New York Music Daily

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Tag: soul-rock

Ravi Shavi Bring Their Fun Update on Retro Rock and Soul to South Williamsburg

“You guys must love Radio Birdman,” the e-zine publisher and future blogger grinned.

“Huh? Who’s Radio Birdman?” the Disclaimers‘ frontman and guitarist Dylan Keeler responded, perplexed.

This was back in 2001 or so. The Disclaimers – esteemed in New York but criminally unknown outside of town – had just wrapped up their ferociously tuneful set at the now long-gone C-Note on the Lower East Side with a menacingly stomping, chromatically-fueled garage-punk hit. Which was a dead ringer for the Australian band…except that nobody in the Disclaimers had ever heard of Radio Birdman.

The punchline here is that you have to be careful attributing influences to bands or musicians. The wheel gets reinvented sometimes. So it’s probably fair to say that while Rhode Island band Ravi Shavi are often a dead ringer for sardonic 90s cult favorites Railroad Jerk, it’s also possible that they never heard of that group. What they share with them is a love for retro rock and soul sounds and a trash-talking sense of humor. Where Railroad Jerk blended atonal indie-ness into their 60s-influenced mashup, Ravi Shavi infuse theirs with lots and lots of reverb and more of a punk edge. Clear Plastic Masks are a good comparison – and a more likely influence. But you never know. Ravi Shavi have a gig at Don Pedro’s at 8:30ish on August 29 and a debut album streaming at Bandcamp.

Frontman Rafay Rashid works a sly come-on vibe on the opening track, the vampy two-chord Indecisions. Bloody Opus is a punk rock vignette with a Modern Lovers reference at the end. Guitarist Nick Politelli makes playful soul/garage/funk out of lots of ornate 7th chords on Hobbies, with a little Chuck Berry thrown in as well. Accidental takes liberties with a familiar Motown-style tune – the band rips the dance out of it and does it as four-on-the-floor rock with a little punk snottiness.

“I need a place to crash tonight, I need a place to be,” Rashid implores in Local News. Amphetamine – an original, not the Steve Wynn classic – has a Stonesy growl pushed along by bassist Bryan Fieldin and drummer Andrew Wilmarth – when the chorus kicks in, twin reverb guitars going full tilt, it’s pure sonic redemption.

Old Man rips off Dylan’s Just Like a Woman – which might be deliberate, and a joke. Problems – no, not a Sex Pistols cover – is the album’s best track, a shuffling, chord-chopping latin soul number: “Yeah, you had a lotta problems at home,” is the mantra. But there’s a happy ending. Critters has a strutting, practically disco groove: “Who’ll shoot the ones that love you?” is the operative question. ??? The album winds up with the redundantly titled Vacation Holiday – which may also be a joke, alternating between an anxious soul pulse and meat-and-potatoes bar-band rock. This isn’t heavy music, but it’s a lot of fun.

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.

Nathaniel Rateliff Reinvents Himself as a Kick-Ass, Original Soul Bandleader

What do you do if your singer-songwriter career stalls out? Reinvent yourself as an oldschool soul bandleader, maybe. Nathaniel Rateliff did it, with the same results as when Phil Niekro switched out the fastball for the knuckler, or when James Brown moved from behind the organ to take over the mic. Rateliff’s show last night, at a private event for media on the Lower East Side with his inspired new band the Night Sweats, was irresistibly fun, an auspicious kickoff to what’s becoming a marathon summer tour (dates are here). The Alabama Shakes are just the tip of the iceberg: as any club booking agent knows, the retro 60s soul craze just refuses to stop, and Rateliff is the latest to catch the wave.

On one hand his songs – vamping two-chord verses rising to even catchier, anthemic choruses – hardly pave any new ground. And a cynic might assail him for recycling riffs that any bar-band musician knows by heart. What makes Rateliff different is that he’s an excellent, distinctive lead guitarist. Playing through a reverb pedal turned up most of the way, his shivery, practically feral solos took the energy to redline every time and elevated the songs above the level of generic. And he doesn’t waste notes, either. The band is excellent, too. Second guitarist Joseph Pope III distinguished himself with his fluency in vintage Memphis licks, and a hard-hitting, chord-chopping solo on the night’s last number. The bassist held down a steady, swinging groove in tandem with drummer Patrick Meese, who pushed the songs with a hard-hitting stadium rock drive. And organist Mark Shusterman harmonized meticulously with the two-man horn section, tenor sax and trumpet blending to deliver a sound a lot more hefty than you would think just three instruments could produce. This wasn’t Muscle Shoals, 1969 – it was state-of-the-art, 2015.

