New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: singer-songwriter

Julia Haltigan Channels a Simmering Noir Intensity at the Poisson Rouge

Unlikely as it is that the leader of one of the city’s most dynamic bands would be just as entertaining and luridly gripping as a solo act, that’s what noir songwriter Julia Haltigan was Saturday night at the Poisson Rouge. It was a good gig for her, not her usual crowd, which tends to be on the young and wild side, something you might expect for someone who channels a torchy, retro allure and a menace that’s sometimes distant and sometimes in your face. This show gave her a chance to connect with an older, bridge-and-tunnel date-night audience who’d come out for an easy-listening evening with singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard. Haltigan’s regular backing unit has jazz sophistication but also feral energy; playing mostly by herself, with just her trusty vintage Gibson guitar and her reverb pedal, she used the moment to work the corners with a razorwire nuance that matched her songs’ simmering intensity.

Haltigan also seized the opportunity to make points with the audience via a couple of good stories. The first concerned some unexpected consequences in the wake of allowing her electric mandolinist dad – who also made a cameo during the show on smoky blues harp – to serve as an admin at her Facebook fan page. The second looked back to a past decade when people had Blackberries. Haltigan explained that she once went about a year without texting “hi” to anyone for fear of the gizmo translating that as “I’m horny.” Her phone ended up embarrassing her that way a couple of times, once in an exchange with her cousins, before she realized what was going on. That took awhile.

One day during rehearsal, she related the story to her bassist. “Remember that time I borrowed your phone?” he asked her. “I reset the autocorrect.”

That was the comic relief from the songs’ relentless, smoky disquiet. An appropriately spare take of Skeleton Dance, she explained, contemplated a sort of “Mickey Mouse version of death.” But that was the exception. A co-write with the Waterboys’ Mike Scott shifted from an enigmatic stroll to the kind of anthemic chorus you’d expect from that band; a little later, Haltigan led the crowd in a singalong of a similarly pensive, oldtime gospel-flavored Freddie Stevenson song. But her own material was the most memorable. She opened with a slow, haunting oldschool soul-tinged ballad, a woman on the run in her Waitsian hotel room in the wee hours, looking back on what she’ll never have again. From there Haltigan went toward dark rockabilly with the irrepressible Gasoline & Matches and the defiant I Don’t Wanna Fall in Love, airing out her powerful low register. The best song of the night was a murderously scampering border rock anthem that wouldn’t have been out of place at a Karla Rose & the Thorns show.

Haltigan next plays with her band on December 15 at 10:15 PM at the Manderley Bar at the McKittrick Hotel, 532 W 27th St. (10th/11th Aves, south side of the street, look for the little red light at the top of the stoop).

Enigmatic Songwriter and Magical Singer Elisa Flynn Puts Out a Richly Nuanced, Eclectic Solo Album

Elisa Flynn‘s new album My Henry Lee – streaming at Bandcamp – picks up where she left off with her unselfconsciously haunting, historically-infused 19th Century Songs in 2011. Flynn has been one of New York’s most distinctive, poignantly powerful singers since the zeros, back when the founding member of Bunny Brains decided to study vocals with Shara Worden. If anything, this is Flynn’s most nuanced and dynamic album yet, maybe because it’s mainly just solo electric guitar and voice with the occasional echoey electric piano or guitar overdub. The music is both elegant and scruffy, and very catchy: Flynn likes to juxtapose enigmatic, simple variations on a spare guitar riff with more anthemic, sometimes majestic choruses. Flynn is also an irrepressible impresario: she’s playing one of her usual haunts, the Way Station tomorrow night, November 17 at 8 PM, leading “ an evening of songs of antagonism and rivalry” with Lys Guillorn, Maharajah Sweets, Dan Cullinan, Wifey, Sarah Bisman, Thee Shambels’ Neville Elder, John LaPolla, plus a reading by Kevin Kinsella (ex- John Brown’s Body).

