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Pokey LaFarge Brings His Ruggedly Individualistic Americana to Williamsburg Tonight

Last night in between sets at Bowery Ballroom the PA played Los Mirlos’ creepy, otherworldly version of Sonido Amazonico, which is both the national anthem of cumbia and sort of the Peruvian equivalent of Take Five. A little later, the song was Don Gibson’s 60s country-pop hit Sea of Heartbreak. Both perfectly foreshadowed a deliriously fun show by rugged Americana individualist Pokey LaFarge and his fantastic seven-piece band.

On one level, what LaFarge plays is retro to the extreme, a mashup of early 50s hillbilly boogie, western swing, hot 20s jazz, vintage New Orleans soul, honkytonk, Tom Waits, Tex-Mex, mambo and a little southwestern gothic and noir bolero for deliciously dark contrast. On the other hand, there’s no one in the world who sounds like LaFarge: he’s taking a bunch of well-worn, familiar styles and creating something brand spanking new.

His band is amazing. Drummer Matthew Meyer energized the crowd with a pummeling Wipeout interlude. Bassist Joey Glynn drew a lot of chuckles with a punchy solo that quoted both the Who and the Violent Femmes. Midway through the set, LaFarge explained that he’s hardly the only good songwriter in the band, then left the stage for a smoke break or something. So banjo player Ryan Koenig switched to electric guitar and played one of the night’s best numbers, a gorgeously rueful oldschool honkytonk song about smalltown anomie titled This Main Drag (or something close to that).

Saxophonist Ryan Weisheit switched from alto to smoky baritone, to maybe tenor – it was hard to see through the crowd. Trumpeter Luc Klein played all sorts of wry effects with his mute. And lead guitarist Adam Hoskins adrenalized the audience with axe-murderer volleys of tremolo-picking, masterfully precise bluegrass flatpicking and fiery blues.

The songs really ran the gamut. With his matter-of-fact baritone, LaFarge doesn’t overemote. He added a little twang on the country numbers, and took a few Roy Orbison slides upward in one of the sad ballads, but he doesn’t try to sound like anybody else. And he only took a couple of guitar solos, but he made those count. A lot of the material was from LaFarge’s latest album Manic Revelations, including the title track, an unapologetic populist anthem, and the more upbeat but even more savage Silent Movies, a jauntily swinging nonconformist manifesto for an age where the performer onstage is reduced to a pretext for the selfie clusterfuck on the floor. Just so you know, there was none of that at this show.

Something in the Water – a subtly gospel-infused portrait of a hoosier chick who “drinks malt liquor for lunch and dinner,” and Manic Revelations, the title track to LaFarge’s previous album – went over well with the crowd, a refreshingly muiti-generational, multicultural mix of typical 99-percenter New Yorkers.

The band did Actin’ a Fool closer to subterranean homesick Dylan than the oldtimey swing of the album version. One of the night’s high points was a slowly crescendoing, blue-flame take of the flamenco-infused waltz Goodbye Barcelona. After LaFarge brought the lights down with a muted solo fingerpicked version of the cautionary ballad Far Away. “They’’ll lure with their eyes, and trap you with their thighs,” LaFarge intoned. He wound up the set with a rapidfire take of the triumphantly scampering Drinking Whiskey.

The encores were just as energetic and businesslike: an Allen Toussaint/Lee Dorsey soul-shout, and a choogling cover of Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell. They’re doing this again tonight at around 10 at Rough Trade. If you want a rare asshole-free night out in that neighborhood, this is it. Tix are $25 at the door and worth it.

Joshua James Brings His Gothic Americana to the Mercury Tonight

Joshua James plays a surrealistic 21st century take on Nashville gothic and folk noir. He likes minor keys and ominous nature imagery. The production on his new album, My Spirit Sister – not yet streaming at Bandcamp, but due there at the end of the month and serendipitously available on vinyl – manages to be sleek and digital without dulling the edge of James’ song cycle. There’s an understatedly symphonic sweep to what’s essentially a theme and variations. He’s got a gig tonight with his band at the Mercury at 8. If you didn’t already get your $15 advance ticket, it’ll cost you three bucks more, which is as pricy as that venue gets these days. But James is worth it.

