New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: roy orbison

Rachael Kilgour’s New Album Transcends Trauma

Rachael Kilgour is the rare artist who sounds perfectly good in the studio, but onstage takes her formidable vocal skills to a level that few singers even attempt, let alone reach. Her Lincoln Center show last year was absolutely shattering. She cried during one of that evening’s saddest songs – that’s how deeply she inhabits her characters. And she’s hilarious, too: few songwriters can be so much fun, and so insightful, pillorying rightwing hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance.

But most of the material at that show wasn’t the political satire she’s best known for. The majority of the set was Americana ballads from her latest album Rabbit in the Road, streaming at her webpage. She’s bringing that harrowingly melismatic voice and alternately plaintive and biting tunesmithing to a couple of New York shows this month. On May 12 at 7 PM she’s at the Commons Cafe, 388 Atlantic Ave.in Cobble Hill; take any train to Atlantic Ave; The following night at 8, she’s at Caffe Vivaldi preceded at 7 by another eclectic songwriter with a sense of humor, Orly Bendavid & the Mona Dahls.

And now that you know how ferociously political Kilgour’s previous output is, now’s the time to tell you that her latest release is far more personal. It’s a breakup album.

Aie aie aie.

Michael Franti used to write brilliant political songs and raps back in the day. Then he decided that schlocky top 40 love ballads were his thing – and fell off the map. Paul Weller once fronted one of the best and most political punk rock bands ever, the Jam…and never wrote a song worth hearing after they broke up. Did Kilgour run out of gas too?

As it turns out, no. Her lyrics on the new album can be just as incisive and edgy, and she can still write a catchy hook and an anthemic chorus with the best of them. It’s just her focus that’s changed direction. It seems that Kilgour got blindsided in a particularly messy divorce. She’s been outspoken about how she wants to break down the barriers between audience and performer, and that she sees the new material as being therapeutic for both sides of that equation.

So it’s comforting on more than one level that she’s succeeded at what she wanted to achieve: this is the rare heartbreak narrative that doesn’t come across as mawkish or cliched. The album opens with a soul-tinged, somewhat stunned miniature that sets the stage. Deep Bruises is where the shock sinks in, Kilgour trying to talk herself through an endless cycle of despair: It’s the one song that best evokes her soaring, Orbison-esque angst when she slides up to a note to drive a chorus home. Steve Wynn’s Tears Won’t Help You Now is a good point of comparison.

Ready Freddie is the ballad that Kilgour had the hardest time getting through at the Lincoln Center gig. It’s an attempt to cheer up her adopted daughter, someone she’s obviously close to and missed terribly when she wrote it. it’s a theme she revisits almost as fervently later on the record. By contrast, Up From Down is a kiss-off anthem, if a muted one, set to a pleasant if innocuous full-band folk-pop arrangement.

Anger rises in Still My Wife, the homey imagery that Kilgour opens with giving way to a cheating tale straight out of a classic country ballad. The dismissive patronizing title track is songwriter vengeance at its most subtle and satisfying: in case you haven’t already figured it out, never, EVER mess with one, they always get even in the end

Don’t Need Anyone echoes the defiance of Kilgour’s political work as much as her vocals echo Neko Case. “You think I need a lover to save me from my grief? I don’t need distractions, I don’t need your second hand relief,” she insists. Likewise, Hit By a Bus balances mixed feelings with vindictiveness: guess which one wins.

Kilgour has had great fun mocking Christian extremists (some people mistake her for a born-again because they don’t get the joke). So I Pray might seem like quite a departure, but it’s a wish, rather than a call to some patriarchal force, and a launching pad for vocal pyrotechnics in a live setting. Even here, Kilgour can’t resist a delicious dig: “I pray, to no one in particular, that they’ll help you find your way.” The album’s concluding cut, Break Wide Open is the only place where it feels overproduced: it doesn’t really add anything. Needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see what direction Kilgour goes in after this. We could use her stiletto wit and inclusive vision right about now.  