That being said, their style of soul rocks pretty hard and doesn’t go near jazz. They got to halfway through the set before they even hit a minor chord – after all, this is party music. But they do everything possible to keep the audience entertained, opening one number a-cappella with what sounded like five-part harmonies (everybody in the band sings, well), and bedeviled the crowd (and themselves – this is a work in progress) with a series of trick endings. A slow nocturnal groove toward the end hinted at the Stones’ Gimme Shelter, but didn’t go there, instead rising to a more optimistic, animated peak, capped off with a searing Rateliff solo. They finally slowed down for a ballad in 6/8 right before the last song, which turned out to be a licketysplit shuffle possible titled Sonofabitch. If ithat in fact is the title, it will be a hit with every English-speaking six-year-old when it hits youtube, which it inevitably will. Be the first sonofabitch on your block to party to this band and bring your significant other.

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.

Needle Points Bring Their Danceable Psychedelic Grooves to Bushwick

Wow, are Needle Points fun or what! And it’s all because of the basslines. Their opening set at Palisades in Bushwick last night on a bill staged by Christiana of Indie Shuffle would have had a crowd anywhere but in this neighborhood dancing up a storm. OK, maybe not in Williamsburg either, but that’s another story. Within seconds of taking the stage, their guitarist broke a string as he launched into the opening instrumental. But no worries – he’d brought a gorgeous Les Paul as a backup, and blended bits and pieces of echoey surf, sunshiney Memphis soul, lowdown garage rock and hints of southern boogie into the band’s expansive groove. Their burly, bearded bassist rocked a Hofner, a surefire sign that he meant business. “I’m gonna play the fuck out of this bass,” he told the audience and he did. He’s a friendly guy, chatting up the crowd betweeen songs as the band tuned, which was actually a good idea as their frontman – who with the band behind him veered between blue-eyed soul and a garage rock shout – kept quiet. Bass is also the band’s not-so-secret weapon, anchoring the songs with wickedly catchy, vamping grooves that went on for minutes at a clip, punctuated by some neat slides and bends when least expected.

Their first number had the kind of infectuously funky sway that the MC5 were shooting for in their more soul-oriented moments but could never nail. Their second number motored along with a guitar-fueled shuffle that drew a line back to Chuck Berry, via the Stones or the Dead. Their even catchier next one had some heavy ba-BUMP-ba-BUMP low end courtesy of their percussionist, a petite brunette with an ear-to-ear grin who jumped around as she hammered out nimble leapfrog beats with her mallets on a single snare and a kickdrum. From there they made their way through an eerily reverberating Tobacco Road bounce, to a rousingly successful detour into Motown and then back to more side-to-side, swaying grooves. Bands like this make a trek on the J train on a nasty, raw night worth the hassle.

Mr. Kid & the Suicide Policemen are pretty new and have a brand-new name that’s better than their old one. It’s a good guess that they’ll probably have another by next month, which might explain why they don’t have a web presence – although they’ve got a little stuff at soundcloud. Their frontguy doesn’t sing as much as he rasps or does the soul-shout thing – but that’s cool because it fits the music. Right now their twin-guitar attack – roaring, reverb-drenched Fender Jazzmaster and riff-rocking Danelectro Rick copy – is more sonically interesting than their songs, but that will probably change. Like Needle Points, they have a thing for simple, catchy, incisive basslines. They kept things hard and direct, from their best song, a slowly unwinding paisley underground number with echoes of the Dream Syndicate, through louder, more garage-riff oriented material punctuated by the Fender player’s ferociously noisy attack.

As for the third group, Washington, DC’s Paperhaus…they’re the kind of band you really want to try to like. One of their guitarists linechecked with a verse of the Beatles’ Rain, always a good sign. But what they do just doesn’t gel. There were some tasty dreampop swells, some catchy basslines, and everyone in the band is a competent musician. They all probably have a future, just not together. It was too bad that the dreampop swirl so soon gave way to so many grandiosely empty Coldplay/Phoenix stadium gestures. And there were some distractingly dorky, mathrocky moments, and halfhearted attempts at something approximating humor.

