New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: squirrel nut zippers

Another Clinic in Searing Lead Guitar and a Williamsburg Show From the Great Eric Ambel

Eric Ambel is an artist who ought to be playing record stores – because he makes vinyl records. Spectacularly good ones. His most recent studio album, Lakeside, sent a ferocious, guitar-fueled shout out to his beloved East Village club, Lakeside Lounge, forced out of business in 2014 in a blitzkrieg of gentrification. His latest record, Roscoe Live, Vol. 1 – streaming at Bandcamp – captures him in his element, onstage at a summer festival in upstate New York in 2016. The backing band is obviously psyched for this gig: alongside Ambel, there’s Spanking Charlene’s Mo Goldner on rhythm guitar, Ambel’s old Yayhoos bandmate Keith Christopher on bass and Phil Cimino on drums. Ambel’s playing an unlikely early weekday show tomorrow, Feb 6 at 8:30 PM at Rough Trade; cover is $10.

Ambel has a vast bag of hot licks, but most of them are his own. If you asked him to play like Neil Young, or Buck Owens, or Ron Asheton, or David Rawlings, he would, but he’d rather be himself. And although he’s a connoisseur of every possible sound you can get out of a guitar amp, he’s got a noisy side too. There’s pretty much all of that on the live record.

Just the way that he edges his way into the set’s opening number, jabbing around the harmonies of the first chord of the brisk shuffle Girl That I Ain’t Got is typical. As are the nasty, string-stretching first solo and a tantalizingly slashing second one. Here Come My Love, by his Del-Lords bandmate Scott Kempner, comes across as an amped up Jimmy Reed number. The blend of the two guitars is especially tasty; Ambel’s solo out is unexpectedly carefree and chill.

Hey Mr. DJ, a sarcastic dig at the kind of clown who’d pay a cover charge to hear some other clown plug his phone into the PA, is a co-write with the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Jimbo Mathus and one of several tracks from the Lakeside album. Over the slow, slinky beat and a buzzsaw backdrop, Ambel turns the sarcasm loose: “Crank the drums, crank the bass, crank that shit all over the place.”

The slow waves of the warped blues Don’t Make Me Break You Down keep the smokering intenstiy going, through lingering phrases that Ambel takes into the grimy depths, then up again.

“Just to show you I’m not anti-cisco, I have a disco song,” Ambel tells the crowd, then launches in to the strutting Have Mercy, which is actually more of a simmering take on vampy early 70s psychedelic soul.

The band follow Let’s Play With Fire, a shuffling mashup of honkytonk and Lynchian Nahville pop with a slowly crescendoing take of the David Rawlings/Gillian Welch hit Look at Miss Ohio, a staple of Ambel’s live show back in Lakeside’s glory days in the 90s and zeros.

Massive Confusion, the loudest track on the Lakeside recod, is a more swinging take on a familiar Ramones formula. Ambel then closes the show with two of his best songs. Buyback Blues, the centerpiece of the Lakeside record, is a slow, evil rollercoaster in a Cortez the Killer vein. The night’s last number is Total Destruction to Your Mind, the Stonesy Swamp Dogg cover that was Ambel’s signature song as a solo artist for years. For anybody who got to hear Ambel blast his way through this one back in the Lakeside days, Christopher making his way up the fretboard as the chorus kicks in, it’s a real shot of adrenaline. How long do we have to wait until the real estate bubble finally bursts so somebody can open up a place like Lakeside, with cheap beer and great bands every night? The closest thing we have to that in New York these days, Barbes, won’t last forever,

The Bumper Jacksons Bring Their Hot, Eclectically Swinging Americana Party to the Bleecker Street Strip

The Bumper Jacksons play irresistible oldtimey toe-tapping music. If you got priced out of the Squirrel Nut Zippers reunion tour shows, this band will put the bubbles in your Moxie. Their latest album I’ve Never Met a Stranger – streaming at their music page – expands the band’s adventures of all sorts of Americana even further, embracing oldschool country and soul music as well as the swing they’ve made a name for themselves with. They’ve got an enticing show coming up at the Poisson Rouge on August 24 at 7 PM; $15 advance tix are highly recommended.