A Playful Change of Pace for New Orleans Chanteuse Carsie Blanton

On one hand, for Carsie Blanton to put out a record of Lynchian retro rock is kind of like the Squirrel Nut Zippers making a heavy metal album. But the Zippers are great musicians – who knows, maybe they’d pull it off. Turns out Blanton is just as adept at allusive, nocturnal early 60s Nashville pop as the oldtimey swing she made her mark in. Her latest album, So Ferocious, is streaming at her webpage and available as a name-your-price download, the best advertising she could possibly want for her upcoming show at 7 PM on Feb 21 at the Mercury. Cover is $10.

Although it’s a switch for her, Blanton is just as badass and funny as she is out in front of a swing band. She sings and plays uke here, backed by guitarist Pete Donnelly, keyboardist Pat Firth, bassist Joe Plowman and drummer Jano Rix. One of the funniest tracks is Fat and Happy, a return to Blanton’s oldtimey days: the theme is “just wait and see,” and the way it turns out is too LMAO to give away.

Fever Dream builds a surreal New Orleans after-the-storm scenario, darkly spare bass paired against sepulchral toy piano. Hot Night offers a bouncy, energetic contrast, spiced with a distant brass chart; if Springsteen really wanted to write an oldschool soul song, he would have done it like this. Another nocturnal soul ballad, Lovin Is Easy pairs a spare string section against similarly low-key electric piano and Blanton’s unselfconsciously matter-of-fact, tender vocals.

Ravenous, a chirpy look back at adolescent friskiness, has a roller-rink charm that brings to mind both the Kinks and the Cucumbers, a mashup that Blanton revisits on the understatedly biting title track.. She turns the clock back anothe twenty years in Scoundrel, a coy Phil Spector pop tale about a couple of troublemakers.

Musically speaking, the album’s best track is probably The Animal I Am, a defiant individualist’s anthem set to artsy Jeff Lynne-style Nashville gothic pop. The album’s darkest track is To Be Known, part brooding Jimmy Webb chamber pop, part early BeeeGees existentialist lament. “Isn’t it al you ever wanted, to be alone?” Blanton ponders. Or is it “To be known?”. There’s also Vim and Vigor, a funnier take on what Amy Winehouse was up to before she self-destructed. Download this irrepressibly fun, dynamic mix and get to know one of the real genuine individualists in retro rock and many other styles as well.

Ultan Conlon Hits New York With His Broodingly Lyrical, Vivid Grey-Sky Chamber Pop

Irish crooner Ultan Conlon sings with the same kind of hesitancy at the end of a phrase that Morrissey worked for so long – and for all we know, still is working. But Conlon can also sail up high like Orbison and belt like Pierce Turner when he feels like it. His latest album, Songs of Love So Cruel – streaming at Spotify – is a gloomy cycle told from the point of view of an old man looking back on his marriage with all sorts of angst and regret. Right now Conlon’s in town, with a Dives of New York tour in the works. Tonight, August 27 at around 8:30 PM, he’s at Hifi Bar, with the lyrically brilliant, increasingly harder-rocking Linda Draper opening at 7:30. Then tomorrow, August 28 at 8 PM he’s at 12th Street Bar & Grill in Park Slope; on the 29th at one in the afternoon, he’s at Little Water Radio in South Street Seaport.

Conlon’s site doesn’t credit the musicians on the record, and that’s a pity, because the arrangements and playing are first-rate, purist and inspired: a lot of work went into this. It opens with In the Mad, a brisk janglerock anthem with a lush string section that kicks in on the second chorus. Trouble’s brewing right from the start: “It’s wild and desolate in this snow-cold land,” Conlon grouses. He follows with The Golden Sands, a backbeat janglerocker. Conlon’s narrator longs to be swept off his feet, and “You wait for the day but it’s not coming round.”