A word about the venue: NICE PLACE. Asshole-free, laid-back, the sound isn’t Carnegie Hall but it isn’t ass either and the soundguy was very attentive to all the bands throughout their sets. In case you think that’s de rigeur at every venue, you haven’t been to Arlene’s lately. Now all they need is a website.

A Volcanic, Intense New Album and a Union Hall Show from Jessi Robertson

Jessi Robertson has one of the most harrowing voices around. It’s one powerful instrument, which is why sometimes when she’s onstage – especially when she’s playing solo – she doesn’t bother to use a mic since she basically doesn’t need one. Yet she’s also one of the most captivatingly nuanced singers around, which is unusual for someone with such an unearthly, impassioned wail. Her new album, I Came From the War blends her signature folk noir with artfully sculpted, lingering, sometimes majestic art-rock over tempos which tend to be on the slow side. She’s playing the release show on Dec 5 at 9 PM at Union Hall in Park Slope on a killer doublebill with the similarly brooding, intense, enigmatic Richard Buckner. Cover is $15 and it’s a good bet this show will sell out, so get there early. The album’s not out yet but there are a couple of tracks up at Robertson’s webpage and also her Bandcamp page – and what’s best is that it will be available on vinyl in addition to the usual digital formats.

Robertson varies her delivery from song to song, often from one verse to another: a soaring, achingly wounded soul-inspired delivery, then raw gritty rock, or smoldering, torchy jazz phrasing. The subtext screams throughout these songs, sometimes literally: war and its aftermath as metaphor for the perils of romance. The opening track, You’re Gonna Burn sets the stage: deep inside, it’s a bitter, menacing blues, Omer Leibovitz’s resonant, sustained lead guitar lines fueling its big upward trajectory.

Paper Crowns follows the same kind of upward drive out of a minimalist intro, a hunter-captured-by-the-prey scenario with an absolutely spine-tingling, lurid crescendo from Robertson. Trouble, a hypnotic anthem and a big audience hit, is a particularly anguished take on the old dilemma of whether or not to give in to temptation: Robertson caps it off with a particularly messy image of of losing one’s virginity. Tin Man kicks off with a stately 6/8 sway, watery guitars contrasting with Alex Picca’s fuzzy bass, building an orate, goth-tinged 80s atmosphere: it’s a portrait of denial told from the point of view of the bad guy in a relationship.

Immolate revisits the fire metaphor, but in the voice of a combat survivor, gospel-fueled angst over 4AD atmospherics – the way Robertson lets a crack or two into her voice is viscerally intense. Picca’s catchy bassline and Layton Weedeman’s drums build a pounding, red-neon arena-rock ambience on Lipstick: “How can I get high when you always bring me down,” Robertson’s protagonist complains, hell-bent on another conquest of one kind or another.

The album really picks up toward the end, first with Microtone Tone, the most noir song here, a kiss-off anthem with hilariously mean lyrics. Likewise, Silly Old Thing is a more amped-up take on the kind of brooding Americana that Robertson first made a name for herself with in the past decade. The most haunting and intense song of all is Winter Coat, just Robertson’s low, anguished vocals and acoustic guitar, a chilling portrait of battles with inner demons – Lucinda Williams would be proud to have written something this vivid.  The final cut, Cipher, is much the same, Robertson on piano this time, a chillingly apocalyptic digital-age parable. Like all the best art, this album gives you pause and makes you question where you are, whether in your own life or in what’s around you: the most intimately personal as political.

Dina Regine’s Soulful New Album Was Worth the Wait

What does it say about our society that Dina Regine has probably made more money spinning other peoples’ records than she’s made by playing her own unique blend of classic soul and rootsy rock? She was getting paid for playlisting long before just any random person could plug their phone into the PA system and then call it a night. But Regine’s greatest accomplishments have been as a songwriter, bandleader and singer. A well-loved presence in the New York club scene throughout the late 90s and early zeros, she still has an avid cult following, and an excellent, long-awaited new album, Right On All Right. And she’s got an album release show coming up on Nov 18 at around 8:30 PM at Bowery Electric. Ursa Minor, who have a similarly dynamic singer in Michelle Casillas – who also contributes to Regine’s album – are on the bill afterward at around 9:30. Cover is eight bucks.