The title track of Flynn’s new album sets the tone, a brooding, resonantly fingerpicked, carefully considered but also pretty radically reworked take of the classic murder ballad popularized by Nick Cave and PJ Harvey. Flynn follows that with the ominously picturesque My Blood, set to a hypnotically ringing, loopy guitar backdrop. Cheetah, the first of a couple of numbers celebrating animalian fearlessness, rises from a briskly strummy, fast 6/8 groove spiced with surrealistically echoey early 80s electric piano: it could be a demo from the Church circa 1983.

Likewise, Horse Race, with its weirdly echoey, lo-fi, bell-like guitar, except that this is Flynn at her sardonic, darkly amusing best: “There’s nothing rough about you, I’d just like to put that on you, I want you to be more like me…tell me what drugs you’re on,’ she poses to a complicated person who’s clearly vexing her. Keeper of Secrets is another number pairing unresolved minimalism against another wickedly catchy chorus, a possible elegy with hints of late Beatles as the music subtly builds from skeletal to lush. The final cut is a banjo tune that’s simultaneously stark and rustic and yet completely in the here and now: as ancient as this song sounds, it’s impossible to imagine it being recorded in, say, 1988. It’s an uneasy escape anthem that harks back to the Reconstruction-era milieu of much of Flynn’s previous album. There’s a lot going on here, lyrically especially – these songs grow on you. Watch this space for more full-length solo shows by Flynn, who’s just as funny a stage presence as she is an individualistic guitarist and rivetingly good singer.

Jessie Kilguss Brings Her Plaintively Jangly, Brilliantly Catchy Tunesmithing to the East Village

You might wonder why this blog waited til now to mention the killer twinbill back in mid-July at Hank’s Saloon with Jessie Kilguss and an early but auspiciously dark incarnation of Karla Rose & the Thorns. The answer is that Kilguss, whose best project is her own band, is also in demand as a harmony vocalist. Shortly after that gig, she went on an extended European tour with Freddie Stevenson and the Waterboys. But she’s back, and has a gig at around 8 on Nov 10 at Hifi Bar.

Kilguss is as brilliant a singer as she is a tunesmith. Her speaking voice alone has more liveliness and color in it than most people can evoke singing at full throttle – there’s a rippling undercurrent of unselfconscious joy, as if she’s got an irresistibly funny secret to share. Her singing voice has that same unaffected warmth, with a hint of Americana twang or bluesy poignancy depending on the lyric or the character she’s portraying (a strong and quite successful acting background informs her style). As a songwriter, she resists easy resolutions, deftly building the tension in a phrase until she really needs to bring it in for a landing, with often breathtaking results. Behind her, a tight, purposeful janglerock band plays her pensive, typically midtempo songs.

She opened that set at Hank’s with the catchy but gently shattering title track from her most recent album, Devastate Me, a quiet account of the heartbreak to end all heartbreaks. Guitarist Jason Loughlin imbued I’m Your Prey with some unexpected roar and grit over Rob Heath’s tumbling drums in contrast to Kilguss’ wounded ingenue vocals. Then she brought the lights down with a wistfulness just short of fullscale longing, throughout the catchiest song of the set, Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight, inspired by both the Alexandra Fuller memoir as well as Kilguss’ rural Massachusetts childhood.

Bassist John Kengla set a hypnotic ambience on the next number, rising from distantly Indian-tinged resonance to bouncy folk-rock. Loughlin’s deep-space quasar leads pulsed through the Anglian folk noir of Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, then the band mashed up honkytonk and Lou Reed gutter-glam with Tennessee, an unlikely but strangely successful blend. From there they hit a pounding, tense straight-up rock groove with the gloomy Civil War narrative March to the Sea. They stuck with the same beat for the song after that, Loughlin’s crashing, bell-like chords a welcome antidote to the noisy crowd (no surprise, this being Hank’s – people go there to tie one on). After the subdued melancholy of You Didn’t Do Right By Me, they closed with the most epic song of the night, the towering Ten Stories High and its 80s grand guignol. After wrapping up a similarly epic tour, it’s a good bet that Kilguss will be psyched to be back on her own turf, singing her own songs.

