New York Music Daily

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Tag: Van Dyke Parks

Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur: Just As Relevant As They Were Fifty Years Ago

Jim Kweskin‘s Jug Band sounded like they were as old as the songs they played. But that was the point.

They were hippies reprising the ribald, raucous sounds of folk music that went back as far as a century before them, sometimes to the consternation of the establishment. Over half a century after the peak of his band’s late 60s popularity, Kweskin and his bandmate Geoff Muldaur (father to Clare Muldaur of the brilliant art-rock band Clare & the Reasons) have a new album, Penny’s Farm – streaming at Spotify – and a release show tonight, Oct 4 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub. Cover is steep, $30, but you could be witness to history. Who ever thought that Kweskin’s Jug Band, or any facsimile thereof, would ever take the stage again, let alone in their old Village stomping ground?

This isn’t the original Kweskin band lineup from all those years ago. Instead, the album features top-tier Americana talent including steel guitarist and dobro sorceress Cindy Cashdollar, blues fiddler Suzy Thompson, and singer Juli Crockett of the Evangenitals. The voices of both Kweskin and Muldaur have weathered over the years, but that’s to be expected, and if anything, enhances the songs’ rustic appeal. The music here has a spare, front-porch feel; in case you were wondering, there is no jug in this band.

Diamond Joe, the album’s opening cut, pairs Thompson’s fiddle with Kweskin’s wry vocal, Cashdollar’s dobro filling in the spaces elegantly. Likewise, the band gives The Boll Weevil a low-key, sly feel, signifying like crazy through this thinly veiled slave lament. And the Celtic-tinged title track, Down on Penny’s Farm resonates just as much as it did a hundred years ago, a grim tale of foreclosure and destitution.

The guitars in the swaying country blues Sweet to Mama are panned left and right to give the song an unexpectedly rich, lush feel, which the band reprises in the balmy 19th century reminiscence My Mary. And the interplay between the bandleaders’ fingerpicking in Fishin’ Blues is just plain gorgeous.

Early zeros New York Americana fans will remember the ballad Louis Collins (also known as Angels Laid Him Away) from the morose Jack Grace version. The band picks up the pace with the swinging ragtime-flavored Just a Little While to Stay Here, which they replicate a little later with the jaunty Downtown Blues, which Thompson caps off with a lusciously shivery solo.

Musically speaking, the album’s high point is The Cuckoo, reinvented as a somber, Richard Thompson-esque dirge awash in tersely purposeful guitar interweave. Kweskin continues to play his cards close to his vest throughout the surreal guitar cascades of the murder ballad 99 Year Blues; then the band waltzes with a vivid weariness through Tennessee Blues. The album winds up with a live take of the murder ballad Frankie, a reminder of how magically the band can recreate this stuff onstage. There’s also a vintage children’s song as well as a bizarre number in fractured Spanglish. Authenticity is a dubious concept these days, but this further cements the whole band’s claim to a vast, centuries-old heritage.

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Jeffrey Foucault Brings His Dark Lyrical Americana to the Rockwood

On one hand, Jeffrey Foucault is the type of songwriter you see on Mountain Stage. He pretty much lives on the road, playing respectably midsize venues, something he’s been doing for the better part of ten years. But his moody, mostly slow-to-midtempo songs are a lot smarter and more interesting than most of what’s passing up and down the Americana highway. As befalls most songwriters who take their lyrics seriously these days, his twangy rock is heavily infused with country and blues, in the same vein as Steve Earle or James McMurtry. But where McMurtry will wind a yarn, Foucault spins off one image after another; where Earle heads for the country, Foucault goes off into growling Neil Young territory. He’s playing the big room at the Rockwood on March 5 at 7 PM on an intriguing doublebill with another lyrically-inclined Americana guy, Peter Mulvey.

Foucault’s most recent album Horse Latitudes doesn’t sound anything like the Doors, nor does it have artwork by Turner. Recorded in a whirlwind three-day session, it has some absolutely brilliant playing from an all-star cast: the ubiquitous Eric Heywood on pedal steel and lead guitar, Morphine’s Billy Conway on drums, Jennifer Condos on bass, and Van Dyke Parks, of all people, on keyboards.

The title track opens on a slowly swaying, dusky note  anchored by fingerpicked guitar and Conway’s meticulously ominous, boomy rhythm, with a simmering Heywood pedal steel crescendo on the way out. Foucault drawls a litany of doomed, surreal imagery:

Singing into the belly of a whale
Leviathan’s ribs, a drowning jail
The desert at the bottom of the sea
The devil with his finger on the scale

Pretty Girl in A Small Town makes it clear that Foucault spent some time listening to Nirvana at some point: “You used to walk to get away, there was nowhere you could stay,” begins this chronicle of frustration and isolation, themes that recur throughout his work. Starlight and Static sways moodily as Foucault eulogizes a nameless rocker he felt a kinship to: “They all thought they knew you, and I wanted no one to know me too.” He follows the bleakly skeletal acoustic vignette Heart to the Husk with the brooding nocturne Last Night I Dreamed of Television, with more Turner imagery over  marvelously stygian drumming.

Goners Most evokes Richard Buckner at his most minimalist as Foucault memorializes a teenage romance that never had a prayer. Everybody’s Famous contrasts Parks’ surrealist organ with Heywood’s casual savagery: with its enigmatic, Leonard Cohen-esque anger, it’s the best song on the album :

Everybody knows it, they saw your billboard in the rain
They heard your mama crying and you forgot your own real name
And she voted for your heartbreak and she smiled at your shame
Everybody’s famous
Everyone’s the same

Idaho paints a wintry tableau as Heywood’s steel sizzles and burns; then, on Passerines, Foucault juxtaposes considerably more ominous imagery over a slow, minor-key Tonight’s the Night groove. The album ends with the gently fingerpicked two-guitar reminiscence Tea and Tobacco and the unexpectedly upbeat, honkytonk-flavored road song Real Love. Foucault’s popularity is a welcome reminder that there’s still a sizeable audience for low-key, lyrically-driven rock that requires close listening. It also raises the question of how many other Jeffrey Foucaults there might be out there, battling their demons in song and pondering where the hell they’ll get the money to go out there on the road so they never have to come back.