The Lumberjack, You and Me, the first of the Americana numbers here, is an elegant waltz:

On the way to the Galway railway station
With your brother there so I can’t say what I’m thinking…
A wry smile, we will meet in September
All political lives end in failure…
I don’t grow, I just cling to the vine

“There’s a trail we wore down across the years,” the protagonist laments in the elegaically shuffling, slide guitar-fueled Dance to Paper Roses. Bristlecone Pines is even more wintry and morose, contemplating what hell must be like: “My limbs will mend but there are cracks, and those ones won’t.” Then the band returns to a shuffle groove with Lonely Avenues, the closest thing to the Smiths here, Conlon reaching for the rafters.

The lush art-rock ballad Eternally evokes Pink Floyd, especially when the slide guitar enters: “Oh how my eyes deceive me now, looking out on this minefield…like seeds waiting to explode, to go up in flames.”

Conlon follows the vampy stadium-rock anthem Place Of Sanctuary with the lush, gorgeously bittersweet art-folk ballad The River Flows and The Woods Creep, a duet with Sabrina Dinan. By the time the album closes with the spare, harp-speckled When I Fell in Love With You, it’s clear that this relationship is now one for the ages. Fans of the sad side of chamber pop will have a field day with this.

Eric Ambel’s New Lakeside Record Captures the Guitarmeister at the Top of His Game

Eric Ambel is well known in Americana rock circles and something of a legend in New York. He’s played with everybody. He did a lengthy stint as Steve Earle’s lead guitarist back in the zeros. Before that he fronted the influential Del-Lords. For more than a decade, he ran the East Village’s coolest bar and music venue, Lakeside Lounge. And he continues to produce artists at his Williamsburg studio, Cowboy Technical Services.

He’s also got a new album, also called Lakeside, a fond over-the-shoulder look at the kind of edgy, purist retro sounds that could be found onstage during his old venue’s heyday. Interestingly, rather than producing this himself like his other solo albums, Ambel brought in Jimbo Mathus. formerly with the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who also contributes guitar and bass – and drums on one track. The result is a gatefold vinyl album (that comes with a couple of download cards), available in a limited edition of 500 copies, signed and numbered. This is one of those records you’ll probably want to tape and then play the caasette til it self-destructs. Seriously – if you own a turntable, you probably own a tape deck too.

Ambel’s longtime rhythm section, bassist Keith Christopher and drummer Phil Cimino show up on most of these tracks. As dirty and messy as Ambel can get, there’s a level of craft in what he does that’s rarely seen these days. That isn’t to say that there aren’t guys dedicatedly spending hours hunched over their laptops trying to get the right sound or the right mix, just that Ambel does it with quality gear. And while he’s known first and foremost as a guitarist, he really hit the vocals out of the park here. Other guys get old and reedy and raspy; Ambel sounds about 25, full of piss and vinegar.

The opening track is Ambel’s old Del-Lords bandmate Scott Kempner’s Here Come My Love. It’s a ba-bump roadhouse rock number with that band’s signature sardonic, surreal sense of humor and a tasty acoustic/electric backdrop. Mathus’ first number, Hey Mr. DJ is a sludgy, coldly amusing look at groupthink among the entitled sons and daughters of the idle classes on the demand side of the current plague of gentrification.

Have Mercy, a co-write with Spanking Charlene frontwoman Charlene McPherson, revisits that theme, an update on Creedence swamp rock with plenty of Ambel’s signature, offhandedly savage riffage. Let’s Play with Fire, another Mathus number, mashes up shuffling C&W and Orbison noir, with an absolutely Lynchian lapsteel solo by the bandleader. Side 1 concludes with Don’t Make Me Break You Down, an Ambel/Mathus co-write with a glowering Neil Young/Crazy Horse vibe.

Side 2 opens with the Ramones-tinged Massive Confusion, a Mathus tune. Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio, which always seemed to pop up somewhere during Ambel’s shows on his old East Village turf, gets a lingering, nocturnal Sticky Fingers treatment that builds to a mighty psychedelic peak. Ambel does the old soul hit Money as a haphazardly prowling Neil/Crazy Horse burner. The album’s best track is the slow, brooding minor-key Buyback Blues, drenched in an ocean of reverb and guitar multitracks.”It takes a special kind of understanding for a man to live in the nighttime,” Ambel sings dryly and knowingly. The record winds up with Ambel’s twangy, bittersweet, distantly Lynchian instrumental Crying in My Sleep.

