New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: soul-rock

Lake Street Dive Puts Out One of the Year’s Catchiest Albums

The most apt album title any group has ever come up with in the age of the selfie: Lake Street Dive‘s Bad Self Portraits. Is the Boston blue-eyed soul band’s latest release a commentary on extreme narcissism in the digital age? Actually not. This album’s about tunesmithing. Saying that any one band is the best at any particular thing will always get you in trouble – just when you think you know everything, a new discovery takes you back to square one. However, it is safe to say that there is no catchier band on the planet than Lake Street Dive. These songs are absolutely gorgeous, the kind that you catch yourself humming as you walk down the street, and then suddenly you’re in a good mood.

Their sound is very distinctive: they put a driving, kinetic, guitar-fueled edge on original songs written in a classic 60s soul and Motown vein. Frontwoman Rachael Price has a sardonic, acidic edge to her voice, which perfectly suits the songs’ lyrics. Bassist Bridget Kearney doesn’t get to cut loose here as much as she does onstage, but her melodic hooks are still delicious and often appear when least expected: she’s sort of the band’s second lead guitarist. What makes guitarist Mike Olson’s playing so interesting is that he’s more of a rock player than a soul player: you don’t hear a bunch of recycled Memphis or Muscle Shoals licks in what he does. There’s a lingering chipotle burn in his resonant, snarling chords, counterbalanced by a terse, period-perfect, muted mid 60s tunefulness in the songs’ quieter moments. Drummer Mike Calabrese anchors everything with a slinky swing.

The album opens with the title track, a more amped-up take on a classic, swaying soul sound: the woman in the story got a camera to snap shots of her boyfriend, who’s now gone, so can she take it all by herself and springboard an art career with it? That’s the question. The second track, Stop Your Crying is wickedly catchy Phil Spector-ish girl-group pop with roaring, stomping electric guitar and jaunty vocal harmonies. Then the band takes it down for the wounded, brooding, swaying Better Than, Kearney’s bass dancing around judiciously as she signals the changes.

Rabid Animal vividly evokes the caged feeling a kid would get moving back home, taking a step backward, Price’s voice agitated against a syncopated doo-wop piano melody. You Go Down Smooth is a dead ringer for classic Holland-Dozier-Holland, complete with a big blazing brass section and a clever series of false endings. Use Me Up keeps the Motown vibe motoring along with a series of absolutely delicious major/minor changes, Kearney kicking it off solo over the drums, the song building to another classic crescendo, Olson’s guitar set against what sounds like an echoey electric piano patch on a vintage 80s DX7 synth.

Bobby Tanqueray starts out as the jazziest track on the album and then rocks hard, up to a Beatlesque chorus and more of those droll girl-group harmonies. Just Ask works a steamy series of dynamics through a vintage Memphis theme, the organ, guitar and vocals moving up and then down: “You may not win my body by poisoning my mind,” Price asserts…but she likes the guy despite herself. On the next track, Seventeen, she ponders a pretty universal situation over a loosely funky, Led Zep-tinged pulse: what if we’d actually been able to hook up with somebody cool in high school instead of having to wait for what felt like forever, until college, or even later?

What About Me welds a funky sway to an oldschool soul chorus, a Beatlesque bridge and a richly tuneful guitar solo straight out of the George Harrison playbook. The album winds up with Rental Love, which if you buy this particular anachronism, sounds like the Beatles doing Imagine as the opening track on Sergeant Pepper. There’s a sourpuss, cynical contingent out there that says that all this has been done before, that it’s impossible to play vintage-sounding rock and soul better than the originals. Lake Street Dive defy that, and in the process have recorded one of the most deliciously tuneful albums of recent years.