A Charmingly Dark Show by Fizz and an Upcoming Upper West Gig by Liz Tormes

You’ve got to watch this video by Fizz – Americana tunesmiths Liz Tormes and Olabelle‘s Fiona McBain – at Pete’s Candy Store back on the third of the month. Musicians tend to be physically agile people, but the way those two take Don Gibson’s Sea of Heartbreak and make a jump-rope rhyme out of it is as challenging as it is surreal….and also just plain sweet. And they pull it off effortlessly, like they were eight-year-olds on the playground together. Never mind the fact that Tormes would have been in Nashville at the time and McBain on the other side of the world.

The two used to do this duo act more than they do now. Watching the two swap songs and harmonize, poignantly and seamlessly, brought back some good memories on the Lower East Side back in the late zeros. When the two play together, they usually do murder ballads, and there were a few of those in this set. Of the two performers, McBain is the more versatile songwriter, informed both by oldschool soul music (that’s the Ollabelle connection) as well as front-porch folk and bluegrass. Tormes has a devious sense of humor, and her live show can be great fun, notwithstanding that her Nashville gothic songs are pretty relentlessly dark, intense and devastating. Nobody’s breakup ballads deliver more of a punch to the gut than hers do. Tormes’ voice has more plushness and restraint; McBain’s soars higher and has more of a bite. They make a great team.

They opened with a Tormes number, full of woundedly elegant Everlys harmonies against a steady backbeat. Their version of Brenda Lee’s Comin’ on Strong was much the same. followed by a spare, muted cover of the Everlys’ murder ballad Down in the Willow Garden, pushed along by McBain’s stark fingerpicking. McBain then led the two through a broodingly hypnotic, open-tuned waltz that brought to mind Mazzy Star.

They gave an enigmatic indie touch to a gentle country gospel number, then went into moody Lynchian mode and stayed there with a lowlit cover of Blondie’s Call Me – considering how creepy they made that one, it would be even more fun to hear what they could do with Black Sabbath’s Children of the Grave! They closed the set with a warmly intuitive, wistful take of the Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset. Tormes is on the bill this Friday, Oct 23 at 5:30 PM at the American Folk Art Museum, Columbus Ave. at 66th St.on an excellent triplebill with fellow folk noir songsmith Linda Draper and minimialist gothic rock act Bright Brown.

LJ Murphy Gets Scary and Relevant at Sidewalk This Saturday at 7

Did they kill you with kindness?
Did they drown you in shame?
Was it voluntary blindness?
Do you remember your name?
From Panic City to your hometown

As usual, LJ Murphy was dressed to kill. Black suit, porkpie hat, splashy tie, big black guitar like the one Johnny Cash played. His eyes widened with a gleeful “I told you so,” over drummer Jacob Cavell’s shimmying Stax/Volt shuffle, lead guitarist Tommy Hoscheid adding a snarling little curlicue at the end of his vintage Memphis soul licks. Bassist Nils Sorensen was on tour with his other band, Brothers Moving, so Murphy was doing the White Stripes thing instead. This was on a Saturday night earlier this summer at Sidewalk, where Murphy will be with this dangerously erudite band this coming Saturday night, September 12 at 7 PM. These guys take fifty years of the dark side of blues and soul and bring them into the era of the Great Destruction in New York. And hopefully beyond.