The album’s indelibly catchy opening track is Broken Tongue. It’s like the shadow side of a 60s Simon and Garfunkel folk-rock hit, with shivery digital reverb effects on the many layers of guitars over a steady backbeat anchored by bassist Isaac Russell and drummer Timmy Walsh. In his flinty twang, the Nebraskan songwriter ponders alienation and the struggle to communicate through the debris of a lifetime worth of damage.

As the similarly brooding yet propulsive Coyote Calling moves along, the guitars of James and Evan Coulombe slash and stab through the digital haze: in a subtle way, it’s the album’s funniest song. It segues into Real Love, a creepy hitchhiking narrative which mirrors the opening track. Is the “mighty wind that’s gonna lift you up” a tornado, a fire-and-brimstone religious metaphor, or both?

The crushing, distorted electric guitars return in Golden Bird, a druggy, apocalyptic tale that unwinds amidst the contrast of high lonesome, reverbtoned guitar twang and a crushing, distorted chordal attack. James paints an understatedly cynical portrait of rural white ghetto nickel-and-diming: it’s like Tom Waits backed by Jessie Kilguss’ band.

In a swaying Wallflowers/Deer Tick rock vein, Pretty Feather is the first pop-oriented number here. Backbone Bend, which nicks the chord progression from a familiar Prince hit, strays further beyond Americana than any of the other tracks. Losin’ My Mind is a tasty reverb guitar-fueled update on vintage 60s acoustic Dylan. In Dark Cloud, James weaves a richly detailed story about a young couple hanging on by their fingernails: you can see the end coming a mile away, but it still packs  an impact. The cycle winds up with the Springsteen-folk of Blackbird Sorrow, which is a decent song, although the ending is too pat: dark clouds don’t usually vanish from the sky as fast and inexplicably as they do here. It’ll be interesting to see where James goes after this.

Smart, Cutting-Edge Tunesmithing at Manhattan’s Most Comfortable Listening Room

Much as the world of singer-songwriters has shrunk, in the wake of the death of the big record labels – call it a market correction – Manhattan still has a great listening room for solo acoustic acts and small string bands. That venue is the American Folk Art Museum, just a few steps from the uptown 1 local to 66th Street, across the triangle from Lincoln Center. Their mostly-weekly Free Music Fridays series starts at 5:30 on the nose, goes to about quarter after seven and spans the world of folk music, from vintage Americana, gospel and blues to bluegrass, original songwriters and sounds from all over the world. That’s why this blog picked the museum as Manhattan’s best venue for 2016.

Jessi Robertson, with her harrowing narratives of angst and despair and her otherworldly, soul-infused wail, is the star of the show there on Friday the 29th. She’s a surprisingly funny performer for someone whose music is so dark and intense. She’s as captivating as the three best acts to play the space over the past few weeks: Joshua Garcia, Dina Regine and Anana Kaye.

Garcia held the crowd rapt throughout his brief set there last month. He has a flinty, clipped vocal delivery that’s bluesy without being cliched. He sounds like a throwback to the artists from the 1950s who influenced Dylan, but whom Dylan couldn’t quite figure out how to copy, at least vocally speaking. Along with a handful of populist anthems and nostalgic character studies, Garcia’s most riveting song was That’s the Way You Drop a Bomb. Told from the plainspoken perspective of one of the the crew of the Enola Gay, Garcia nailed every detail, right down to the pilot’s admonishment not to watch the explosion on the ground, the mushroom cloud or the firestorm afterward. Except that Garcia’s crewman had a conscience.

Dina Regine is best known as one of the pioneers of EDM, but her songwriting is vastly more interesting. On that same bill, she played solo acoustic on guitar, unselfconsciously making her way through a fearlessly populist set that made a great segue with Garcia. Shadowy vamping post-Lou Reed grit stood alongside warmly familiar retro 60s soul and doo-wop tunes, everything anchored in Regine’s background as a daughter of the Queens projects in the 1970s. She’s reputedly working on a new album which, if this set is any indication, promises to be just as eclectic and relevant as her last one.