Is this Ambel’s best solo record? It’s definitely as good as any of the other three. From the perspective of having caught the cult classic Roscoe’s Gang album back in the day when every bar in what used to be a happening neighborhood was playing it, it’s hard to tackle that question with any real objectivity. Ambel’s next show is at Berlin (in the basement space under 2A; enter through the door on the right, midway down the bar on the first floor) on April 29.

Tom Shaner Brings His Darkly Purist, Eclectically Expert Tunesmithing to Bowery Electric Tonight

Tom Shaner personifies the veteran New York cult artist. With his cool, inscrutable vocal delivery, he’s fluent in all sorts of styles, from dusky southwestern gothic, to rockabilly, to psychedelia and brooding Tom Waits-ish saloon blues. His late 90s-early zeros band Industrial Tepee wowed the critics, blew the Dave Matthews band off the stage while opening for them and held down a Manhattan residency at Manitoba’s for awhile. After that, Shaner went solo and had a monthly Saturday night residency at Lakeside Lounge for several years. Since then, his hometown live shows have been more infrequent, although he continues to make great albums and funny videos. He’s got an epic new one, I Hate to See Your Spirit Fade – streaming at Spotify -and a show at 8 PM tonight, March 5 at Bowery Electric. Cover is $10.

The production and arrangements are intricate and purist. Shaner weaves layers of electric and acoustic guitars, piano and organ, accordion, upright and electric bass, and subtle drums into an imaginative, purist mesh, vocals up front, drums in the back, oldschool style. The album opens with the vividly desolate, desperate border-rock anthem Viva Las Nowhere, adrift in tinkly saloon piano, mariachi guitar and accordion:

We can’t stay here, riding the wild rapids of our tears…
It’s the wrong kind of silence here
Like everybody wants to disappear

“If you like your honey on the edge of knife,” Shaner asserts, New York City Is Paradise Number 2, a soberingly edgy minor-key strut that doesn’t shy away from the fact that most of this town is in crushing poverty. By contrast, the warmly catchy ballad Tide of Love reminds of Richard Thompson, with its delicate web of fingerpicked guitars.

Much as a lot of Shaner’s music is pretty dark, he can also be hilarious. Case in point: Vanessa the Vegan Murderess, a cruelly tongue-in-cheek, vaudevillian tale of a real killjoy of a killer. Likewise, When the Machine Tells You No takes a random computer crisis and makes galloping, full-throttle southwestern gothic rock out of it.

The album’s longest and most haunting track is the swaying, trippily nocturnal Lake 48, tracing a pilgrimage to a paradise which might turn out to be something else entirely. The title track brings to mind the Grateful Dead or Asylum Street Spankers in briskly shuffling mode, livened with terse pedal steel. Shaner edges toward aphoristically bluesy Waits territory with the haphazardly swinging, bitingly minor-key When the Devil Comes Calling, then revisits that rakish vibe with the wry Soldier of Sin and then Rock and Roll Is a Natural Thing.

True Love Is Hard Work, featuring Emmy Bean on harmony vocals, is part Orbison, part Byrds and part Buddy Holly. Wandering Heart also looks back to that era, but with more of a sadly glimmering Lynchian C&W edge. New Rebel Girl takes an unexpectedly harrowing detour into dub reggae, a portrait of womens’ struggle to survive under repressive Asian regimes.

There’s also the hazy, Meddle-era Pink Floyd-tinged psych-folk waltz Last Summer, the similarly laid-back Lazy Man and;the jaunty I Can’t Be the One. Seventeen tracks and no filler, one of the best albums to come over the transom here in the past year. And Shaner’s even more acerbic onstage than he is on record.