Did you read the directions?
Are you making a list?
Did you pass the inspection?
Was there something you missed?
From Panic City to your hometown

Murphy’s hip cracked like a whip as he signaled for a change. This band knows their James Brown, their Charles Brown too, and they responded in a split second. Hoscheid played with just a tinge more distortion, more fire as this cautionary tale shifted from 9/11 to 3/11:

Will you hide in the darkness
Til the enemy’s gone?
Will you remember the password
When the pressure is on?
‘Cause your hair is on fire
And your eyes are insane
Can you cover up the damage
From the poisonous rain?
From Panic City to your hometown

Murphy is Queens born and raised. He was here on both of those dates, and he was paying attention, and making it impossible not to pay attention to this song. His voice part rasp, part bluesy shout, part croon, he raised his guitar, then brought it down like a cleaver as the band spiraled and careened into the last couple of bars. It’s impossible to imagine an outsize personality like Murphy – or at least one with substance to match – coming out of gentrifier Bushwick or Bed-Stuy or wherever those parasites have most recently been spotted. One can only wonder how many other LJ Murphys might be toiling in dives in Montclair, or Akron, or Buffalo, who twenty years ago would have hightailed it for New York at the first opportunity, but these days are cursed to stay put – rather than opening for Murphy and making the night a doubleheader instead of an evening where you run for the exit after the last pitch is fired.

Cleopatra Degher Plays One of This Summer’s Most Enjoyably Catchy Shows at the Rockwood

Acoustic songstress Cleopatra Degher played one of the year’s funniest and most quietly devastating songs at her show at the Rockwood last month. It was a catchy, cheery little tune titled Rebecca Wood. See, Rebecca sometimes wonders what it would be like to be alone. But as Degher told it, she never is. “She gets to know all her friends on Facebook through all the pictures that they took.” The crowd didn’t start to chuckle until after the second chorus, but by then Degher had made her point.

The San Diego-based songwriter spent much of her childhood in Sweden. She’s still relatively young (early 20s), a nimble and very eclectic guitarist, has a way with a catchy, anthemic tune and sings in a strong, determined mezzo-soprano, informed by all sorts of oldtimey folk and Appalachian music as well as more current sounds. Auspiciously, her set was mostly new material along with a few numbers from her most recent album Pacific (streaming at Bandcamp). She opened with I Saw the Sky, her fast fingers picking a flurry on the strings up to one of her signature anthemic choruses. She followed with Nothing to Worry About Now, a driving, sparkling mountain music-inspired number.

Her agile hammer-ons and dynamic shifts, up to doublespeed and back, propelled Burden of Tomorrow. Keep on Moving, inspired by the long winters she endured in Sweden, blended hints of a Grateful Dead classic into its optimistic crescendos, a springboard for Degher’s steely upper register. Nothing But a River was as stunningly and bittersweetly hopeful as it was anthemic, Degher reaching back for all the force she could muster on the chorus. It was almost as she was going to use sheer force of will to make sure this relationship would go somewhere instead of falling through right at the start.

By contrast, Shame had more of a shuffling oldtimey feel, but once again hit a towering peak on the chorus: Degher can deliver a lot more raw energy than most musicians who employ just guitar and vocals. She also did a stately waltz written by her dad, Darius Degher, as well as a high-voltage cover of Ring of Fire. She spends a lot of time on the road: let’s hope she makes it back to town sooner than later.

Rachelle Garniez Stuns and Seduces the Crowd at Pangea

Many cognoscenti in the New York music scene consider Rachelle Garniez the best songwriter in town, and some would argue that she she might simply be the best songwriter anywhere. A couple of nights ago at Pangea she bolstered that argument, playing to a rapt and wildly appreciative hometown crowd in a duo show with bassist Tim Luntzel. Despite having to sit because he was in a walking cast, he supplied terse, elegantly elastic lines to anchor Garniez’s acerbic, erudite, occasionally feral playing as she alternated between acoustic guitar, accordion and piano.

As a performer, Garniez is devastatingly funny, although her songs often pack a wallop that comes from the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. One of her favorite tropes is to introduce them via slow, contemplative, frequently psychedelic intros that give her a launching pad for deviousy surrealist, deadpan humor that seems completely fresh and off-the-cuff but is actually more thoroughly composed than anyone realizes. What varies from show to show is the punchlines: it’s impossible to think of anyone who has as much fun flying without a net as Garniez.

