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Tag: russell scholl

The Best, Most Darkly Cinematic New York Show of 2016: Mamie Minch and Steve Ulrich at Barbes

The best show of 2016 in New York – at least the best one where this blog was in the house – was in mid-October at Barbes, where guitarists Mamie Minch and Steve Ulrich played a live score to silent films supplied by filmmaker Russell Scholl. And it was unquestionably the the year’s most cinematic, which makes sense considering both the context and the artists involved. Ulrich gets lots of work for film and for PBS, when he’s not fronting his slinky, Lynchian reverb guitar band, Big Lazy. Minch plays her own darkly individualistic, wit-infused take on classic country blues and Americana when she’s not running New York’s only woman-owned instrument repair store, Brooklyn Lutherie,. Both players have shows coming up. On Dec 6 at 6:30 PM, Minch is part of an excellent triplebill with fellow oldtime country blues purveyor Eli Smith and rustic 19th century style string band the Four O’Clock Flowers at the American Folk Art Museum, playing songs on the time-honored theme of death and mourning to coincide with the museum’s latest, wonderfully creeyp exhibition. Then she’s at Barbes at 8 on Dec 16. Ulrich is at Spectrum on Dec 10 at 7:30 PM with his Big Lazy bandmate, drummer Yuval Lion, where they’ll join Bob Dylan keyboardist Mick Rossi, Barbez‘s Peter Hess and Zion80‘s Jon Madof for a night of similarly creepy improvisation; cover is $15.

The night’s first movie at Barbes was a surrealistically nostalgic Coney Island tableau by Scholl, Minch singing a sad waltz that she’d originally written as a member of the badly missed oldtime harmony quartet the Roulette Sisters. Low and somber, she built a similarly moody Brooklyn oceanside scenario, the amusement park as a metaphor for passion that could go drastically wrong. It’s her Wall of Death.

Then Ulrich joined her for a brief set of his own shadowy film noir compositions while another Scholl pastiche – a defiantly individualistic, snidely anti-authoritarian work, like a Donald O’Finn mashup without the endless parodies of oversexed tv – flickered on the screen behind them. The two musicians have collaborated a lot over the past couple of years. Hearing Minch play Ulrich’s signature, menacing chromatics on her resonator guitar was a real treat, Ulrich supplying his usual macabre, resonant twang through a skeletally dancing number with hints of Romany jazz, then a morose graveyard stroll, Ulrich’s angst-fueled insistence against Minch’s steady, mournful chords. They wound it up with tricky syncopation and more rain-drenched chromatics that gave way to reflecting-pool psychedelia as the film hit a comedic coda.

Minch scored the night’s final film, Windsor McCay’s pioneering 1921 early animation flick The Flying House, chronicling the adventures of a man who motorizes his home and then takes it up into the clouds in order to escape the evil bankster who wants to foreclose on it. You want relevance? Minch switched slowly and masterfully from one oldtime blues tuning to another. interpolating those graceful blue notes into the score as she retuned, moving seamlessly through gemtly waltzing, pastoral passages, bouncily romping interludes, elements of psychedelic folk and 70s British art-rock, hardly styles that you would associate with someone regarded as one of this era’s great blueswomen. After the movie. the two treated the crowd to a cover of Johnny Cash’s Committed to Parkview – a Hollywood nuthouse if there ever was one – as well as a take of the Beatles hit Girl that really brought out all the menace in a femme fatale. They closed out the night with a solo Ulrich jazz tune and then Minch’s funereal rendition of the Bessie Smith murder ballad Sing Sing Blues. Only in New York, folks.

Great Oldtime Country Sounds from the Weal and Woe

The Weal and Woe write great original oldtime style country songs, and play them with soulful expertise. The guy/girl close harmonies of guitarist Russell Scholl and bassist Barbara Ann have an unaffected southern charm, soaring over an early 1950s style backdrop with fiddle, lapsteel and occasional resonator guitar. Ex-Moonlighter Mark Deffenbaugh’s lapsteel steel playing is absolutely off the hook, whether adding smartly spaced accents or sly Leon McAuliffe-style swoops and dives – just his parts alone make their debut album The One to Blame one of the most enjoyable recent releases in Americana roots music. The Weal and Woe are playing the record release show at the Jalopy on Feb 18 at 9 – if really smart songwriting and great musicianship are your thing, you should go.

Most of the songs on the new album are short, clocking in at about three minutes or less. They get things going with the harmony-driven In the West, which has more of an oldtime, 19th century folk feel than anything else on this collection, with a tasty, sailing resonator solo that Deffenbaugh hands off elegantly to fiddler Jason Cade. The title track is one of those songs that sounds like a classic from about 1952, except that it’s new. Barbara Ann sings it with a sad, biting edge, from the point of view of a girl who’s thinking about going to the bottom of her neighbor’s pool, and staying there – and maybe taking the guy who broke her heart with her. Once again, the steel handing over a terse instrumental break to the fiddle is absolutely gorgeous. They Think We Don’t Know, a brisk shuffle with twinkling steel guitar, also has an element of mystery. Sung as a duet, it’s about a couple who are the talk of the town, but because everybody wants to set them up? Or because they’re on the fast track to some serious cheating together? “If wishes came true, I’d drive them crazy with my moves,” Barbara Ann croons: “I’d stay up late and drink their booze,” Scholl replies goodnaturedly.

The one instrumental here is Kings County Blues, a western swing number driven by swaying fiddle, steel in the background until Deffenbaugh busts out with a clever, wryly swooping solo. The longest song is a big, somewhat brooding ballad, Taking One on the Chin, which chronicles someone’s long decline to barroom dissolution, pensive lapsteel contrasting with Cade’s offhandedly bright lines. There are also two covers here: a vintage Grand Old Opry-style duet version of Frankenpine’s clever I Don’t Love You ‘Cause You’re Pretty, and a brisk bluegrass take on the country gospel song S-A-V-E-D. Fans of the Maddoxes, the Louvins, the Delmores, Hank Williams and also current country songwriters like Laura Cantrell who’ve found a home in an oldtime Nashville vernacular will love this record.