Last week, Anana Kaye opened the night flanked by a couple of guys on rhythm and lead guitar. With her raccoon-eye makeup and circus rock outfit, she looked the part, but she transcends the theatrics of that cubculture (that’s a typo, but it works, right?). As a pianist, she really has a handle on uneasy, cinematic voicings that sometimes reach lurid, bloodcurdling depths. The best song in her tantalizingly brief set was Down the Ladder, a cruelly haunting desperation anthem. The most playful was Blueberry Fireworks, an aptly surrealistic shout-out to a gradeschool-aged friend with a vivid imagination. The more low-key material in her set reminded of Tom Waits while her upbeat, carnivalesque numbers reminded of a strummy, guitar-driven, lyrically infused Rasputina or female-fronted World Inferno. Kaye’s next gig is on Feb 15 at 8 PM at LIC Bar in Long Island City.

Sam Morrow Brings His Sardonically Purist Soul and Americana Rock to the Rockwood

At first listen, Sam Morrow’s latest album There Is No Map – streaming at Spotify – might fool you into thinking that it’s dadrock. But it’s not. Although Morrow works the same familiar soul, blues and country-inspired terrain that white hippies have made a cliche out of since the 70s, Morrow isn’t one of them. In fact, when he hits the second verse of the slow, waltzing soul ballad Green – more or less the centerpiece of the album – he makes fun of those cliches. ““If I sing in key, would you believe…the same old bullshit don’t make the grass green,” he drawls, so laid-back that he could be drunk. Which he actually isn’t, since Morrow doesn’t drink. He’s bringing that refreshingly sardonic humor and his tastefully crafted Americana tunes to the small room at the Rockwood on Sept 8 at 8 PM.

The album has a lot of flavors and most of them work. The opening number, Barely Holding On, is a loping Johnny Cash-style shuffle spiced with chicken-scratch C&W guitar and honkytonk piano. “Gimme freedom of speech, then call me an asshole when I speak my brain,” Morrow intones.

“You’re fooling yourself if you think people change,” Morrow suggests in the metaphorically bristling The Deaf Conductor – with its organ, piano and snarling multitracked guitars, it wouldn’t be out of place on the Wallflowers’ first album. Likewise, a little later, Morrow sends a subtle swipe upside the head of entitled white privilege in the Stonesy Train Robber.

“We’re all just fucking liars…we’re all just hookers in high heels,” he laments in the slow, spare, carefully crafted Wasted Time. By contrast, the blippy Rhode-driven swamp-soul strut Am I Wrong has a cool, echoey psychedelic interlude midway through. Devil’s in the Details works stark, spare, brooding Waits territory, while the album’s closing, title cut goes in a country-blues direction, fueled by some tasty dobro picking.

Not everything here is up to that level. There’s Girls, a mashup of secondhand Springsteen and secondhand Stones, and Hurts Like Hell, whose web of mandolin and clever wordplay sinks in a morass of overemoting. But Morrow’s on to something, and he’s funny, and can craft a nifty turn of phrase and a catchy hook with enough consistency to keep you from tuning out. Now if only the legions of Fleetwood Mac and Band imitators would only follow suit.

LJ Murphy Brings His Fearlessly Relevant New York Noir Narratives to the East Village Saturday Night

The big news about LJ Murphy is that he went electric last year. Which is to say that although he’s been the leader of a careening electric band since the zeros, he typically played acoustic guitar to balance out the textures. But not lately. And surprisingly, the change has added as much subtlety as it has energy to Murphy’s blues-infused, suspensefully dynamic noir rock narratives. He’s going slumming this weekend at 8 PM Saturday night at Sidewalk on a good twinbill, followed by the similarly energetic, even more haphazardly careening, Pogues-ish folk noir of Mac McCarty & the Kidd Twist Band.