And there’s always something relevant lurking behind the jokes. What seemed like it would be blissed-out musings on deep-forest beauty turned in a split second into caustic commentary on global warming…which then introduced a sly, vamping, bluesy stripper theme. That one she played on accordion, accenting the song with some unexpected horror on the low end and then a coyly sinister flatline motif at the very end. Likewise, she painted a dreamy early morning riverside scenario and then flipped the script, tying it into the perils of gentrification. That led into the metaphorically slashing if gently waltzing Tourmaline, the semi-precious gem in the title a metaphor for all things not quite perfect, or accepted, embellished with Garniez’s usual umpteem levels of meaning. As Garniez tells it, anyone who might dis you for having something in common with that stone “Is only just snow on your screen.”

Playing piano, she made the connection between Facebook and crack cocaine (Garniez is equally disdainful of both) in the gospel-tinged God’s Little Acre, an unrepentant kiss-off from a former party animal who’s been tracked down (or stalked) by a fling from a past decade. And in a bouncy, blackly amusing new one, just bass and vocals, she explained that at her funeral, she doesn’t want any ordinary Cadillac hearse: she wants an El Camino instead. How many other songwriters would identify a funeral flower car by its make and model, never mind using that image as a metaphor?

Beyond an irresistibly funny, sarcastically operatic shout-out to Jean-Claude Van Damme and his  endorsements for antidepressants, the best song of the night was a starkly baroque-tinged new guitar song inspired by her European tourmate Kyrie Kristmanson. Yet again, Garniez filled in the details of what would seemingly turn out to be a comfortable, sympathetic portrait of an old lady and her tchotchkes…but revealed the source of the money funding all the decor as “The bludgeon and blade.”

And she is New York to the core. Feeding off the crowd’s energy, she wound up the set with People Like You, which opens as an uneasiy and ambiguous Far Rockaway reminiscence, then takes on a blithe, boppy Rickie Lee Jones bounce before Garniez drops the artifice and bares her fangs, in a withering sendup of gentrifier status-grubbing:

It’s people like you who don’t know pride from shame
It’s people like you who always stay one step ahead of the game
It’s people like you who never place a face before a name

Then she quoted from Taylor Swift and brought down the house.

Garniez is just as fearless when it comes to having special guests: other vocalists might be intimidated by sharing the stage with singer Carol Lipnik and her otherworldly, soaring four-octave range, but not her. Lipnik and pianist Matt Kanelos delivered plenty of thrills with a spellbinding, melismatic take of Oh, the Tyranny, a hauntingly awestruck track from their new album Almost Back to Normal. A little later, torchy chanteuse Angela McCluskey provided some plaintive intensity of her own in a Billie Holiday-inspired diptych, pianist Paul Cantelon providing brilliant, Debussy-esque ripples and lustre.

Garniez has a long-awaited new album due out on November 13; her next gig is at Barbes on Sept 3 at 8 PM. Lipnik continues her weekly Thursday 7 PM residency at Pangea this month. And McCluskey and Cantelon debut their new dancefloor groove band, Saint Bernadette – with Garniez on accordion – tonight, August 26 at City Winery at 7.

Intense, Evocative, Ruggedly Individualistic Acoustic Americana from Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear

Kansas City duo Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear sound like no other band on the planet. They’re both a trip back to a land to a time forgot, and completely in the here and now. And their music is amazing. Forget for a sec that they may be darlings of NPR and the corporate media because they’re a mom and her kid making music together. Ohhhh, how sweeeet, right? No. Ruth Ward is a badass guitarist, so is her son Madisen. And their allusively erudite songs can be catchy beyond belief, distilled in two hundred years of front-porch folk, and country blues, and oldschool C&W and soul music. But while their influences may be retro, what they’re doing with them is something brand new and genuinely exciting. They haven’t played New York since an absolutely riveting invite-only show in the meatpacking district back in May; by the time they hit Joe’s Pub on July 27 at 7:30 PM, they’ll be a couple of days removed from the Newport Folk Festival, and then they’re off to a marathon European tour. Cover for the Joe’s Pub gig is $15 and advance tix are still available as of today, believe it or not.