Guitarist Chris Ousley sings the jaunty opening track, Many Paths, over Dave “Duckpin” Hadley’s soaring pedal steel and the bouncy rhythm section of bassist Alex Lacquement and drummer Dan Samuels. Clarinetist Jess Eliot Myhre, trombonist Brian Priebe and trumpeter Joseph Brotherton join in a joyous dixieland raveup at the end.

Myhre takes over the mic for Find it Say Amen, a brisk mashup of country gospel, folk-pop and vintage C&W in the same vein as New York’s own Demolition String Band. I Sing the Body, a New Orleans cha-cha, features snazzy horns over resonant big-sky pedal steel, with a tantalizingly brief muted trumpet solo. Then Ousley sings the aptly titled, subtly hilarious western swing shuffle Get on Up, a showcase for Hadley’s sizzling chops.

The whole band join voices on the album’s brisk honkytonk title track: “I’ve never met a stranger at the bottom of a bottle, just like the friends all around me whose names I’ve forgotten,” is the chorus. Then they flip the script and take Hank Williams’ Ramblin’ Man down to St. James Infirmary.

Looming trombone and soaring pedal steel frame the matter-of-factly swaying, wistful Technicolor Waltz, an incongruous but richly successful blend of Bob Wills and Crescent City brass. Likewise, the pedal steel adds unexpectedly tasty texture to the vintage Memphis soul anthem Over Your Head. “Some of us will never grow up, never grow old, just ask those who tell us to do so,” Myhre sings in Old Birds, the album’s catchiest, most understatedly joyous, defiant track, the band shifting deftly between distantly gospel-inspired front-porch folk and New Orleans soul.

“If i called your name, would you answer, this city’s noise grow like a cancer,” Myhre broods in in the spare, bitter soul nocturne Waiting ‘Round Here. Gimme a Pigfoot (and a Bottle of Beer) is just as slow but a lot more upbeat, risiing to a horn-spiced hokum blues party. The band winds up the album with a bouncy second-line version of Corina, Corina and then the blue-flame boogie Dirt Road Blues. It’s a party in a box.

Eric Ambel’s New Lakeside Record Captures the Guitarmeister at the Top of His Game

Eric Ambel is well known in Americana rock circles and something of a legend in New York. He’s played with everybody. He did a lengthy stint as Steve Earle’s lead guitarist back in the zeros. Before that he fronted the influential Del-Lords. For more than a decade, he ran the East Village’s coolest bar and music venue, Lakeside Lounge. And he continues to produce artists at his Williamsburg studio, Cowboy Technical Services.

He’s also got a new album, also called Lakeside, a fond over-the-shoulder look at the kind of edgy, purist retro sounds that could be found onstage during his old venue’s heyday. Interestingly, rather than producing this himself like his other solo albums, Ambel brought in Jimbo Mathus. formerly with the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who also contributes guitar and bass – and drums on one track. The result is a gatefold vinyl album (that comes with a couple of download cards), available in a limited edition of 500 copies, signed and numbered. This is one of those records you’ll probably want to tape and then play the caasette til it self-destructs. Seriously – if you own a turntable, you probably own a tape deck too.

Ambel’s longtime rhythm section, bassist Keith Christopher and drummer Phil Cimino show up on most of these tracks. As dirty and messy as Ambel can get, there’s a level of craft in what he does that’s rarely seen these days. That isn’t to say that there aren’t guys dedicatedly spending hours hunched over their laptops trying to get the right sound or the right mix, just that Ambel does it with quality gear. And while he’s known first and foremost as a guitarist, he really hit the vocals out of the park here. Other guys get old and reedy and raspy; Ambel sounds about 25, full of piss and vinegar.

The opening track is Ambel’s old Del-Lords bandmate Scott Kempner’s Here Come My Love. It’s a ba-bump roadhouse rock number with that band’s signature sardonic, surreal sense of humor and a tasty acoustic/electric backdrop. Mathus’ first number, Hey Mr. DJ is a sludgy, coldly amusing look at groupthink among the entitled sons and daughters of the idle classes on the demand side of the current plague of gentrification.