Murphy’s most recent show was also a doubleheader with McCarty. Rocking his usual black suit and porkpie hat, shiny black tie against a violet shirt, Murphy was all business as he swung his backing unit the Accomplices into the surreal Weimar cabaret strut of the title track to his cult classic album Mad Within Reason. Lead guitarist Tommy Hoscheid’s eerily reverberating eight-note runs offered a chilly nod to Otis Rush as Murphy barked a sinister portrait of our times:

….Crosses and pistols are slung ar our hips
I cried for my supper and then spat on the plate
While everyone tried to become what they hate
The industry captain, a smile on his face
So proud of the changes he’s made to this place

Although the song dates as far back as the 90s, if anything it’s more relevant now, with the spectre of a Trump Presidency looming on the horizon.

“I write songs about two things. Gentrification and sex,” Murphy smirked. And there’s plenty of truth to that, in that it’s hard to imagine a more withering critique of the mentality fueling the wholesale destruction of working-class and artistic communities in this city. And as a psychopathologist, Murphy rates with Elvis Costello.

The high-voltage Stax/Volt style shuffle Happy Hour painted an ugly picture of how those employed in the “wicked industries that are so celebrated now” blow off steam after work. Drummer Jacob Cavell gave the songs a caffeinated drive, sometimes riding a cymbal bell to ramp up the suspense. Bassist Nils Sorensen – also of well-liked Danish Americana rockers Brothers Moving – served essentially as a third lead guitarist with his sinewy, sometimes sardonically percolating lines. Otherwise, the two electric guitars out in front of the rhythm section really transformed the songs. The wickedly catchy, shuffling Imperfect Strangers and the similarly pulsing cautionary anthem Sleeping Mind took on extra growl and clang. The best song of the night was Panic City, another shuffle, eerily referencing both 9/11 and 3/11:

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

Murphy’s likely to bust these out, and a whole lot more, this Saturday night.

Kill Henry Sugar Bring Their Subtly Amusing, Erudite Folk Noir and Americana Back to Barbes

For the last few months, smartly lyrical Americana rock duo Kill Henry Sugar – guitar and banjo luminary Erik Della Penna and his similarly nuanced, artful drummer bandmate Dean Sharenow – have held down a monthly 8 PM Friday residency at Barbes. They’re back this Friday, May 6 at 8, followed by Big Lazy, a band you presumably know about if you spend any time at all at this blog  – and which Sharenow has drummed for in a pinch. If you’ve just stumbled on this page, reverb guitar, noir cinematics and crime jazz are their thing. Are they this blog’s favorite band? Along with Beninghove’s Hangmen and Karla Rose & the Thorns, maybe.

Kill Henry Sugar’s Barbes show last month was a lot of fun…and despite the early hour in Park Slope, they packed the place. Sharenow laid down a misterioso swing groove with his brushes as Della Penna launched into a moody, minor-key broodingly pensive narrative, like a tropically-tinged Tom Waits. Della Penna contemplated the ongoing brain drain from New York in the wryly swaying Tex-Mex inflected number after that: the girl at the center of the center of the story “can’t stand the smell of the bourgeoisie” and ends up considering nursing school in Santa Fe. They did another couple of funny ones after that, the jazzily shuffling, indelibly urban Neighbors, and then the tongue-in-cheek Air Conditioned Nightmare, propelled by Sharenow’s jaunty staccato thump with his brushes on the snare.

“Now I have the bomb, but it won’t fall on you,” Della Penna teased over his signature spare, lingering chordlets on Babylon, a snarky post-Cold War narrative, joined by tuba maestro Marcus Rojas, who added unexpectedly plaintive upper-register work. Della Penna warned the crowd that they’d never shared a stage before, but the chemistry was seamless. And this was a big deal: while they’ve played on and off with low-register instruments, they went bassless long before the White Stripes.

As expected, the best song of the night was a chilly, offhandedly murderous version of Mussolini, a cruelly nonchalant illustration of what goes around coming around with a vengeance over Sharenow’s resolute stomp. Rojas gave a surrealistically blippy intro to the doomed desert rock tune after that. They took things down with a wistfully pastoral, waltzing early 1900s reminiscence after that, shades of Matt Keating, then picked things up with a Stonesy drive and subtle hints of gospel. They’re likely to bring all these flavors and more – and who knows, maybe the tuba – to Barbes this Friday.