Their new album Skeleton Crew is streaming at Spotify. The steady, bouncy but enigmatic opening track, Live by the Water, sets the tone for the rest of the album. On the surface, it’s told from the point of view of an older guy who can’t get enough simple pleasures…but is also all too aware of what he doesn’t have. The devil’s in the details everywhere here.

The monster hit waiting to happen is the ragtime-tinged Silent Movies, mother and son’s strums building a lush bed of guitars in perfect unison. Mom echoes son’s vocals; throughout the album, it’s impossible to tell who’s playing the spare lead lines, the two are so committed to staying on track, not overdoing it, simply reflecting a mood, or the storyline. This is deep stuff.

Modern Day Mystery has a careful, moody minor-key sway. “I could never leave this place gracefully,” Madisen explains casually, and then draws the listener in from there. “When I leave this house, I couldn’t disappear if I tried.”

The two weave a spiderweb of guitars on the delicately waltzing Dead Daffodils, a creepy, Faulknerian southern gothic tableau. Then they go back toward ragtime with Whole Lotta Problems and its droll, aphoristic call-and-response. Fight On rises from intricate and enigmatic to lush and sweeping, with a 70s soul-jazz tinge. By contrast, Big Yellow Taxi – an original, not the Joni Mitchell hit – is an irrepressibly bouncy, bittersweet portrait of a homeless guy.

Daisy Jane is the most musically lighthearted number here, followed by the most chillingly allusive one, Undertaker and Juniper. By the Wards’ reckoning, even executioners fall in love…and suffer the consequences. Down in Mississippi features stark cello along with terse guitar multitracks, a troubled Jim Crow-era tableau echoed in the understatedly majestic, gospel-tinged Sorrows and Woes. Be the first on your block to be able to brag that you discovered this inimitable duo.

Linda Draper Brings Her Subtly Savage Vocal and Lyrical Brilliance Back to the East Village

The most beautifully redemptive moment at any New York concert this year happened at Linda Draper‘s show at the Rockwood on the first of June. She and her subtle, intuitive, brilliant trio with bassist Jeff Eyrich and drummer Eric Puente decided to flip the script at the last moment and open with an oldschool C&W-tinged number, Modern Day Decay. “In a world full of assholes, it ain’t easy,” Draper sang, resonant and nonchalant, as the big crowd of young Republicans yakked it up, oblivious to the band onstage. Meanwhile, the waitress made her way through the crowd, furiously exchanging receipts: all the assholes were paying with their parents’ credit cards. And nobody listened.

When Draper – an elegant, warmly compelling presence whose stock in trade is lyrical wit and subtlety – hit the chorus, she fired off an unexpected flurry of guitar riffage, then took the song way down. “There’s a bar next door, you can go there if you want to talk,” she encouraged afterward. Within a couple of minutes, they’d disappeared, presumably into $1000 Uber cars back to Bushwick or New Jersey. Without missing a beat, she followed with Hollow, a starkly hypnotic Appalachian gothic number. “Can you get it out of your system before you grow cold and numb?” she challenged.

The next song was a rare treat. Time Will Tell is the wickedly catchy opening track on Draper’s debut album, and she seldom plays it, but she did here, and the rhythm section gave it a lowlit slink that underscored her woundedly catchy, subtly snide kiss-off lyric: “You are the shipwreck, I am the sea, you’re sinking through me.”

Draper brought an unexpected and stunning jazz-inflected sensibilty to the catchy 6/8 soul ballad Good As New – she’s been dipping deeper into her full, ripe lower register lately, and this was a prime example. “I’ve made a habit of staying on the outside,” she mused: it’s a song that Neko Case would be proud to have in her catalog. Draper and the band followed with the defiant backbeat anthem True Enough, echoing another individualistic American artist, Tift Merritt. “It’s just a flicker of the beam, a stitcher in the seam, the rest is a big fat lie.”