Jon DeRosa Brings His Haunting, Lynchian Chamber Pop Back to New York

It’s amazing how Jon DeRosa can croon with such nuance and skill considering that he’s lost most of the hearing in his right ear. Another sad reminder of the brain drain that continues to plague New York, the noir chamber pop singer decamped for Los Angeles last year, but has a haunting new album, Black Halo  to show for it. He’s bringing those ghostly songs back to town for an album release show at around 10 at St. Vitus in Greenpoint on June 3; cover is $10.

“The initial inspiration was this intense feeling of isolation and disconnection growing in me while still in New York,” DeRosa explains, “And kind of retreating into this inner world, this spirit world, really. After living there for so many years, I literally felt like a ghost drifting through the crowds, invisible, and with no real connection to anyone or anything.”

Who in New York, who’s been here since the zeros or even earlier, hasn’t felt that way? We’re excluded from the political process that’s turning even the grungiest working-class neighborhoods into ghost towns of future crackhouses, built not as actual homes but as lifesize gamepieces for robber barons hell-bent on cashing in on the real estate bubble before it explodes. And the privileged white suburbanites displacing the artistic class here have no interest in what makes a city a city. The arts don’t exist in their social media-based meta-world. They barely even watch movies. They’re all starring in their own little status-grubbing dramas which they think are comedies but are really horror videos. And they all think they’re Spielberg, but they’re not even Ed Wood. What’s just as disturbing is that some of us have found ourselves dragged into that too, by demands of the dayjob or just trying to stay in touch with the rest of the world.

That was what DeRosa escaped; from the album, he seems to have regained his footing in a shadowy place between the living and the dead. Much as there’s an elegaic strain that runs throughout the songs, there’s hope as well. DeRosa plays guitars, with Charles Newman on keys, Matt Basile on bass, Tom Curiano on drums and Carina Round on vocals. Claudia Chopek’s one-woman string section and Brad Gordon’s one-man wind ensemble join forces to create a lush miniature orchestra on several of the tracks.

The album’s opening, Lynchian, 60s noir pop ballad, Fool’s Razor establishes an atmosphere of anomie and defeat despite its towering, angst-fueled sweep. DeRosa’s chiming twelve-string guitar mingles with glockenspiel and piano on The Sun Is Crying, a sad waltz with a late 60s Laurel Canyon psych-pop vibe and a shout-out to Leonard Cohen. Then DeRosa and Round reach for unexpectedly blithe, surrealistic, mariachi-tinged Vegas pop with When Daddy Took the Treehouse Down.

Coyotes veers from southwestern gothic to mid-80s Cure jangle: “Fear is a thief in disguise, cuts out your heart and flees with its prize,” DeRosa broods in his resonant baritone, then follows with a wryly familiar Edith Piaf riff. Give Me One More Reason is the album’s most psychedelic track, a bartender cynically watching the night’s last patrons, who “don’t know how it feels to end the night standing upright,” waiting til after the doors are locked to pour a few glasses for the ghosts of the whores who still call the dive their home.

The bolero-rock number Lonely Sleep works an elegant, understated angst:

You say that there’s a river, but I see no way across
And you say the mind’s the builder, but my mind has long been lost

DeRosa and Round duet on the ghostly lullaby Dancing in a Dream, a more organic take on Julee Cruise Twin Peaks atmospherics. The piano-driven dirge Blood Moon brings to mind the Ocean Blue as well as DeRosa’s more ambient work with Aarktika. Likewise, Knock Once has 80s values: brisk new wave bassline, hypnotically loopy goth guitar. Then DeRosa brings a lingering, astigmatic 80s ambience to Orbisonian pop with You’re Still Haunting Me – which, when you think about it, pretty much defines what Lynchian music is all about, right?

