New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: southern rock

Blackberry Smoke Kick Out the Jams on Their Latest Epic Tour

The high point of Blackberry Smoke’s Manhattan show this past evening happened about midway through, a twisted, surreal kaleidoscope of sunbaked Georgia clay refracted upward into grim, grey Pink Floyd atmospherics, anchored by drummer Brit Turner’s steady sway. As frontman/guitarist Charlie Starr pulled away from the center with a sudden, Gilmouresque howl, Paul Jackson stayed steady, plucking icy chordlets from his hollow-body Gretsch to light up the somber mist. Keyboardist Brandon Still, who up to this point had switched effortlessly from funky, echoey Fender Rhodes to some spot-on honkytonk piano, built a black swirl of organ beneath the ominous skies above.

By the time the jam was over, Starr had referenced Hendrix, the Grateful Dead (several times) and maybe Neil Young before leading the band into a dirtbag verse or two of the Beatles’ Come Together. Bassist Richard Turner’s graceful, boomy McCartney licks were almost comical, in contrast with the grimy detour the band had suddenly taken. Maybe it wasn’t as cartoonishly funny as the Aerosmith cover, but it worked as comic relief. And it was one of umpteen moments during the show reaffirming the eternal popularity of jambands – and why Blackberry Smoke are one of the best in the business.

Obviously, most jambands don’t have the songs, or the snide lyrical impact that Blackberry Smoke’s most recent material has. They had the crowd singing along practically from the first chorus of Fire in the Hole, the outlaw redneck rock anthem they used to open the show. Just like the last time these guys passed through town, the audience was fistpumping and raising devil’s horns to Waiting for the Thunder, Starr’s ripsnorting, fryolator-guitar fueled diatribe about the divergence between the rich and the underclasses. The song is a lot more vivid than that statement – and it was awfully validating to see a bunch of out-of-towners getting down with a protest anthem. Even if Lynyrd Skynyrd could have written a song like this one, they never would have gotten away with it.

Whether Blackberry Smoke are doing that, or twangy party anthems – and there were plenty of those in the mix – they haven’t lost touch with their populist roots. Case in point: Best Seat in the House, from the band’s latest full-length album, Find a Light, a cynical, backbeat-driven anthem told from the defiant point of view of a working class kid whose ambition doesn’t go much further than that.

Likewise, the funniest point of the evening was when Starr introduced Run Away From It All, a muted, brooding would-be escapee’s tale to open a brief more-or-less acoustic segment. “We haven’t had much luck with radio,” he admitted. “Then I looked around the house and couldn’t remember if I owned a radio.” Over a long enough timeline, all technologies’ survival rates drop to zero.

In contrast with that stark cynicism, the band ran through plenty of sidewinding stomps, a simmering peach pie of southern twang and Stonesy snarl. And then they’d suddenly get serious with a gloomy, toweringly lingering, cinematic mini-epic like the death-obsessed Running Through Time.

The seemingly endless Blackberry Smoke tour continues; the next stop with anything approaching affordable tickets is at Sept 13 at 7:30 PM at the Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S Main St. in Concord, New Hampshire where it will cost Granite Staters $35 to get in.

Blackberry Smoke Burns Through Hell’s Kitchen

The song that drew the most powerful response at Blackberry Smoke’s show last night was Waiting for the Thunder, the snidely apocalyptic anthem that opens their latest album Like an Arrow. “Why do we stand by and do nothing while they piss it all away?” drawled frontman/lead guitarist Charlie Starr.

He was referring to those “with the power and the glory” who “get more than they deserve.” A little later, he and guitarist Paul Jackson took a sarcastic twin solo that referenced a cheesy Aerosmith hit from the 70s as bass player Richard Turner made a slinky upward climb, and lead drummer (that’s what the band calls him) Brit Turner swung a tight metalfunk groove.

It was a typical moment in a night full of many different flavors. From the looks of a near sold-out crowd – an unpretentious, multi-generational bunch – Blackberry Smoke’s rise in popularity here doesn’t seem to mirror the waves of rich white southern suburbanites who’ve flooded the outer boroughs in recent years. People just dig this band’s sense of humor, Starr’s knack for a sardonically aphoristic turn of phrase, and the fact that they can jam like crazy when they want to. Which is what keeps the music fresh, night after night. They started out here at Irving Plaza. Last time around, they played the Beacon; yesterday evening they were at Terminal 5.

Much as the group’s roots are in southern rock, more often than not they came across as a louder southern version of the Grateful Dead. Most of the jamming took place in long, slowly rising intros or smolderingly suspenseful interludes midway through a song. The most epic one of them began Third Stone From the Sun and ended up a couple of stories into Franklin’s Tower.