Ultimately, Draper doesn’t resemble anyone but herself. She and her rhythm section kept the lights low with Sleepwalkers, a bossa-tinged, bitterly catchy lament. “Even the purest of angels would crash and burn in a place like this,” she sang. She followed with the sardonically shuffling Broken Eggshell: “Every corner I meet, there’s two more fancy streets I’ve been walking down…there’s an eggshell to break, it’s the perfect sound.” A theme song for every New Yorker who’d love to crush every speculator’s highrise underfoot! Likewise, the understately savage country escape anthem Make the Money and Run: “You’ve got so much more love in your heart than the sum of your parts,” she entreated. By the time she’d finished the set with the wryly catchy, marching I Got You – “Don’t blame the stars for your lack of wonder” – the crowd was silent, absolutely rapt.

Draper’s next show is a really short, half-hour set at Sidewalk at 8 PM on July 16. But it’s worth coming out for because it’s A) Linda Draper, and B) Joe Yoga, the similarly intense, lyrically-fueled frontman of fiery, jazz-tinged southwestern gothic band the Downward Dogs, who plays after her.

Tamara Hey Represents for Real New Yorkers at the Slipper Room

The dichotomy that runs through Tamara Hey‘s music is edgy, funny, picturesque New York-centric lyrics set to catchy, upbeat tunes with a purist pop sensibliity. Likewise, she balances the crystalline, unselfconscious charm of her vocals with what can be devastatingly amusing, deadpan between-song commentary. Her music has special resonance for those who consider themselves oldschool New Yorkers: Hey is sort of a songwriting Woody Allen of the Lower East Side…minus the celebrity and the ugly backstory. She’s playing the Slipper Room (Orchard and Stanton, upstairs over the big tourist restaurant) on July 1 at 7:30 PM; cover is $10.

And because there’s always an element of surprise when she plays live, she’s worth seeing more than once: this blog managed to catch a grand total of three of her shows over the past year at the Rockwood. One was a solo gig; two were with melodic bassist Richard Hammond, who managed to do double duty as rhythmic center and lead player, no easy feat. And the songs ran the gamut. One of the most charming numbers was Oscar & Bud, a vivid, minutely detailed portrait of a retired ex-showbiz couple who happen to be the narrator’s key people (i.e. they’ve got her spare keys – it’s a New York thing). That song looked back to vintatge Tin Pan Alley.

But Hey likes to mix it up. Drive, with its soaring chorus, 9/11 reference and get-me-the-hell-out-of-here theme, looked back to new wave, as did Miserably Happy (title track to her cult classic powerpop album), which evoked Blondie’s Dreaming. The rambunctiously pulsing, doo-wop tinged Alphabet City, a shout-out to familiar LES haunts which have lately been disappearing one after the other, took on a bittersweet quality. Likewise, We Lean on Cars, a snapshot of middle-school North Bronx anomie circa the early 90s. Hey and Hammond also ran through some more wrly entertaning snapshots of city life: David #3, weighing whether or not to succumb to the allure of a Mr. Wrong, who happens to be a Red Sox fan; Mexico Money, a droll tale of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat; and You Wear Me Out, a clever number about how macho guys sometimes turn out to be the most insecure ones. The C-Note may be long gone, Lakeside Lounge too, and Cafe Pick-Me-Up is moving to East 7th Street, but Tamara Hey still represents for the neighborhood.

And when she’s not playing gigs, she’s busy running Alphabet City Music, who offer economical and informative courses in guitar and applied music theory for players of all levels. This blog covered her introductory music theory course last year and found it both immensely challenging and also immensely useful. By the way, just in case anyone might assume ulterior motives, i.e. sucking up to the prof, to explain why this blog has been at so many of her recent shows, let’s set that record straight. The course was offered during the summer; two of those shows were in the fall and one was this past January.


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