Hauntingly Vivid Nocturnes and a Couple of Intimate May Shows from Hayes Carll

If Townes Van Zandt hadn’t drunk himself to death – or if he was born in the 80s – he’d be doing what Hayes Carll is right now. Pretty much everybody’s favorite outlaw Americana songwriter has a two-night stand coming up at Joe’s Pub on May 16 and 17 at 7:30 PM. Advance tix are $25 and as of today are not sold out, which is especially weird since he usually plays Bowery Ballroom or the Bell House when he’s here in town.

His spare, unselfconsciously haunting latest album, impeccably produced by Joe Henry, is Lovers & Leavers, streaming at Spotify. It kicks off with the aptly desolate Drive, spacious tremolo guitar and organ looming distantly over elegant, skeletally fingerpicked guitar and brushed drums. If the Highwaymens’ albums had an organic feel instead of all those cheesy sythesizers, they would have sounded like this. It’s a bittersweet lament for a restless spirit who can’t be corralled: “Burning both ends of the candle and you pretend that you don’t care.”

Sake of the Song is as much of a shout-out to any down-and-out songwriter as it is a salute to Carll’s brooding road-dog influences, from Hank Williams to Dylan and Elvis and Tom Waits, a gorgoeusly slinky Nashville gothic ballad:

Hitchhike and bus ride and rental cars,
Living rooms, coffeehouses, rundown bars
Ten thousand people all alone under the stars
All for the sake of the song

Good While It Lasted offers a bitter, more personal look at the downside of late-night barroom tunesmithing, part Waits, part Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan. That last muted cymbal hit will rip your face off.

The hushed waltz You Leave Alone is a vivid southern existentialist character study:

One conversation
One short-term destination
Can lead to a lifetime
Away from home
But no plan’s worth making
All the big dreams are taken
When you leave this world
You leave alone

Withs its lingering pedal steel and melancholy chromatics, My Friends could be John Prine, or the late-90s Jayhawks, or the Walkabouts doing their country thing. Carll brings back the subtle gospel tinges with The Love That We Need, a crushingly sardonic portrait of a marriage that’s lost its lustre. Love Don’t Let Me Down, the album’s title track more or less, has the feel of a lovelorn 60s Don Gibson ballad recast with the spacious, desolate ambience of the album’s opening cut.Likewise, Love Is So Easy is roller-rink soul done as Americana. The album winds up with an a final character study, casting a disconsolate, restless woman as a Jealous Moon. It’s no wonder why Carll likes small venues, considering how well these songs are suited to them.

Pete Lanctot Brings His Edgy, Lyrical Americana Rock Narratives to Bushwick

Multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Pete Lanctot’s latest album, No Sign of Love or Farewell- streaming at Bandcamp – is a series of richly lyrical character studies among the down-and-out. While the narrators change with each song, the characters interact in subtle ways: unraveling these mysteries is a lot of fun. So is the music. Tom Waits and Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan are reference points, along with the C&W, oldtimey blues and swing that influenced them. Among New York songwriters, the obvious comparison is Tom Shaner. Lanctot’s band is fantastic. Here he sticks to just guitars and vocals, leaving the violin to Ginger Dolden (who also plays Stroh violin, marxophone, music boxes and autoharp ).Joe McMahan and Adam Brisbin both contribute guitar, with Chris Donohue on bass and keys and Bryan Owings on drums. Lanctot is at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick at 10:30 PM on April 11.