The album’s most epic number is High and Lonely, a spare, hypnotically apocalyptic anthem: “I want none of your fleeting wealth, I want none of your earthly fortune,” is DeRosa’s mantra. The album winds up with the title track, a Spectoresqe instrumental waltz. DeRosa has a strong and occasionally shattering back catalog, notably his 2012 release A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes, but this is his strongest, most consistent release. It’s not officially out yet, therefore no streaming link, although a couple of tracks are up at Motherwest Studios’ soundcloud page. Fans of the creme de la creme of dark rock: Nick Cave, Mark Sinnis and the rest will love this. It’s good to see someone we pretty much took for granted here in New York able to keep the torch burning thousands of miles away.

Mark Sinnis Brings His Gloomy Honkytonk Songs Back to His Old East Village Haunts

One consequence of the brain drain continuing to pour out of this city’s five boroughs is that in order to see some of the best musicians who’ve been priced out by the real estate bubble, you have to go where they are. So it was good to be able to catch longtime downtown NYC presence and charismatic Nashville gothic crooner Mark Sinnis playing a marathon gig at the refreshingly laid-back Mohansic Grill & Lounge in Yorktown Heights, up in Westchester, back in November. The show was like one of those old-fashioned tent revival style C&W extravaganzas from the 1950s, except with just one band, serenading an enthusiastic Saturday night crowd for well over two hours. Sinnis and his group 825 return to his old East Village stomping grounds, upstairs at 2A at 10 PM on Feb 15 as part of impresario/bandleader/genius guitarist Tom Clark‘s weekly Sunday American shindig.

The Yorktown Heights gig was on the back porch of a restaurant overlooking a golf course, not such a strange place to see a band up that way as it might seem. And the band was tremendous. Lead guitarist James “Smokey Chipotle” Brown locked in on some classic honkytonk harmonies with pedal steel player Brian Aspinwall when the two weren’t involved in high-voltage musical banter. Other times, Aspinwall would anchor the sound with high lonesome washes and wails as Senor Chipotle spun from wry hillbilly boogie licks, to eerie David Lynch twang, to chicken-scratch Johnny Cash rhythm or ringing, clanging Bakersfield riffage. Bassist John Goldberg held the rig to the road as drummer Michael Lillard kept the wheels spinning with every classic country shuffle beat ever invented, trumpeter Lee Compton adding both mariachi flair and a mournful, funereal New Orleans touch, often in tandem with a bluesy harmonica player who was new to the band.

Sinnis delivered the songs in his brooding baritone. Much as this band can hold their own with any other classic honkytonk crew out there, what distinguishes his Nashville gothic from, say, Nick Cave, or Roy Orbison, is that he really lets the band cut loose: several of the numbers went on for a solid six or seven minutes, with plenty of time for solos from pretty much everybody in the group. His lyrics mine a classic Americana vernacular full of doom and dread: funeral trains emerging into the dawn, ill-fated relationships, ghosts and faded memories of fleetingly good times now gone forever. And love affairs gone straight to hell, taking shape via slow, opiated dirges, bitter shuffle grooves or grimly romping numbers like one of the centerpieces of the early set, Mistaken for Love.

Many of the night’s hardest-hitting numbers – the angst-fueled funeral train anthem Cold Night in December, the booze-drenched Wine and Whiskey and the Devil Makes Three, and It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter – appear on his latest album with this band. Some of the unexpectedly quieter material, strangely enough, was taken from his extensive back catalog with dark art-rock band Ninth House, a unit Sinnis has fronted since the late 90s and has pulled deeper and deeper into Americana in recent years. He also brought out a couple of excellent new songs, one a brooding, manic-depressive bolero, another a morose honkytonk breakup ballad. All this gives you an idea of what to expect this Sunday: classic ideas and riffs updated for the here and now, with an unending gloom. Tom Clark’s Sunday nights at 2A draw a decent crowd and an A-list of NYC Americana talent – Amy Allison played a rare full-band show with LA cult favorite Don Heffington there last week, for example – but deserve an even wider audience and a better night than they have. Sinnis and 825 ought to bring it this Sunday.