On the album, Regine plays much of the guitars along with keys, mandolin and harp (!). Tony Scherr plays lead guitar on several tracks, along with Tim Luntzel on bass and Dan Rieser on drums. The opening track, Gotta Tell You is a gorgeously jangling, swaying 6/8 soul ballad, Jon Cowherd’s organ rising on the chorus with Regine’s impassioned vocals – and then they rock it out for a bit. The oldschool soul-funk number Dial My Number has a hot horn section (Erik Lawrence on tenor sax, Briggan Krauss on baritone sax and Frank London on trumpet) juxtaposed with Regine’s more low-key yet simmering vocals. By contrast, Can’t Find You Anywhere welds red-neon noir soul ambience to soaring, anthemic choruses, fueled by Scherr’s biting guitar multitracks.. Likewise, Hurt Somebody works the tension between blue-flame soul and brisk new wave-tinged powerpop – Regine likes to mix up her styles and this is a prime example.

Far Gone takes an unexpected and very successful departure into oldschool C&W with a tasty blend of Regine’s baritone guitar mingling with Scherr’s twangy lines. Then Regine hits a pulsing garage-soul vamp on Until Tomorrow and keeps that going with the gloriously guitar-driven, Gloria-esque Fences. The best track here is Broken, a brooding yet brisk latin-tinged groove with Steve Cropper-esque guitar: “You beat the wall for your past oppressor – sometimes spirits treat you real kind but most of the time they mess with your mind,” Regine sings with a gentle unease. How she varies her delivery from one track to another, from sweet to defiant and undeterred is one of the album’s strongest points.

The title track adds slink and suspense to a vintage go-go theme, with yet another one of Regine’s usual, crescendoing, anthemic choruses.  Shaky Dave Pollack’s hard-hitting blues harp drives the vintage Stonesy Nothing Here. The album’s final cut, Wildest Days, is also its most epic, and it’s surprisingly wistful, a snapshot of a deliriously fun time that threatens not to last too long. Fans of the creme de la creme of retro soul, from Lake Street Dive to Sharon Jones, will love this album. It’s not out yet, therefore no spotify link, but a lot of the tracks are up on Regine’s soundcloud page.

Lake Street Dive Returns to Brooklyn After a Killer Doublebill with Sharon Jones

Good Cop: We’re taking over this blog, I tell you. We got to see the best concert of the entire summer, Lake Street Dive and Sharon Jones, out behind the World Financial Center. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Bad Cop: Don’t get all excited now. It’s the first concert we’ve covered here in two months. And this one was back in July.

Good Cop: For awhile I thought we’d always be the scrubs here, but now we’re getting to see the best shows in town. LJ Murphy, Jenifer Jackson, Serena Jost, and now Sharon Jones. So get ready to kick some ass!

Bad Cop: I’m not holding my breath. Lake Street Dive are basically an oldschool soul band with distorted guitar, would you say that pretty much sums them up?

Good Cop: That’s true, but let’s not confuse the audience, the loud guitar doesn’t make the music punk: it’s still soul music with roots in the 1960s. Think Smokey Robinson & the Miracles but with a woman out front, and a lot louder. And Rachael Price, their singer, just gets better and better. It’s like she was good last year but she’s great this year – and she just keeps finding ways to bend her notes more subtly, and belt more powerfully, and cajole and wail and do everything that makes a soul singer worth seeing. There are a million white girls with big voices out there trying to do the American Idol thing, but she’s something special. And the band was amazing. If you missed this show, Lake Street Dive are at the Bell House on Sept 15 at around 9.

Bad Cop: What really shocked me was that Lake Street Dive upstaged Sharon Jones. Which isn’t to say that Sharon Jones was bad – she was as amazing as she always is, which is even more impressive since the poor woman was coming off of chemotherapy and was probably fried just coming back from European tour. But Lake Street Dive drew the bigger crowd. Looking back, they should have headlined. That’s major.

Good Cop: I wouldn’t say that Lake Street Dive upstaged Sharon Jones. They outdrew her. Sharon Jones jumped, and stalked, and slunk across the stage and sweated up a storm. She’s cancer-free and was celebrating that and just glad to be alive, and the band and the audience fed off that energy. It was so heartwarming, I almost cried. But there’s no question that Lake Street Dive were the big draw.

Bad Cop: Interesting to compare the two crowds. Lake Street Dive: almost all-white, mostly female, monied, Upper West Side. [to Good Cop] Hmmm…could you pass for Upper West Side? Do you iron your hair?