Throughout the night, Starr played a museum’s worth of vintage guitars, starting with a longscale Les Paul Jr. model, later switching to a Guild hollowbody and eventually an acoustic, showing off some flashy bluegrass flatpicking in an offhandedly savage take of the workingman’s escape anthem One Horse Town – these guys are populist to the core. He saved his most searing slide work for a Telecaster and his most deep-fried southern licks for a gorgeous gold Les Paul. Jackson also played one of those for most of the night, eventually moving to acoustic and then a vintage white SG.

They opened with the aphoristic, heavy riff-rocking Testify, then got the night’s requisite big party song, Good One and its endless list of intoxicating substances out of the way early, fueled by Brandon Still’s glittering honkytonk piano. It took awhile before his organ or echoey, starry Wurly were audible in the mix. From there the band built momentum through some gritty outlaw C&W, the blazing, Stonesy Let It Burn, and a couple of midtempo numbers that rehashed old bluegrass riffs the Dead made famous.

The most rustic song of the night was the swaying I Ain’t Got the Blues; the loudest might have been a snarling, defiant take of What’s Left of Me. The new album’s title track was surprisingly muted, less Molly Hatchet than 80s heartland stadium rock.

There were also a couple of covers, something a band this good doesn’t need. A haphazard stab at dirtbag Aerosmith stench in the Beatles’ Come Together, and an attempt to make something substantial out of Tom Petty, only lowered the bar – then again, this group come from a part of the world where cover bands are the rule rather than the exception. Blackberry Smoke’s nonstop tour continues with a sold-out show tonight at the Wicomico Civic Center in Salisbury, Maryland.

A Long-Lost 90s Psychedelic Blues Treasure Rescued from Obscurity

Guitarist Hugh Pool is sort of a New York counterpart to Stevie Ray Vaughan. Obviously, that’s not a completely fair comparison, considering that Pool outlived Vaughan the day he turned 36. He’s more versatile than Vaughan ever was, tackling everything from the fiery electric blues he’s best known for, to the spare, antique, otherworldly sound of his Mulebone collaboration with multi-instrumentalist John Ragusa. Then again, Vaughan didn’t live to see himself inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame – alongside both B.B. King and Eric Clapton, go figure – like Pool did last year.

Pool has also just re-released a rare 1996 recording, Willsboro Sound Lab, available on cd for the ridiculously low price of seven bucks. Like so many deserving obscurities from the early days of the web, it hasn’t made it to Spotify yet. What’s most striking about this album is not necessarily how tight it is, but how tantalizingly brief Pool’s solos are. For a guy who’s made a name for himself on the jamband circuit, he really makes every note count. The album opens with What I Did, a swinging, wah guitar-driven update on Hendrix-inspired 70s hard funk. The rhythm section – bassist Mike Bernal and drummer Matt Mousseau – establish a groove that will stay in place throughout the rest of the session. The open-tuned Angel’s Hair blends subtle, soulful slide work alongside Mike Latrell’s similarly low-key organ: it has the purist feel of a late 80s/early 90s electric Hot Tuna number, albeit with bass that’s closer to the ground.

The gracefully bouncing, understatedly moody When the Well Runs Dry mingles spare jangle, and clang along with keening, shivery slide work. Pool’s ominous, distantly Detroit-tinged solo could have gone on for four times as long and nobody would be complaining. “You can feel the cold when you open the door,” he intones broodingly.

Pool finally cuts loose, but still choosing his spots, with wrist-shattering tremolo, lightning Hendrix hammer-ons and some big crunchy stadium chords in the funky, dynamically shifting, psychedelic I Forgot Where I Was. The ep winds up with the quietly menacing nocturne Big Ol’ Moon, Pool’s lingering, hypnotic acoustic and electric multitracks anchored by Mousseau’s spare, deep-space boom.

Fans of rootsy psychedelia, from Jorma’s many projects, to current-day New York artists like Eric Ambel and Lizzie & the Makers should check this out. Pool’s next New York gig is July 27 at midnight at the Ear Inn, the final stop on his current US tour. In addition to his own projects, Pool plays lead guitar in Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons, who have a birthday gig coming up at 10 PM on July 15 at Sidewalk, followed a set by downtown siren Carol Lipnik, who will be airing out some of Leckie’s most haunting art-rock songs.

 

 

Waylon Speed Play Their High-Voltage Americana At a Rare Intimate Show

Waylon Speed do interesting and original things with old ideas from south of the Mason-Dixon line, from highway rock to hard honkytonk to Molly Hatchet. And they personify the dilemma facing so many nationally touring bands when it comes to playing here. They make their living on the road at decently midsize venues like Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, Kung Fu Necktie in Philly, the works. Where are they playing in New York on Dec 12 at 11 PM? Bowery Ballroom? The Bell House? Nope. The Rockwood – not even the big room there, but the little one. Which should at least make for an intimate show for the exuberant Vermont quartet. In fact, if Dub Trio hadn’t done a residency there awhile back, it would be safe to say that Waylon Speed would definitely be the loudest group ever to play that little space. Rockwood peeps, you have been warned.

