering, noir-tinged torch jazz, Baker’s gracefully stately chordal ballet in tandem with Campbell’s tersely slinky 6/8 groove. Smith’s careful, minutely jeweled, woundedly expressive vocals mine every ounce of ironic, biting subtext in the lyrics. Ain’t Misbehavin’ gets a hushed low-key swing treatment that builds to coyly nonchalant optimism, Arntzen’s trumpet following suit.

Campbell’s artfully acrobatic tumble opens Everything I’ve Got as an altered bossa before the band swings it by the tail, Smith leading the group on a long upward trajectory that far outpaces the Blossom Dearie original. The album’s most shattering track is a desolate, rainswept take of Cry Me a River, Baker shifting Kessel’s lingering lines further into the shadows over Campbell’s low-key, sepulchrally minimalistic brushwork. The band does the first recorded version of Livia Hoffman’s Valentine as a slow swing tune: “What are childhood crushes for? For crushing all your dreams forevermore,” Smith intones in a knowing, wounded mezzo-soprano. The album winds up with a wryly good-naturedly suspenseful, rainforest-swing solo take of Campbell’s drums on Everything I’ve Got: just wait til the hip-hop nation finds out that this exists. Throughout the record, Smith’s disarmingly direct, imaginative, emotionally vivid phrasing breathes new life into songs that other singers sometimes phone in, reason alone to give this a spin if classic jazz is your thing.

Foreshadowing the Dada Paradox Show This Friday at Freddy’s

Back in the day there were two songwriters, Ian and Liza, and their two bands, the Larch and Liza & the WonderWheels. The Larch was Ian’s band – he played lead guitar and Liza played keys. They sounded like Squeeze or Elvis Costello. Their final two albums – assuming that the band is finished at this point – are among the most brilliantly catchy, subtly venomous lyrical rock releases in recent New York music history.

Liza played rhythm guitar and keys while Ian played lead in Liza & the WonderWheels, who interestingly enough, were one of this city’s great jambands over the past fifteen years or so. Other than Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, it’s hard to think of another female-fronted psychedelic band who were so consistently good.

Attrition set in, the rhythm section in both Ian and Liza’s  bands went through some changes – you know, New York brain drain, rents going up, people getting forced out, ad nauseum – and Liza and the WonderWheels morphed into Tracy Island. Meanwhile, the Larch faced the same dilemma and eventually turned into Dada Paradox, who have a show this coming Friday, March 25 at 8 PM at Freddy’s. Either way, both bands are basically Ian and Liza – who eventually married, but have so far avoided becoming a couplecore band, not only once but twice. That might seem like a major achievement, but it’s no big deal when you consider that Ian and Liza Roure would never write a song about the joys of shopping unless they were being very, very sarcastic.

This blog has yet to cover Dada Paradox, but back in November at Bowery Electric, Tracy Island played a show for the cognoscenti. There was probably as much talent in the crowd as there was onstage. Rebecca Turner and her band opened the night with a richly jangly set that put a teens Brooklyn update on 60s/70s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk, John Sharples taking centerstage on several of the songs with his tersely gorgeous twelve-string lead guitar lines. John Pinamonti, another excellent, judicious twelve-string player, used to be this band’s lead player, and Sharples took his already formidable approach to a new level. Meanwhile, Turner her drummer and her melodic bassist Scott Anthony aired out a bunch of new material as well as old favorites like Brooklyn Is So Big, an ever more bittersweet shout-out to the borough and its ever more widely dispersed artistic class.

The Kennedys headlined, playing guitarmeister Pete Kennedy’s latest solo album Heart of Gotham from start to finish, his wife Maura on soaring vocal harmonies and rhythm guitar. “Down on the corner of hope and glory, to a place called Union Square,” they sang, two voices rising to anthemic proportions that most stadium rock bands can only dream of, in tribute to the many cultures that built New York into one of the world’s great cities until the luxury condo pestilence began wiping it out. A web of deliciously Byrdsy guitars mingled with rousing Celtic flourishes and slinky Pete Kennedy leads, the duo imagining Moses dreaming in the arms of Pharaoh’s Daughter. As a metaphor for a city, is that a ridiculous conceit, or something we can still aspire to? It felt awfully good to get a shot of optimism from these two.

