New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: roots rock

Gorgeous Jangle and Clang from Chris Erikson

Chris Erikson is oldschool. He’s a newspaperman, covering many beats at the New York Post. He’s also a brilliant guitarist (which is kind of oldschool these days as well) who’s been in demand in the New York scene for a long time, backing such A-list talents as Matt Keating and Florence Dore. Yet he’s not your typically guitarslinger: there are maybe six parts on his new album Lost Track of the Time that you could conceivably call solos. Two of them open and close the album on a boisterous Bakersfield country note, the first a jaunty Buck Owens-like run using the low registers almost like a baritone guitar, the second a high-strung boogie passage in a very cleverly composed mystery story titled The Worst Thing That Ever Happened. Otherwise, Erikson plays chords, elegant riffs and pieces of both, sometimes picking them with his fingers like Keith Richards, sometimes evoking twangmeisters from Duane Eddy to Steve Earle (who’s obviously a big influence here), or even 80s paisley underground legends True West. He’s that interesting, and that tasteful: he always leaves you wanting more.

But there are plenty of good players out there. What elevates this album above your typical Twangville tuneage is the songwriting. Erikson writes allusively, his sharp, frequently bitter, pensive lyrics leaving just enough detail for the listener to fill in the blanks. His changes are catchy and anthemic, driven by a purist melodic sensibility and a love of subtle shifts in tone, touch and attack. Along with the dynamics – something you don’t often see in music like this – there’s also a lot of implied melody. Erikson also happens to be an excellent singer. On the angriest or craziest stuff here, his voice takes on a Paul Westerberg-style rasp; otherwise, his drawl shifts between pensive and sardonic, depending on the lyrics. Again, Steve Earle comes to mind. As you would expect, Erikson’s band the Wayward Puritans is first-rate, with Jason Mercer on bass, Will Rigby on drums plus frequent contributions from Keating on keyboards along with Jay Sherman-Godfrey on guitars, with Bob Hoffnar and Jonathan Gregg on pedal steel, Kill Henry Sugar’s Erik Della Pena on lapsteel, Hem’s Mark Brotter and Gary Maurer (who produced) on drums and acoustic guitar, respectively.

The best song on the album, and the one instant classic here is Ear to the Ground. It starts with a richly clanging, intricate series of chords that are going to have everyone reaching for their six-string: it’s that gorgeous.Those changes come around again a couple of times but Erikson makes you wait for them. It’s a bitter kiss-off song, but a very subtle one: until the end, the story is what doesn’t happen. Erikson does the same on another first-rate backbeat rock track a little later on, The Subject Came Up, an elephant-in-the-room scenario where “by the next morning a chalk outline was all that remained” of what ultimately turned out to be a dealbreaker. The most sarcastic song here, a big 6/8 country anthem titled Guilty, has its obviously wrongfully accused narrator asking for the court to “just read me my rights and I’ll sign on the line” over a rich backdrop of mandolin and dobro.

The funniest songs on the album are both country tunes: the first a honkytonk number about a freeloading girlfriend, lit up by some juicy piano from Keating. The other is When I Write My Memoir, another kiss-off song, but with an unexpected punchline, not the first thing you’d think of from a writer dreaming of seeing his autobio top the charts at amazon. Was That Me sets a tongue-in-cheek, disingenuous lyric to blistering highway rock. There’s also the long, aphoristically unwinding rock anthem On My Way and a couple of pensive, brooding acoustic numbers, In the Station and When It Comes Down, the latter with soaring steel from Hoffnar and a welcome return to the recording studio by Dore, who supplies equally soaring harmony vocals. Count this among the best albums to make it over the transom here this year.

Chris Erikson and the Wayward Puritans, like a lot of New York’s best bands, made Lakeside Lounge their home. Now that Lakeside’s days are numbered (April 30 is the last big blowout there), let’s hope they find another sometime soon.

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Catchy, Energetic Roots Rock from Barry

Upstate New York roots-rock trio Barry’s album Yawnin’ in the Dawning isn’t heavy music by a long shot, but it’s not stupid either. Some would say that the three brothers – Patrick on guitar and vocals, Ben on bass and Brad Barry on drums – are a bar band, which is accurate: they’re a good one. Throw a shot apiece of River-era Springsteen, Damn the Torpedoes-era Petty and the Pogues and chase it all with a beer or two and you have an idea of what they sound like. The production is fat and purist: put this on your headphones and you pretty much forget you’re listening to a mp3.

The title track is a sea chantey: “I only had ten hours of sleep and I wish I had ten more.” Amen to that! The second cut, For Your Own Good adds Celtic overtones to a pounding vintage Springsteeen groove. It’s a defiant individualist anthem, and it’s not a pose. “The bust is coming down on me and I don’t care,” asserts Patrick. Too bad corporate radio doesn’t play catchy singalong songs like this. Carnival (e) is a reggae song that builds a creepy circus scene: “They beg the bearded lady to make faces, to leave traces, of hope for some more.”