The band’s latest album, Kin, is streaming at Spotify – if you’d rather avoid the hassle of flipping the volume down for the between-song ads, a lot of it is up at the band’s webpage and also at soundcloud. Americana guitar maven Mark Spencer – of the late great Blood Oranges – produced, giving it a warm, analog feel and purist values: Chad Hammaker and Kelly Ravin’s guitars and vocals front and center, Noah and Justin Crowther’s bass and drums in back where they belong. It sounds more like it was fueled by Maker’s and good hydro than by Caldwell’s (it’s a Vermont thing) and dirtweed.

The opening track, Coming Down Again – an original, not the Stones obscurity – is a twangy country tune fueled by some sweet slide guitar. The album’s title track reaches for a funky sway with Skynyrd tropes like sludgy bluesmetal and wry wah riffage, and a stampede to the finish line. Smooth the Grain juxtaposes hotrod baritone guitar and honking harmonica over a twangy shuffle that wouldn’t be out of place in the Wayne Hancock catalog.

“There’s a ghost in the corner blowing smoke in my face,” Hammaker complain on the similarly shuffling Until It All Ends, “Take your grain of salt and rub it in your wounds.” On a Wire, like the janglier songs here, recalls New York’s long-running, consistently excellent highway rockers the Sloe Guns. Tally-Ho puts a scrambling Buck Owens edge on early alt-country, like a less punk Uncle Tupelo. And you might think that a mashup of 70s redneck rock and Blue Oyster Cult might be a complete mess, but Shakin’ proves it’s possible to pull off.

In Your Mind, the most straight-up rock tune here, has a stomping beat and winds up with a long, searing metal guitar solo. “It looks like you’ve been ashing on your dashboard…you wake in the asscrack of noon,” Hammaker relates casually on the twangy, steel guitar-fueled kiss-off anthem Days Remain the Same. They take a detour toward garage rock with Union and close out on a counterintuitive note with with the slow, brooding ballad Demons.

Purist Highway Rock Tunesmithing from Carly Jamison

Nashville rocker Carly Jamison‘s 2011 album Everything Happens for a Reason mixed up crushingly sarcastic, Americana-flavored four-on-the-floor rock with the occasional detour into honkytonk, spiced with former Georgia Satellite Dan Baird’s nonchalantly scorching guitar work. Her new one, Ungrounded is much the same musically, less assaultively lyrical, with similarly purist production and solid tunesmithing. Simple, catchy hooks, warmly familiar themes and a heavy foot on the kick drum propel this solid, oldschool mix of tunes. It’s got the feel of a vinyl record from the 80s…but an American one, drums in the back, vocals up where they should be, with rich, volcanic layers of roaring, smoldering, jangling, screaming guitars.

The opening track, Superman Fantasy sets big brass riffs and swirly organ over a Stonesy stomp: “I don’t need no x-ray vision to see right through your walls,” Jamison intones. And then after an all-too-brief Baird solo, she turns the lyric inside out. It’s a cool touch.

No Easy Way Out is richly layered noir 60s garage-psych rock with a heavy 80s backbeat. I Don’t Think We Have Ever Met reaches for a mid-60s Dylanesque folk-rock vibe. Small Talk takes a dirty indie blues theme and beefs it up with big-studio drums, organ, soaring bass and more of those deliciously roaring, multitracked guitars. And Sailing Away disguises a stereotypical 90s singer-songwriter tune amid all the searing Stonesy sonics: “You could have been the careless sailor, could have been the helpless crew, could have been the broken compass that let the ship through.. maybe you’ll be sailing away, but I know I’ll be back dredging you up,” Jamison murmurs.

Prison builds from a slinky, fingersnapping kiss-off ballad into a gorgeously swaying, explosive rock anthem – the way Baird’s evil, backward-masked solo takes everything down to the second verse is one of many of the innumerably cool production touches here. Runaway Train, an amped-up rockabilly shuffle, is a lot more optimistic; Brand New Day nicks the chords from Iggy Pop’s the Passenger while revealing Jamison’s fondness for chocolate donuts.

Traveling On is a catchy highway rock tune with a distant Tex-Mex feel, followed by the shuffling Say Goodbye. The album ends with Jamison’s best song here, I Said I Loved You But I Lied, a creepy acoustic bolero with ominously lingering accordion and violin that wouldn’t be out of place in the Marni Rice catalog. Roll down the windows, let out the clutch and leave some rubber on the road with this one.