Good Cop: [laughs] Naturally straight. [motions to her forehead] See, bangs!

Bad Cop: OK, I learn something new every day. Sharon Jones’ crowd: as you might expect, more ethnically diverse, more diverse incomewise too, several gaggles of gay Bushwick dudes.

Good Cop: She would have outdrawn Lake Street Dive pretty much anywhere in Notbrooklyn, and definitely in real Brooklyn. But the Bushwick dudes can’t leave Bushwick. Taking selfies in an untrendy neighborhood, no can do. Geotagging is a bitch…

Bad Cop: So let’s count our blessings we weren’t downwind of a bunch of stinky trendoids – and let’s tell the people about what we saw. There was a brass band who opened, who were insufferably boring…

Good Cop: …which might seem like an oxymoron because brass bands are exciting, almost by definition. I mean, why would you be in a brass band if you weren’t an extrovert, right? But this brass band somehow managed to find a way to be really tepid. I basically texted through their whole set. And that went on forever. I kept hoping they’d be done.

Bad Cop: Lack of tunes, that was the issue. But then Lake Street Dive came on and you were happy again.

Good Cop; Very. Cool contrast: intense guitar and vocals, Mike Olson and Rachael Price; slinky groove, Bridget Kearney on bass and Mike Calabrese on drums. Bridget didn’t take any solos like she usually does and that was too bad – but that was ok. A couple of songs had Olson playing trumpet and you’d think that with just trumpet, bass and drums, the sound would be really sketchy and skeletal, but it wasn’t.

Bad Cop: That’s the vocal harmonies. Everybody in the band sings. Did you notice that?

Good Cop: And they were good…

Bad Cop: Part of me wants to say that they have a totally contrived sound: they’ve completely internalized a whole lot of 1960s soul styles. And they’re on a label. Do you think they’re a creation of the marketing department? You know, a very clever imitation of the real thing? You’ve got Lady Gag for the pre-K crowd, Katy Perry for the gradeschoolers and Lake Street Dive for the smart kids?

Good Cop: No label would ever create a band for smart kids because that audience is way too small. And Lake Street Dive have been doing this since way back, before the label.

Bad Cop: OK. I discovered from watching the band this time that Bad Self Portraits, which is a satire of selfie narcissism and the title track from the band’s latest album, was written by Kearney. And I dug her evil chords on Johnny Tanqueray…

Good Cop: …which I love because it’s about this bad dude that no girl can resist, and every girl can relate to. Which might explain the crowd…

Bad Cop: For me the high point was where Rachael would hold the notes for, like, forever. And Rabid Animal, the pissed-off one about moving back to her parents’ basement.

Good Cop: We don’t know if that’s about her or not. I liked the two new songs they played: the slow one with the Beatlesque verse and the rocking Stonesy chorus, then Rachael’s big wounded ballad. The band really took the angst factor all the way up for that one.

Bad Cop: They’re a touring machine. I’m not a fan of pop music in general, as you know, but this band slays me: their songs are so catchy and they do everything right. They don’t waste notes. The songs don’t follow a predictable verse/chorus pattern. The singer is a monster and so is the bass player. And they don’t fall into the phony-gospel American Idol vocal trap.

Good Cop: Ha, they don’t use autotune either. Not that they need it.

Bad Cop: I was wondering when Sharon Jones’ band the Dap-King opened, whether they’d be babying her – especially since they started with that James Brown style intro, you know, the instrumental medley with all the hooks from the hits, and then the two backup singers doing their single and the B-side…

Good Cop: They were awesome! Bouncy wistful tonguetwisting stuff, straight from the bargain bins around 1973 – I mean that in a complimentary way…

Bad Cop: How ironic that stuff that sounds like it would have been a little too obscure to have been a hit back then would be the material a band would want to be playing 40 years later…

Good Cop: Audiences are pickier and more sophisticated now.

Bad Cop: I liked the boomy noir Clairy Browne style ones they did afterward. With a different beat the first one would have been a reggae song.

Good Cop: Wow, I hadn’t thought of that.

Bad Cop: Then Sharon came on and she was on top of her game. Purring and cajoling and strutting and shouting over catchy vamps with tantalizing little breaks for guitar, or baritone sax, or organ.