The band follows that with After Three Years in Carolina, a catchy, swaying country-rock song with characteristically nice guitar/organ textures and lush vocal harmonies. When the singer’s ex comes back to his neighborhood to haunt him, he has it all figured out: “I got a plan, I’ll get high every day.” The most Irish of all the songs here was obviously made to get the crowd going at shows: it’s a drinking song where each member of the band takes a verse to introduce himself.

I was born the night of a fight in the fall of ’75
The Thrilla in Manila when Ali left Frazier blind …
I’ve staggered through nights on crutches
These are the things that make me feel alive

And then it’s time for shots and beers all around. The album closes with another big, catchy organ-and-guitar-fueled ballad, Love Something Too Much and then one that should have been left on the cutting room floor. Considering the rest of the stuff on this album, it’s safe to assume that the band has more where this came from. The Bushwick and Echo Park trendoid rock blogs absolutely despise this kind of music. A band that’s actually fun, that you can sing along to? Ewww! Which is why you’re reading about it here and not there.

Old Favorites and New Ones

Last night was all about discovery, and rediscovery. The first was five-piece rock band the Downward Dogs, who ripped through a smart, diverse, energetically jangly set of southwestern-tinged rock at the National Underground. Fronted by an animated guitarist who goes by the name Joe Yoga, the band puts a unique spin on Giant Sand style desert rock via an excellent two-piece horn section (tenor sax and trumpet) with some neat, terse charts by the sax player. Backed by an imaginative, tight drummer and a nimble bassist whose tensely rising, trebly lines enhanced the suspenseful ups and downs of the songs, Yoga led the band through a mix of big swaying anthems and quieter, more brooding material. Every single song in the set was good. The lyrics were intriguing. This being the National Underground, it wasn’t easy to hear them: between the dodgy sound mix and the noisy yuppie puppy crowd who’d come in from Long Island to see the whimpering wimps who played beforehand, it wasn’t easy to hear anything, particularly the pensive, sometimes smoldering sax parts. Random, ominous images cut through the roar: the only thing left standing on 93rd St. (yikes!); someone waiting for something awful to happen; the impossibility of getting away with something, “a couple of years after the war.” A refreshing social awareness made its way to the surface: “I am revolution, and I am dead, but I never felt better,” Yoga hollered sarcastically over the dramatic whoosh of the cymbals at one point. The songs ranged from punchy, syncopated mariachi-flavored rock with swirling trumpet, a couple of warmly bouncy Wallflowers-style soul-rock tunes, a couple of pensively expansive anthems that wouldn’t be out of place in the Oxygen Ponies catalog, and a biting garage rock number to close the set on a high note.

After the Downward Dogs, Tom Clark & the High Action Boys played Lakeside. Clark is an artist in the purest sense of the word. Was he going to wait til eleven to hit the stage like most of the Friday night acts here do? No way. He went on early so he and his tight-beyond-belief four-piece band could take their time and mix a few choice covers into the mix along with some new material and familiar crowd-pleasers. Clark isn’t unknown to an international audience: among New York musicians, he’s universally respected . As one audience member remarked, astonished, he manages to play lickety-split yet soulful lead guitar and sing at the same time, and write excellent songs, with good lyrics. It was good to hear that he’s finally going back into the studio next month for a new album, because the new material is characteristically choice. A lot of the songs were upbeat highway rock tunes, but the band varied the dynamics, breaking one down unexpectedly into an almost reggae interlude. The biggest hits with the crowd were New Toothbrush on Your Sink, with its wickedly catchy Flamin Groovies vibe, and If That’s Country Music, I’d Like to Know What Country It’s From, a viciously spot-on commentary on what gets played on “country” radio these days. In between verses and choruses, Clark spun off one lightning-fast solo after another, switching effortlessly between bluegrass, staccato Buck Owens riffage, blue flame Rolling Stones vamps and incisive janglerock. Lead guitar might be a dying art – for the prissy boys of Bushwick, guitars are decor for fashion shoots – but then again, it was ten years ago when Clark was packing crowds into Manitoba’s to watch his fingers fly. The covers were great, too – Albert Hammond’s It Never Rains in Southern California, with the excellent bassist doing the original riffs note-for-note; a similarly edgy, uneasy take of Danny O’Keefe’s Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues and “a song Elvis Costello covered,” an understatedly intense Good Year for the Roses. Clark is upstairs at 2A this Sunday the 16th at around 8 with Lenny Kaye playing pedal steel, plus an expected cavalcade of similar NYC rock luminaries.