The album opens with the swinging, bluesy, cynically aphoristic Could’ve Been Good:

Rattling the chain-link fence
Moon as white as a bone
Things stop making any sense
When you’re this faraway from home
Kicking at the gravel
Throwing rocks along the path
Got my pick and shovel,
I’m my own better half

A slow but rousing oldtime country waltz, Coming Around paints a vividly unsettled picture of smalltown nocturnal revelry. Lanctot switches to 6/8 time for the regretful Come to Me Now

I know people stare
I ain’t unaware
Let ’em stare til they’re blind if they like
I look at my feet
As I walk down the street
In my heart there’s a permanent spike

The band builds a richly burning web of acoustic and electric guitars as Used to Be a Rambler gets underway: Lanctot develops this character with a classic blues vernacular that gets funnier as you start to realize what direction he’s going in. The southwestern gothic tale Fifty Miles From Nowhere pulses along on a Bo Diddey beat: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Steve Wynn catalog. “I’m still carrying the kindling from the bridges that I burned,” Lanctot’s narrator muses vengefully.

He brings back the rustically waltzing charm with The Only Love I Know and follows that with the brisk, murky, nocturnal swamp-rock of Perdido:

Well my grip isn’t slipping, I let go completely
I’ve started telling lies in my prayers
Planted a seed in the soil of doubt
And resentment is the fruit that it bears

The album’s longest track, a doomed, oldschool soul-flavored travelogue, is I’ll Meet You at the End of the Line. Its most oldtimey number is the gospel-infused banjo blues Walk Right, a dead ringer for a Curtis Eller tune. Lanctot keeps the stark banjo shuffle going with Ride On Elijah, the album’s most overtly Dylanesque and final cut. Does it tie up all the loose ends here? That’s a mystery you’re going to have to solve yourself.

Murder Ballad Mondays Makes a Mean Return to Fort Greene on the 21st

A monthly residency is a sneaky way to keep your fanbase coming out without stating the obvious, that they could always blow off your show this month and catch you next time around. After all, who can keep track of when the third Thursday of the month is going to fall, other than the band playing that night?

A lot of touring artists use small New York venues as an anchor when they’re here – or as a rehearsal room, basically. Barbes is home base to many of the elite among them, most notably Big Lazy (first Friday of the month at 10) and Rachelle Garniez (first Thursday at 8). There are also a trio of good acts using Sidewalk to keep themselves sharp: guitarist Lenny Molotov’s bitingly lyrical original oldtime swing band the Fascinators (first Saturday at 8), Mac McCarty‘s careening folk noir Kidd Twist Band (first Saturday at 9) and the darkly eclectic, avant garde-inclined Lorraine Leckie (third Friday at 11, including tonight the 18th).

This blog’s favorite monthly residency is Murder Ballad Mondays at Branded Saloon. Like Paul Wallfisch‘s late, lamented Small Beast at the Delancey, it’s blogbait. Any lazy blogger can save himself or herself four or five separate nights out and catch several of the best acts in town all on the same bill on an off night that doesn’t conflict with anything. And it’s become a hit with the local Fort Greene contingent.

Last month’s was a prime example: with cold rain pelting the slush outside, torchy noir singer Ellia Bisker and her guitarslinging Charming Disaster conspirator Jeff Morris packed the place and treated folks to a deliciously lowlit, lurid evening. They used to treat the crowd to at least a short set, but lately they’ve been teasing everybody with just a song or two. This time out their contributions were a slinky version of a shadowy, swing-infused new number with some hilarious rhyme schemes as well as Murderer, Charming Disaster’s signature song of sorts, a coldly wary, subtle cautionary tale reminding that the perfect crime has no witnesses.

Jessi Robertson set the bar high right off the bat. Hauntingly resonant, deeply soul-infused vocals fused with lead guitarist Rony Corcos’ similarly lingering, bluesy lead lines and elegantly jangly phrasing. Part of Robertson’s appeal is that her big crescendos sometimes seem triumphant and celebratory when they’re actually venomous, and their first song was a prime example. They also made their way through the bristling underbrush of a folk noir number and closed with a fiery PJ Harvey cover.

Liz Tormes, this city’s leading exponent of murder ballads, brought the ambience down to a blue-flame intensity, mining the catalogs of Peter Rowan and Bill Monroe, her own calmly and murderously alluring repertoire and closed with a stark Elizabethan suicide song. Former Snow frontwoman Hilary Downes sang a calmly brooding version of the Townes Van Zant classic Pancho & Lefty. And Mudville – singer/keyboardist Marilyn Carino and brilliant bassist Ben Rubin – kept the simmeringly ominous ambience going with noir cabaret takes on the Misfits and Tom Waits as well as an even more allusively venomous original.