Now where can you hear this album? Not on Spotify or Soundcloud and barely on Bandcamp,  although most of the tracks are up at Youtube in various form: click the links in the song titles above. Many of those tracks comprise an excellent live broadcast on Oregon Public which is archived here.  Lake Street Dive are also excellent in concert; they’re at Bowery Ballroom on March 31 at 10 PM. $18 advance tickets (available at the Mercury Lounge from 5-7 PM, Monday-Friday) are recommended.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices Burn Up the Parkside

The Best Concerts of the Year page is an annual tradition here. With everything else going on lately, it’s been tempting to just make 2013 a wrap right now – after all, the last few weeks of the year are pretty much a wash, right? That would have been a mistake, because the list would have left out LJ Murphy & the Accomplices‘ explosive show this past Saturday night at the Parkside. Other than the fact that he’s a great showman with an amazing band and a deep catalog of savagely lyrical songs, what makes Murphy’s live shows so consistently interesting is that he’s always reinventing the material. For example, ten years ago, he was doing Comfortable Cage as a plaintive minor-key dirge. This time out, he reworked it into a much subtler, noir Orbison pop groove that was a lot more upbeat yet packed twice the wallop. A little later, the band picked up the pace even more and gave an extra jolt of electricity to Saturday’s Down, an understatedly haunting account of watching a respite from the trials of the work week slip away:

The morning came a bit too late as usual today
The sunshine made its case and was abruptly pushed away
Coffee burnt beyond description, bread as hard as stone
The stranger in the mirror said you’re spending too much time alone

A Sweetheart of the Rodeo sway masked the venom in Imperfect Strangers, pianist Patrick McLellan’s fiery chords and ripples raising the ante – “Don’t kid yourself until he calls you in the morning, I don’t want to hear you say he never gave you warning,” Murphy insisted. And then they hit a doublespeed soul-clap groove.

Over a slinky latin soul beat, the defiant Another Lesson I Never Learned wound up with a bitingly enigmatic series of tradeoffs between Murphy’s vocals and the piano. Then they took it down for a bit with This Is Nothing Like Bliss, a morose soul ballad about a hookup gone drastically wrong, then took it back up again.

In his signature porkpie hat and black suit, Murphy twitched and stutter-stepped like a pre-angel dust James Brown in front of the band as they made their into way through the Stax/Volt shuffle Happy Hour, a reminder that the people at the office that you can’t stand are even more obnoxious once they’ve had a few. Mad Within Reason, the title track to Murphy’s brilliant, most recent album, careened along on with a phantasmagical Weimar blues pulse:

Sinews and cobwebs have clung to our lips
Cnd crosses and pistols are hung from our hips
Cried for my supper, then spat on the plate
While everyone tried to become what they hate
The industry captain, smile on his face
So proud of the changes he’s made to this place

Lead guitarist Tommy Hoscheid alternated between judicious Memphis licks, a Stonesy growl and finally a flurry of slasher tremolo-picking over the sway of Brothers Moving‘s Nils Sorensen’s bass and Carlos Hernandez’s drums. The best song of the night was a recently resurrected classic, Pretty for the Parlor, adding a little deadpan country glitter to the grimly bouncing tale of a sniper hellbent on picking off a few poor suckers in some outer-borough hell.  After that, they segued out of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue into Stormy Monday and then back again. At the end of the show, after the last of the encores (a roaring version of the sardonically titled Blue Silence) Murphy wryly stole a page out of the Muddy Waters book and led the group through a couple of lickety-split choruses of I Got My Mojo Working. In a year packed with transcendent live shows, this was one of the best – and the sound at the club, hit-and-miss in years past, was great! Lesson learned – watch for the Best Concerts of 2013 page here at the END of the year.

Nehedar and Hudson K Bring Down the Lights at the Delancey

Why do so many folkies play coffeehouses? Because their audiences need caffeine in order to stay awake!

There’s usually nothing more boring than a solo vocal-and-guitar act. Typically, the person onstage can either play but not sing, or sing but not play. Many of them can’t do either. And their songs tend to be about themselves, and their meh lives, and their meh loves, or more likely lack thereof. So it was a special treat Thursday night to see soul-rock songwriter Nehedar a.k.a. Emilia Cataldo hold the crowd absolutely rapt with her edgy, often harrowing storytelling and her elegant, balletesque vocal leaps and pirouettes. You could have heard a pin drop. And this wasn’t at Jazz at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, either, it was downstairs at the Delancey. Where people go to hang, and have a few beers, and chitchat while their friends onstage are doing their thing.