Have Mercy, a co-write with Spanking Charlene frontwoman Charlene McPherson, revisits that theme, an update on Creedence swamp rock with plenty of Ambel’s signature, offhandedly savage riffage. Let’s Play with Fire, another Mathus number, mashes up shuffling C&W and Orbison noir, with an absolutely Lynchian lapsteel solo by the bandleader. Side 1 concludes with Don’t Make Me Break You Down, an Ambel/Mathus co-write with a glowering Neil Young/Crazy Horse vibe.

Side 2 opens with the Ramones-tinged Massive Confusion, a Mathus tune. Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio, which always seemed to pop up somewhere during Ambel’s shows on his old East Village turf, gets a lingering, nocturnal Sticky Fingers treatment that builds to a mighty psychedelic peak. Ambel does the old soul hit Money as a haphazardly prowling Neil/Crazy Horse burner. The album’s best track is the slow, brooding minor-key Buyback Blues, drenched in an ocean of reverb and guitar multitracks.”It takes a special kind of understanding for a man to live in the nighttime,” Ambel sings dryly and knowingly. The record winds up with Ambel’s twangy, bittersweet, distantly Lynchian instrumental Crying in My Sleep.

Is this Ambel’s best solo record? It’s definitely as good as any of the other three. From the perspective of having caught the cult classic Roscoe’s Gang album back in the day when every bar in what used to be a happening neighborhood was playing it, it’s hard to tackle that question with any real objectivity. Ambel’s next show is at Berlin (in the basement space under 2A; enter through the door on the right, midway down the bar on the first floor) on April 29.

Lily Frost Brings Her Catchy, Edgy, Eclectic Chamber Pop to NYC

Canadian art-rock/chamber pop songwriter Lily Frost comes to Zirzamin for an early show at 7 PM on Feb 27, which promises to be a treat in that club’s intimate, sonically immaculate Blue Velvet space. She’s got a new album out, Do What You Love, which blends her eclectic purist pop intelligence with nonchalantly alluring vocals and the lyrical wit that flows through her work. Frost got her start in the oldtimey movement in the 90s – her band the Colorifics were sort of the Canadian Squirrel Nut Zuppers. After that she took a turn into retro Americana and has since branched out into darker, more ornate sounds with both jazz and classical tinges. An excellent career retrospective of sorts, with songs from most of her albums, is streaming at her Soundcloud page.

Frost has a disarming directness and bite that often contrasts with her tunes’ lively charm, in full effect on the album’s opening track, Background Radio, with its quirky surrealism, tricky tempo and upbeat ba-ba chamber-pop hooks. The second track, I’m on Fire, reaches back pensively toward oldtimey swing, sort of a cross between Jodi Shaw and Rachelle Garniez. The bouncy, mandolin-spiced title track reminds of another first-class Canadienne, Michal the Girl. Frost follows that with the understatedly snarling Grenade, a terse, noir cabaret-flavored kiss-off note.

Poetry – as in “you used to write me poetry” – sounds like ELO doing Sam Cooke over a trip-hop beat. Frost then takes a brightly pulsing turn toward early 60s Nashville pop with No Promises and its twangy Chris Isaak guitar, then follows it with the catchy but restless Long Sweet Ride and its coy Phil Spector allusions.

Opening with just a steady electric guitar strum and vocals, It Shines is the most nebulous of the tracks here and works a distant ominousness that rises even higher with the creepy gothic trip-hop of Stand. Frost reverts to jaunty mode to close the album with a cover of Pink Floyd’s St. Tropez that’s so breezy it’s funny: she absolutely nails Roger Waters’ brightly beachy sarcasm with an irrepressible grin that he only could have dreamed of. That Frost would have both the chops and the wit to do something like this speaks volumes about where she’s been, where she’s capable of going and how much fun she has doing it.

Free Download for April 8

Check out the absolutely irresistible, effervescent new single, Katie, by Boston oldtimey band Mornin Old Sport. For fans of the Moonlighters, Jolie Holland, and if you go back that far, the Squirrel Nut Zippers. There’s a free download, but it’s been edited – might want to wait for the final version…