Good Cop: You’re right, this was kind of a dark set, which surprised me since this was a New York homecoming after the tour, and she’s healthy now, and she took a lot of time to celebrate that. But otherwise the songs were closer to the ones this band made backing Amy Winehouse: lurid and slinky and brooding.

Bad Cop: They’d pick up the pace and bring it down again: a couple of summery ballads, then a rainy-day number. The cover of I Heard It Through the Grapevine was a lot closer to the Tina Turner version. Then there was a catchy original right afterward that was a lot more cheery and bouncy, straight out of a John Waters 1965 scene. The backup singers joined in a lush, early 70s, jazzy number that sounded like the Three Degrees, then the set got gritty again, then there was a funky James Brown medley, Sharon’s long digression about how she’s healthy again, and then they closed with Retreat. Which is not exactly a happy song, and reinforces what you were talking about earlier.

Good Cop: Didn’t they do The Horse?

Bad Cop: Yeah, bits and pieces of that kept bubbling up in more than one song. This band does that a lot. They know every classic soul riff ever written and they can’t resist playing them. Which sometimes leaves you wondering whether they’re playing originals or obscure covers. That by itself proves how closely they nail those oldschool sounds, and of course that extends to the vocals as well.

Good Cop: Which did you end up liking better, Sharon Jones or Lake Street Dive?

Bad Cop: I never thought I’d ever say this, but I thought they were equally good. Although the crowd was annoying.

Good Cop: Yeah, but that’s always the risk you run with these outdoor shows.

Bad Cop: There was that yuppie brutalizing his wife, you remember, that fat girl with the frizzy hair next to us. That douchebag’s annoying nasal voice is all over my recording of the show. Remember, we had to move? I hope she shoots him.

Good Cop: I hope she gets away with it. I’ll give her an alibi!

Bad Cop: Yeah, and then we ended up behind that smelly guy and we had to move again.

Good Cop: Well, at least we had someplace to move to. You have to admit, it has been the best summer ever in this city, hasn’t it? You go back further than me. Can you remember such a great summer here, ever?

Bad Cop [pauses, thinks about it. Guardedly]: There have been excruciating summers where I’ve had more fun. But as far as your basic creature comfort, this summer is as good as I’ve ever seen it and that’s including the last few days which have been nasty. And we’ve got another summer show to relate here, but that’s going to wait til another day.

An Ecstatic Gospel Rock Party in Williamsburg with Jesus on the Mainline

Monday night at 11:30 or so is Rev. Vince Anderson‘s weekly dance party at Union Pool. If you want to get your dirty, funky gospel groove on, there is no better place to do it. This past Monday night was an exception since Jesus on the Mainline played a raucous, careening show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg that was every bit as fun. Their roughly hourlong set cast them as sort of a cross between Anderson’s gritty jamband funk and the ecstatic, towering, anthemic New Orleans vibe of Brother Joscephus, with generous splashes of oldschool soul and occasional hints of circus rock. Fronted by charismatic trumpeter/conductor/singer Andrew Neesley, the band seems to draw on a rotating cast of A-list New York jazz talent. The obvious star of this particular sixteen-piece edition of the band was singer Mel Flannery, whose raw, powerful, brassy alto and stratospheric harmonies in tandem with Lauren Davidson (who was sitting in for Amanda Brecker) were nothing short of spine-tingling. Neesley may not embarrass himself on the mic, but Flannery’s otherworldly wail is transcendent: she got to take just one lead vocal all night and deserved them all.

When he wasn’t singing, or taking a tantalizingly brief, energetic trumpet solo, Neesley worked the dynamics up and down, pairing off soloists, signaling the band to drop out for a dip to just the keys and percussion, or the five-piece horn section, then leading everybody back up to a wild peak. Most of the songs went on for about ten minutes with plenty of time for solos. Guitarist Simon Kafka played slinky, in-the-pocket soul riffs, where Andrew Miramonti went for jaggedly dancing, explosive leads, thrashing as he played them. Keyboardist Pascal Le Beouf, who’s a distinguished jazz pianist in his own right, turned out to have sizzling, incisive chops on the organ as well. The most intense instrumental solo of the night came from tuneful, precise trombonist Natalie Cressman, while trumpeters Mike Gorham and Augie Haas got time in the spotlight along with trombonist Frank Cohen. The low end was bolstered by the twin pulse of bassist Tomek Miernowski and tuba player Mark McGinnis in tandem with Dave Scalia’s drums. In the quieter moments, percussionists Jake Goldbas and Austin Walker could be heard along with Tim Emmerick, who began the show’s first song with a bucolic banjo intro, later switching to acoustic guitar and singing harmonies as well.