And Cataldo doesn’t seem to sing about herself, either; midway through the set, she mused that so many of her songs are about other peoples’ problems – and that she was grateful for that. She opened with Bells of the City, an angst-fueled, swaying oldschool soul song from her excellent new album This Heart that seems to be about somebody “building a nice career out of a life of fear” who ends up not being able to resist the lure of the bright lights. Maybe it was just the power of suggestion, but when she got to the chorus, her voice took on a bell-like resonance. There are a million women out there with pleasant voices; what Cataldo does with hers, always in the service of getting a lyric across or teasing the listener, is what makes her different and worth hearing.

The version of On Killing on the new album is a brooding bolero; here, she did it more as a punchy, brutally insightful rock song about the psychology of warfare: “They taught him to kill and he was good student, ’cause he had the will,” Cataldo wailed knowingly. She went back to a soul vibe for the sad, restless, alienated Headlights, a piano ballad on the album that benefited from the jolt of energy that Cataldo gave it onstage. She followed what was essentially a biting, minor-key garage rock number with another minor-key one that gave her a platform for some bracingly spiraling vocals. Then she went into oldschool country for Something to Call Mine, a pensive ballad that she said sounds like a breakup ballad, but it’s not.

The soul vibe returned on Pretty Young Thing, a nonchalantly haunting tale of a girl who “could be your baby and she could be you,” who runs into somebody who was looking out for someone just like her to attack. Cataldo closed with a Blues Traveler cover, of all things, which she said was basically a clinic in how to write a song. And it wasn’t bad! There’s a lot of darkness and even horror in Cataldo’s songwriting, but she can also be a lot of fun: nobody saw it coming when she turned the outro into hip-hop.

Where Cataldo is all about drawing people into her narratives, Knoxville’s Hudson K, who was next on the bill, is all about power. Belting out her darkwave anthems in a hurricane-force alto over the fat, body-slamming synth bass blasting from her mixing board, she wielded a keytar, backed by a hard-hitting drummer who rose to the challenge of having to play in sync with the mechanical beats.”You’re stuck on repeat,” she wailed sarcastically on the catchiest number of her set, building to a loudly wavering, spacy wash of string synth over an 80s goth hook. There didn’t seem to be a lot of black eyeliner in the crowd, but pretty much everybody got up, moved down front and joined the dance party. Hudson K’s music is actually a lot more eclectic than this show intimated; a couple of years ago, she put out a killer noir cabaret-rock album, Shine, which is still available at her Bandcamp page as a free download.

And the sound at the venue  was great! As Hudson K joyously told the crowd, Marco behind the soundboard made that room really sing.

Dark Retro Garage and Soul Sounds from Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside

Portland, Oregon band Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside mix retro guitar influences from the 60s into a defiantly unique, high-energy sound that’s part garage rock and part oldschool soul, with a lot of Link Wray snarl as well. They’re playing a free show at Pier 84 at 44th St. and the Hudson at around 8 PM on July 11; their latest album, Untamed Beast is streaming at Soundcloud.

“Never gonna apologize for being so intense, how the hell would that make any sense?” Ford sneers on the opening track, They Told Me, over drummer Ford Tennis’ caveman stomp, bassist Tyler Tornfelt going way up and hitting hard over the lingering Link Way Rumble menace of the two guitars. On the funky, doo wop-infused Addicted, Ford slashes and tremolo-picks against lead guitarist Jeffrey Munger’s resonant, reverb-drenched lines, building to a firestorm of trumpet, backing vocals and chord-chopping. “I know where the party can be found…dancing in the living room, drinking white wine,” Ford grins over a snarling minor-key soul vamp on Party Kids. Bad Boys works agile handoffs between the two guitars over a dark minor-key soul vamp lit up by a couple of slashing Dick Dale-style slides down the scale; then Ford pushes the beat on the slow, sultry, luridly noir Shivers.