Disarmingly Down to Earth, Catchy Original Acoustic Americana from Joanna Sternberg

Joanna Sternberg‘s expression on the cover of her new solo acoustic album Lullaby to Myself – streaming at Bandcamp – isn’t quite a scowl. But whatever she’s thinking about, she’s dead serious. Which could be a bit of a red herring since her lyrics have a deadpan humor that’s often just plain LMAO funny. Her vocals have the well-rounded fullness of a choirgirl (was she one in previous incarnation? Good possibility). Although guitar is not her main axe – she’s a conservatory-trained bassist – she plays her six-stringer confidently, knows her way around a catchy tune and draws on centuries of Americana without sounding cliched. Linda Draper is a good comparison, but where Draper fingerpicks, Sternberg strums. She’s playing the small room at the Rockwood tomorrow night, Feb 10 at 7 PM. In a vexing if probably unintentional stroke of booking, lyrical rock cult hero Ward White is playing next door at the big room at the same time. Tough choice, huh! If that’s too much of a dilemma, she’s at the Knitting Factory at 9 on Feb 18.

The first track on the new album is A Country Dance, a liltingly evocative nocturnal tale. “Follow me and my bottle of wine and we’ll dance near the stars,” Sternberg entreats, ” I’ll tell you my various schemes.” He Dreams is a sad, stripped-down take on the kind of honkytonk waltz Patsy Cline would do, set to a Mr. Bojangles-y tune. Likewise, Sternberg’s blithe vocals mask the wry sarcasm of the front porch folk number The Love I Give.

It Happens to Be a Boy looks at the same equation with a lot more optimism and good cheer. I Will Be With You has a misty, bittersweetly nocturnal vintage C&W angst – it’s sort of a mashup of the Davis Sisters and Roy Orbison, a feel that recurs toward the end of the album in a brooding breakup waltz simply titled The Song. Although Sternberg is clearly addressing herself on the charmingly antique title track, it’s a lullaby for pretty much anybody, even a toddler. Then she picks up the pace with the most bustling number here, I’ve Got Me, a wry look at the perils of self-absorption: “Between self-hatred and self-awareness is a very fine line…why is it so hard to be kind and gentle to myself?” she muses.

Without You brings to mind Bessie Smith’s After You’ve Gone; like a lot of the songs here, it benefits from some absolutely marvelous natural reverb in the space where it was recorded. The final track, I’ll Make You Mine is hardly as cheerful as the title suggests, one of many places on this album where the subtext runs deep. These songs may be just guitar and vocals, but Sternberg packs a lot into them.

Blue-Eyed Soul Band Spain Bring Their Disquieting Sounds to NYC

For the past twenty-odd years, Josh Haden’s group Spain have occupied a unique, distantly Lynchian netherworld of blue-eyed soul and moody, purist pop tunesmithing, sort of like the Eels playing Orbison – or vice versa. They’re making a rare couple of stops in NYC, first at the Lincoln Center Atrium on Jan 29 at 7:30 PM for free, early arrival being the keyword there. They’re also at Rough Trade on Feb 3 at 9 for $15.

Their fifth and latest album, Sargent Place – streaming at Spotify – features the latest incarnation of the band, with Haden on bass plus Daniel Brummel on lead guitar, Randy Kirk on keys and guitars and Matt Mayhall on drums. Textures are big with this band: for example, the way that Haden’s bass and Brummel’s guitar evoke the spare sound of a Fender Rhodes on the tersely catchy, incendiarily crescendoing opening track, Love At First Sight. There’s an actual Rhodes on the enigmatically soul-tinged, waltzing second cut, The Fighter, featuring Haden’s sister Petra on harmony vocals and strings – it wouldn’t be out of place in the Lee Feldman catalog. She reappears on the duskily smoldering, blues-drenched dirge From the Dust

It Could Be Heaven subsumes its morbidness in Chuck Prophet-style purist pop catchiness – but just barely. Sunday Morning isn’t the Velvets classic but a pretty damn good song in its own right, an insistently pulsing, troubled, vintage 60s minor-key soul strut with a savage guitar solo out.