That’s what makes Murder Ballad Mondays so interesting – it’s taking the concept of songs about killing people far beyond the time-honored Britfolk/Appalachian tradition. The more you know about music, the more you realize just how much we have in common: no matter the culture, people around the world just love to kill each other. And then write about it. This coming Murder Ballad Monday on March 21 starts at 8 sharp and features Charming Disaster, Elisa Flynn – whose rapturously haunting voice is matched by her historically-informed, erudite tunesmithing – and others TBA who will probably be just as good.

Tom Shaner Brings His Darkly Purist, Eclectically Expert Tunesmithing to Bowery Electric Tonight

Tom Shaner personifies the veteran New York cult artist. With his cool, inscrutable vocal delivery, he’s fluent in all sorts of styles, from dusky southwestern gothic, to rockabilly, to psychedelia and brooding Tom Waits-ish saloon blues. His late 90s-early zeros band Industrial Tepee wowed the critics, blew the Dave Matthews band off the stage while opening for them and held down a Manhattan residency at Manitoba’s for awhile. After that, Shaner went solo and had a monthly Saturday night residency at Lakeside Lounge for several years. Since then, his hometown live shows have been more infrequent, although he continues to make great albums and funny videos. He’s got an epic new one, I Hate to See Your Spirit Fade – streaming at Spotify -and a show at 8 PM tonight, March 5 at Bowery Electric. Cover is $10.

The production and arrangements are intricate and purist. Shaner weaves layers of electric and acoustic guitars, piano and organ, accordion, upright and electric bass, and subtle drums into an imaginative, purist mesh, vocals up front, drums in the back, oldschool style. The album opens with the vividly desolate, desperate border-rock anthem Viva Las Nowhere, adrift in tinkly saloon piano, mariachi guitar and accordion:

We can’t stay here, riding the wild rapids of our tears…
It’s the wrong kind of silence here
Like everybody wants to disappear

“If you like your honey on the edge of knife,” Shaner asserts, New York City Is Paradise Number 2, a soberingly edgy minor-key strut that doesn’t shy away from the fact that most of this town is in crushing poverty. By contrast, the warmly catchy ballad Tide of Love reminds of Richard Thompson, with its delicate web of fingerpicked guitars.

Much as a lot of Shaner’s music is pretty dark, he can also be hilarious. Case in point: Vanessa the Vegan Murderess, a cruelly tongue-in-cheek, vaudevillian tale of a real killjoy of a killer. Likewise, When the Machine Tells You No takes a random computer crisis and makes galloping, full-throttle southwestern gothic rock out of it.

The album’s longest and most haunting track is the swaying, trippily nocturnal Lake 48, tracing a pilgrimage to a paradise which might turn out to be something else entirely. The title track brings to mind the Grateful Dead or Asylum Street Spankers in briskly shuffling mode, livened with terse pedal steel. Shaner edges toward aphoristically bluesy Waits territory with the haphazardly swinging, bitingly minor-key When the Devil Comes Calling, then revisits that rakish vibe with the wry Soldier of Sin and then Rock and Roll Is a Natural Thing.

True Love Is Hard Work, featuring Emmy Bean on harmony vocals, is part Orbison, part Byrds and part Buddy Holly. Wandering Heart also looks back to that era, but with more of a sadly glimmering Lynchian C&W edge. New Rebel Girl takes an unexpectedly harrowing detour into dub reggae, a portrait of womens’ struggle to survive under repressive Asian regimes.

There’s also the hazy, Meddle-era Pink Floyd-tinged psych-folk waltz Last Summer, the similarly laid-back Lazy Man and;the jaunty I Can’t Be the One. Seventeen tracks and no filler, one of the best albums to come over the transom here in the past year. And Shaner’s even more acerbic onstage than he is on record.