While the tempos tended to sway and swing at a leisurely pace, the energy went up to redline with the first big rise from the horn section and stayed that way. Most of the songs were in major keys, eschewing the dark otheworldliness of some gospel music, especially the old stuff. And while the tunes often went straight to church, the lyrics didn’t. The catchiest song of the night was also the hardest-rocking number, with a gorgeous Le Boeuf organ solo and a more unhinged one from Miramonti. The show’s high point came courtesy of Flannery, whose sassy, indomitable low register was just as searingly powerful as her highest notes, fronting a gospel-soul number midway through the set and earned her the most applause of the evening. Neesley and Emmerick also teamed up for a rousing, slowly undulating tribute to getting so blitzed that the only option is to keep the bender going for another day, and that also resonated with the crowd. This music crosses a lot of boundaries, agewise, incomewise and otherwise, drawing a very diverse audience that represented Brooklyn a lot more, one suspects, than the typical crowds at this venue. The band doesn’t have any shows booked at the moment; watch this space.

Coppins Plays Smart, Socially Aware Bagpipe Rock and Eclectic Grooves

Coppins’ new album The Prince That Nobody Knows literally has something for everybody. It’s got a creepy southwestern gothic song, a reggae tune, lots of socially conscious, wryly lyrical, soul-tinged hippie rock and some funk. But what Grier Coppins really does best is play bagpipes. He got his start busking with his pipes at the corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets in Toronto back in the 70s, went on to lead bagpipe funk band Rare Air in the 80s and a decade later, the R&B-inspired Taxi Chain. The songs on this album – streaming at Bandcamp – reflect pretty much every stop along the way. But the bagpipe stuff is the most original, and it’s fantastic.

The album opens with one of those tunes, Spaceman from Weslemkoon, a catchy funk number with doubletracked guitars set against Coppins’ otherworldly drone. They follow that with the ominous, bluesy Don’t Know Where I’m Going, with its eerily clangin guitar menace. Throughout the album – which is magnificently produced, with all kinds of multitracking and elaborate, imaginative arrangements – Coppins alternates between tenor guitar and bagpipes.Chris Staig plays the heavier, more blues-infused guitar parts while Ayron Mortley handles the more soul, jazz or African-inspired ones. Terry Wilkins plays bass on most of the tracks along with Paul Brennan on drums and many special guests.

The first of the socially conscious numbers, Big Boy contemplates growing up in world poisoned by pollution and a mad dash to spend and consume, set to a vamping roadhouse blues theme. The soul-tinged Happy on Earth considers how “this earth is Hell – to the Devil, Hell is Heaven.” The reggae tune Great Day for Living is even more sarcastic:

The sun is coming up like a cruise missile head
I’m looking for the blue sky, there’s a yellow film instead
The glaciers are melting and the earth is heating fast 
But to stop production would be too much to ask

Wanna Be Happy sets a darkly amusing whorehouse narrative to a slow Mississippi hill country blues-tinged groove. Coppins follows that with Before They Call Me Home, a reggae-inflected hippie rock tune and then the album’s funniest song, Sauce in a Can. Over a roaring, Stonesy stomp lit up by saxophonist Jim Bish’s one-man horn section, Coppins discovers that the stuff on the shelf that saves him when he’s too high to cook might not be as wonderful an invention as it first seems – the joke ending is too good to spoil.

The nebulously political anthem Push has a slower, similarly Stonesy groove, like an outtake from Sticky Fingers. Blue Banjo Breakdown, which follows it, doesn’t have a banjo – instead, it contrasts a soaring bagpipe hook with fiddle accents and roaring Keith Richards-style guitar. Fueled by Jesse Whiteley’s ragtime piano, Can’t Leave the Ladies Alone tells the wryly funny tale of a guy who just can’t get enough of a good thing, over Dan Hicks-ish oldtimey swing. A country tune, Live Forever sounds like an improved and more soulful version of Bob Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere. After that, the band makes a bagpipe theme out of Malian-style desert blues and ends with the almost nine-minute title track, a metaphorically-fueled medieval narrative set to a backdrop that’s one part Grateful Dead, one part desert rock. Like so many of the songs here, the ending is the last thing you would expect.