Haden brings down the lights with the slow, balmy, gospel-tinged 6/8 soul ballad Let Your Angel and keeps the moody, churchified atmosphere going with To Be a Man. He hits a peak with the absolutely Lynchian longing and angst of In My Soul, fueled by Brummel’s eerily gleaming, reverbtoned lead lines. The hushed folk-pop lullaby You and I is sadly notable for being the final studio recording by Haden’s dad, jazz bass legend Charlie Haden. The album winds up with the simple, disarmingly direct Waking Song: “Every time I go to sleep, it’s time to wake up,” Haden relates, something for the insomniac in all of us.

Revisiting a Cult Classic Album from John Sharples

Drummers usually have huge address books: the good ones play with lots of different people. That’s true of John Sharples, but his musicianship extends beyond drums to guitar, bass and keyboards. Many of the tracks on his obscure 2004 gem, I Can Explain Everything have him doing both basic and lead tracks on all those instruments plus vocals, but it’s not just a one-man band thing. It’s aged well, a tuneful, eclectic mix of powerpop, riff-rock, oldschool C&W and Americana. More importantly, it has historical significance for documenting the scene centered around Freddy’s Bar, the Atlantic Yards hotspot notoriously driven out in the illegal land grab that spawned the hideous, already decaying new basketball stadium there. Freddy’s lives on, relocated to Brooklyn’s South Slope; likewise, Sharples, a.k.a. Reggie Mental (his alter ego in obscure/legendary faux first-wave punk band the Spunk Lads) has a monthly Saturday night residency there with a rotating cast of great players. He’s there this Saturday night, June 28 at 8 with an intriguing lineup including ex-Aquanettas guitar goddess Debby Schwartz and Celtic punk bandleader Fran Powers.

On the album, Sharples sings with a tough, restless delivery throughout a mix of the kind of diverse material that you might expect from an in-demand drummer. He opens with a rare, absolutely gorgeous Matt Keating janglerock anthem, Mind’s Eye, playing twelve-string guitar over his own rhythm section. Keating himself spices Circus Guy leader Michael Culhane’s pub rock tune The Main Thing with swirling organ, Culhane adding a biting, bluesy guitar solo. Move It, by Ian Samwell, is new wave-tinged powerpop with a snarling Tom Rogers guitar solo. Sharples follows that with Graham Davies’ New Year’s Day, a morose, artsy early 70s-style rainy-day Britfolk tune that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Al Stewart record.

Hub Moore’s Thank You sounds like a cross between the Records and the DB’s, Sharples adding a wry George Harrison quote on slide guitar along with playing most of the other instruments. He gives Johnny Burnette’s Lonesome Tears in My Eyes a Tex-Mex sway and a little wry Orbison on the vocals, then later on tackles Michael Nesmith’s Papa Gene’s Blues as the Lovin’ Spoonful or Commander Cody might have done a vintage country tune.

The best songs come toward the end. The lone Spunk Lads tune here riffs on the Ramones, oi punk and hip-hop, with a chorus that goes “You do the work and I’ll take the credit, that’s just part of my charm.” By contrast, Paula Carino‘s Eminence Rouge (from her days with her band Regular Einstein, who auspiciously reunited for a gig and hopefully more this year) gets a poignant C&W treatment with Jon Graboff’s keening pedal steel and Michele Riganese’s fetching backup vocals. The catchy, anthemic Three More Wishes/Waiting for the Train blends twelve-string jangle with Graboff’s steel lingering in the backbround. Then Sharples follows the rockabilly tune A Big Hunk O’Love with a killer version of Charlie Poole & the North Carolina Ramblers’ haunting 1929 hillbilly anthem Baltimore Fire, sort of like Social Distortion with better vocals.

The album ends with a tricky, clever cover of George Harrison’s Long, Long, Long, Sharples on bass and guitars and the great Americana/jazz chanteuse Erica Smith on harmony vocals. There’s a sweet backstory here – Sharples and Smith married five years after the album came out. Where can you get a copy of this rarity? Well, at one of Sharples’ shows, for starters. And he still plays some of the best songs from it at gigs.