Fiery Violin-Driven New Country Rehab Bring Their Politically Aware Sounds to NYC

Toronto band New Country Rehab are one of the most unique, instantly recognizable bands around. Their latest album Ghost of Your Charms blends rustic Americana with eclectic string-driven rock that careens from Nashville gothic to more Celtic-tinged tunes with layers of strings that sometimes peak out at orchestral levels. Frontman John Showman isn’t just an excellent fiddler (and reputedly more than lives up to his name onstage), he’s a hell of a storyteller with a spot-on worldview. Like Larry Kirwan of Black 47 – a band this one often evokes – Showman’s a big-picture guy with a similarly bleak sense of humor. The band – also including bassist Ben Whiteley, drummer Roman Tome and up-and-coming guitarist Anthony DaCosta – bring their reputation for incendiary live shows to Hill Country on Sept 15 at 8 PM, where you can see them for free.

They put new blood into some old themes: murder ballads, robber ballads, lost-love laments and portraits of life among the down-and-out. Empty Room Blues sounds like the Pogues with a Canadian accent. The slow ballad Image of Me has a punchline straight out of vintage Ray Price or George Jones. There are also a couple of more mellow tracks here, one that echoes the Grateful Dead in acoustic mode, another that brings to mind more recent Springsteen. But it’s the darkest stuff that packs a wallop.

Back in Time builds from an almost trip-hop sway to more straightforward and rustic as Showman uneasily contemplates the ravages of getting old. Too Many Parties and Too Many Pals, which is part southern rock and part spaghetti western, offers a surreal and unexpectedly wise account of a hooker on trial. The political songs here are even better, beginning with Luxury Motel, a savage look at native disenfranchisement in third world tourist hotspots:

You stay by the boardwalk that covers the sands
They hauled in to cover the mangrove stands
There’s a family that used to fish by the shore
Now they suffer the drunks in their convenience store
The young boy who splashes in the runoff canal
Can’t swim in the ocean, he’s trespassing now

Lost Highway isn’t the Hank Williams classic but an original, rising to almost chamber-metal levels as Showman builds a fire-and-brimstone narrative about karmic payback. The southwestern gothic ballad Rollin’ starts out like The Fever and turns into a venomous 99-percenter anthem: “Oh Mr. Sprat, lick your platter clean, douse old Jack with gasoline and watch the night explode…” Lizzy Dying of a Broken Heart chronicles the sad, surreal life of an army officer slowly losing it in his post-Vietnam career as the owner of a music venue. The best song here is The Bank and the Army, putting a vividly aphoristic update on a familiar folk theme. Thousands of songs from around the world tell the tale of an evil king and his army colluding with the moneylenders: Showman relates the story through the eyes of a drunken war vet whose family farm has been foreclosed. But there’s a big, unexpected payoff at the end of the song. It’s too good to spoil here: no doubt they’ll play it live at Hill Country.

Wallace on Fire at LIC Bar

Last night Wallace on Fire played LIC Bar. Any musician whose peers rave about him – or who’s ambitious enough to seek out Lorraine Leckie as a collaborator – is always worth discovering. This particular version of the band was just frontman J Wallace on guitar and vocals and Joe Wallace (no relation) on bass. Even stripped down to just the basics, they were definitely worth the trip to Queens. J Wallace plays his acoustic through a Fender tube amp, often running through a distortion pedal for just enough grit to add an extra level of menace. The bar’s booker described their music as country blues, which is a starting point – J Wallace’s songs take the style to new places. He gets a lot of props for his vocals – and he’s an excellent singer, no question, as strong when he goes up the scale as when he hangs around the low notes – but he’s also a strong guitarist. Rather than getting involved in extended solos, he works in thoughtful riffs from across the acoustic blues spectrum (and one from Jimi Hendrix), and he’s just as solid with country and folk styles.

Some of the slower songs went into straight-up rock: a couple with echoes of heavy southern rock like Black Oak Arkansas, another that staked out territory in an artsy, post-grunge vein much like Fen or bands of that ilk. And then they segued straight out of that one into The Rain, a catchy, pensively swaying Leckie tune with a dark Patti Smith vibe. The set’s opening tune built around a menacing Steve Wynn-style hammer-on riff; a bit later, they covered Neil Young – another obvious but not overwhelming influence – and then went from bouncy folk-pop, to a carefree, whistling country song and then back to the pensively burning bluesy stuff.

Joe Wallace is an excellent bassist, propelling the songs with a smart, in-the-pocket style while managing to slide all over the place, using all kinds of imaginative voicings along with the occasional booming chord: watching him play was inspiring. LIC Bar seems to be a home base for Wallace on Fire: watch this space for upcoming shows.