Tracy Island were sandwiched between the two acts, playing the album release show for their debut, War No More. They opened with the catchy, vamping What You Want, a springboard for Liza’s jaunty, seductive vocals. The most delicious moment of the night was when they launched into Eddie Come Down. which is less an entreaty to a would-be suicide than it is an order to a crazy dude to pull his shit together. It wasn’t recognizable at first, Liza’s lingering blue-flame resonance against Ian’s resonantly evil slide lines. With just the two guitars, it brought to mind Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine dueling it out circa 1978, but with vocals that were cool, mentholated, on key, anchoring the stampede as Ian spun wild paisley underground circles against the center. They took it down to almost silence, then back up: if you’ve ever seen the Dream Syndicate, it was like that, just without drums. Back in the day it was the WonderWheels’ big showstopper: they’d go on for ten minutes or more if they were in the mood. Check out the Hall of Eds (hit the listen button and then scroll all the way down) for some of the most enjoyable moments from the last ten years or so of NYC jamband history.

The rest of the set had the jangle and clang and wah and scream going full steam. The catchy, sardonic faux-futurist Where’s My Robot Maid had a stairstepping, axe-murderer solo midway through. From there they rose from a cynical, brooding, minor-key New Depresssion anthem to summery post-Velvets ambience under Liza’s soaring, operatic vocals, then a shuffling, upbeat, Television-ish number. After that they worked an insistent Saturday Nigtht’s All Right for Fighting riff into a characteristically defiant Liza chorus, a reference to a classic punk anthem by X. And with Meet the Animal, they built a distantly simmering, sultry, psychedelic menace, Liza’s voice matched by Ians’s creepy washes of wah guitar. There will probably be many moments like these Friday night at Freddy’s.

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.

The Irrepressible Deena Shoshkes Opens a Night of Cult Favorites This Friday in Park Slope

Some music you can listen to pretty much anytime. Deena Shoshkes‘ music is what you might want to hear when you DON’T want to hear noiserock…or eardrum-smashing jazz improvisation…or doom metal. It’s upbeat and fun and cheery without being bland. For the longest time, Shoshkes fronted the Cucumbers, one of the defining Hoboken bands of the 80s and 90s. Her chirpy high soprano and irrepressible charm won the group an avid cult following, as well as earning a curmudgeonly backlash from a faction who found the band terminally cute. In the years since, Shoshkes has gotten more in touch with her lower register, has added a tinge of smoke and plenty of welcome nuance to her vocals. She’s opening a historically rich triplebill of cult favorites with her band the Laughing Boys at Union Hall in Park Slope this Friday night, March 20 at 8:30 PM followed by downtown NYC postpunk supergroup Heroes of Toolik and then Hoboken janglerock vets Speed the Plow at around 10:30. Cover is $10.

Shoshkes’ latest album Rock River is streaming at Spotify. Her calling cards are craft and a sense of humor. On one level, she takes what does does completely seriously, but she doesn’t seem to take herself seriously at all, and the result is infectious. After awhile, it’s hard to be curmudgeonly, you just start bobbing your head and humming along. A droll spin of the maracas here; a lush waterfall of twelve-string jangle there; a little silly P-Funk portamento synth; references to Brill Building pop, vintage C&W, the majestic clang of the Church in the 80s, even 90s trip-hop in the spirit of edgier bands like Madder Rose.

Her longtime fellow Cucumber Jon Fried adds southern-fried [resisting the urge to say cucumber!} flavor to the punchy opening track, My Own Advice. Longtime Hoboken (ok, ex-Hoboken) luminaries Rebecca Turner and Elena Skye make a Spectoresque chorus on All She Wrote, which sounds like a L’il Mo country crowdpleaser. There are a couple of pensively swaying ventures into Tex-Mex balladry. There’s a soaring country anthem spiced with Jonathan Gregg’s washes of pedal steel that wouldn’t be out of place in the Amy Allison songbook. There’s a saucy organ-and-horn-driven soul groove. Other tracks channels watery new wave and wistful chamber pop. And just when Shoshkes has you thinking that all this is about the hooks and the arrangements, she zings you with a line like “Lost a lot a long time ago in the backdrop of her eyes.”

You aren’t going to hear her sing about how the remains of the Fukushima reactors keep leaking into the Pacific, and that it’s going to kill every living thing on the planet if we don’t stop the deluge. Expecting her to do a song about the Pentagon trying to engineer regime change in Russia – and inciting a global nuclear holocaust – would be a bit of a stretch. Shoshkes seems more content working the corners of a song, intricately and thoughtfully, and having so much fun with it that it makes you jealous. You can get that kind of jealous this Friday in Brooklyn.