Devil takes an oldtime gospel vamp and makes a rockabilly shuffle out of it. The album’s best song, Paris takes a richly successful, tuneful turn into open-tuned acoustic country blues. Do Me Right works a slyly innuendo-packed litany of food for a hokum blues vibe over a 60s soul shuffle. Lip Boy pounds along on a boomy, Cramps-y surf groove. Munger’s savage surf playing brings Rockability to a screaming peak; the album winds up with the surprisingly laid-back, acoustic Roll Around, Ford wishing for an escape back to the 50s away from teens technology overkill.

Another cool thing about this album, and about this band, is that while everything they’re doing has been done before, they don’t lapse into cliche or go over the top. Ford could put  a snotty pout into her nonchalantly sweaty alto delivery and probably get away with it, and the rest of the band could recycle more well-worn licks than they do. But they don’t. Much as they’ve got the 60s sound down so cold that someone hearing them might assume that these songs were recorded 45 years ago, nobody is going to confuse this band with anybody else.

Rachelle Garniez Releases Her Most Intriguing, Inscrutable Album

Sometimes the best albums take the longest to get to know. Which isn’t any surprise: if you can figure out exactly what an album is all about the first time around, maybe it isn’t worth hearing again. Rachelle Garniez has been making good and frequently transcendent ones since the late 90s. Her new one Sad Dead Alive Happy, just out this past January, is the fifth by the virtuoso accordionist/pianist/chanteuse, who’s fluent on guitar and bass as well. Over the years, she’s covered more ground more expertly, unpredictably and entertainingly than pretty much any other songwriter alive: noir blues, lushly orchestrated piano anthems, oldtime country, oompah punk, salsa, tango, psychedelia, torch songs and ragtime, to name a few genres. Her lyrics work multiple levels of meaning for a style that sounds completely spontaneous but probably isn’t: songs as intelligent as hers are typically very carefully thought out. This new album is her most opaque and inscrutable: musically, it’s an unexpected turn deep into gospel and soul music.

As usual, keyboards are front and center here, along with Garniez’ nuanced, occasionally dramatic multi-octave vocals. She pulls out all the stops on the opening track, the album’s funniest, a surreal homage (in the rough sense of the word, anyway) to Jean-Claude Van Damme, who’s apparently been hawking antidepressants on tv. It could be sincere, or it could be the album’s cruellest, most sarcastic and punkest song. Garniez’ grand guignol operatics on the outro sound more like Queen than anything else: it’s so beautifully blissful it’s hard to believe. God’s Little Acre is overtly sarcastic and even more upbeat, an unrepentant anthem for hedonists who might not want to reconnect with old conquests via Facebook. Lunasa begins echoey and hypnotic and morphs into an Irish ballad: “Tonight is the last night of the summer of love, the last night of summer, my love,” Garniez sings sweetly, but as usual, there’s an undercurrent of menace that finally emerges after a charming tack piano interlude. Nothing is exactly as it seems here.

If you’ve always wondered how Matt Munisteri would play an arena-rock guitar solo, you’ll find out on Parallel Universe, which melds 80s stadium rock into a slow gospel ballad – and surprisingly, it works. Metaphorically, it’s about rediscovering an earlier self: how that might be achieved is open to interpretation. A couple of tracks here have a previous life as well. The jaunty, clever swing tune Just Because You Can first appeared on Catherine Russell’s This Heart of Mine in 2010; Garniez’ own version is more straight-ahead. And the refusenik soul anthem My House of Peace was first released as a vinyl single by Jack White (who also plays drums on the song) on his Third Man Records label in 2009.

The album’s final track, Land of the Living brings the gospel to a crescendo both lyrically and musically: it’s an Aimee Mann drug dirge that trades that artist’s harrowing edge for a streetwise optimism. “When you fly, do you like to get a running start?” whispers Garniez as the song slowly kicks in; by the end, it’s two women hanging out, smoking on a stoop somewhere in Manhattan, one gently nudging the other toward a more robust future. You could call this gospel for nonbelievers – paradoxical as that sounds, it’s the kind of theme Garniez thrives on. Check back at the end of the year and see if this gets the nod for best album of 2012: it just might. In the meantime, it’s streaming in its entirety at myspace.