New York Music Daily

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Tag: western swing

Dark Americana Bandleader Mark Sinnis Revisits His Old Haunts Upstate

Today’s Halloween episode concerns an eerie coincidence in the career of dark Americana crooner Mark Sinnis. You can watch the video – or get the scoop here if you’re multitasking. See, a few years back, Sinnis was shooting video in an upstate New York cemetery. Needing some headstone imagery, he lay down on a random grave. Later, while editing the footage, he was stunned to discover that Mary Ann Slauson, the woman interred there, died on Sinnis’ birthday…in 1846. Pure chance, a message from the great beyond, or a past-life revelation? To this day, Sinnis isn’t sure – but he got a song out of it.

Now based in North Carolina, he’s regrouping his epic Hudson Valley band 825 for a couple of pre-Halloween weekend shows on Oct 28 at 8 PM and then on Sunday afternoon, Oct 29 at 4 PM at Sue’s Sunset House in Peekskill; cover is $5. If you’re wondering what relevance those shows could have for residents of the five boroughs, the venue couldn’t be easier to get to – it’s about a block north of the Peekskill Metro-North station. Be aware that the last train back to Manhattan  Saturday night leaves at half past eleven, with a transfer at Croton-Harmon. You can also catch a nonstop train back to Grand Central an  hour earlier. 

Sinnis and the band played a weekend stand there this past summer, without any rehearsal…and slayed. These guys know his material inside out. Trumpeters Lee Compton and Brian Aspinwall gave some of the material a mariachi feel, when Aspinwall wasn’t playing pedal steel on the more oldschool C&W numbers, or keys as well on a couple of the more subdued tunes. Drummer Michael Lillard kept a swinging country shuffle or honkytonk sway going; bassist Mike Gross took some serpentine leads as the Saturday night show got crazier.

Multi-instrumentalist Stephen Gara started off both shows on banjo but also played jawbone and finally bagpipe toward the end. Lead guitarist W.D. Fortay – formerly known as Smokey Chipotle – aired out his vast assortment of classic country, rockabilly and retro rock licks, playing a couple of gorgeous hollowbody Guild models through an old Fender tube amp with the reverb way up.

Sinnis saved the weekend’s best song, Tough Love Is All She’s Got – a propulsive, corrosively vindictive minor-key number – for the Sunday show. One of the weekend’s few covers, Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons was also reinvented as a revenge song with an inventive, oldtime chain-gang blues arrangement. Otherwise, Sinnis’ song titles pretty much speak for themselves: The Undertaker in My Rearview Mirror, One Red Rose Among the Dying Leaves, and I’ll Have Another Drink of Whiskey (‘Cause Death Is Not So Faraway), to name just three. It’s hard to remember a crowd having so much fun watching a band sing about imminent doom and unrelenting despair. Although with Sinnis, he’ll always have another song about death, but whiskey is not that faraway.

A word about the venue: it’s something straight out of a David Lynch film, a real oldschool upstate New York roadhouse. Local characters gather to watch football and the later it gets, the stranger the clientele becomes (the football crowd tends to filter out after the game ends). The one concession to the 21st century is the microbrew selection; the kitchen serves burgers, fries and such. Service is laid-back and unpretentious, as you would expect at a place like this. The onion rings are highly recommended: homemade, thick, haphazardly hand-cut and fried to a crispy brown crunch in generous amounts of batter. They go well with Tabasco.

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Steel Player Mike Neer Darkly Reinvents Thelonious Monk Classics

Any fan of western swing knows how cool a steel guitar can sound playing jazz. The great C&W pedal steel player Buddy Emmons knew something about that: back in the 70s, he recorded steel versions of famous Charlie Parker tunes. In that same vein, steel guitarist Mike Neer has just put out an even more deliciously warped, downright creepy, dare we say paradigm-shifting album of Thelonious Monk covers for lapsteel, wryly titled Steelonious and streaming at the band’s webpage. Neer’s playing the album release show on Jan 25 at 8 PM at Barbes. If you like Monk, steel, and/or darkly cinematic sounds in general, you’d be crazy to miss this.

The album opens with a tongue-in-cheek slide down the frets into a surf stomp, and the band is off into their tight version of Epistrophy, a devious mix of western swing, honkytonk and the Ventures. Neer is amped up with plenty of reverb and just a tad of natural distortion for extra bite. By contrast, he plays Bemsha Swing through a watery chorus effect against the low-key pulse of bassist Andrew Hall and drummer Diego Voglino as pianist Matt King stays in the background.

The rest of the album is a mix of iconic material and deeper cuts. In deference to the composer’s purist taste, King’s piano keeps things purposeful and bluesy, with the occasional hint of New Orleans. Neer’s take of Round Midnight echoes the Hawaiian sounds he played for so long, first with the Haoles and then the Moonlighters. In its own twisted way, this simmering quasi-bolero is closer to the spirit of the original than most straight-up jazz versions. It’s easy to imagine Beninghove’s Hangmen doing something as noir as this with it.

Likewise, In Walked Bud gets reinvented with all sorts of slinky bossa nova tinges, Tom Beckham’s echoey, bluesy vibraphone over lingering organ. If Neer’s version is historically accurate, Bud Powell wasn’t just crazy – this cat was scary!

Bye-Ya has more of a western swing feel, partially due to Neer’s droll, warpy tones. I Mean You positions Neer as bad cop against purist, good cop King. Putting organ on Off Minor was a genius move – what a creepy song! Voglino’s surf drums provide an almost gleeful contrast. In the same vein, the band does Ugly Beauty as a waltzing, noir organ theme, Neer’s menacing solo echoing Charlie Rouse’s sax on the original before veering back toward Bill Monroe territory.

It’s amazing how good a country ballad Ask Me Now makes; same deal with how well Blue Monk translates to proto-honkytonk. Straight No Chaser is so distinctive that there’s not a lot that can be done with it other than playing it pretty much as written, and the band keep their cards pretty close to the vest. But their starlit waltz version of Reflections is anything but trad: it’s sort of their Theme From a Summer Place. It’s awfully early in the year, and much as it might be cheating to pick a cover album, this is the frontrunner for best release of 2017 so far.

The Sweetback Sisters Make a Long-Awaited Return to Their Favorite Brooklyn Honkytonk

The Sweetback Sisters don’t play as many New York shows as they used to, which means that the badass twin-female-fronted oldschool honkytonk and Americana band should draw an especially good crowd to their June 17, 9 PM show at the Jalopy. Cover is $15; get there early. It’s the Jalopy, after all, so the pre-show hangout comes without all the hassles and high prices you get at so many other venues.

The last time this blog caught the band, it was almost a couple of years ago – damn, how time flies – out back of City Winery. Co-bandleader/singer/multi-instrumentalist Zara Bode had relocated to San Francisco, away from her counterpart, fiddler/guitarist Emily Miller, so this was a heartwarming reunion of sorts. Bode took the smoky low harmony against Miller’s soaring high one on a spirited, syncopated western swing number to open the show. Then they took that style, and the energy, to redline with the scampering, catchy Texas Bluebonnets, packed with all sorts of neat tradeoffs between fiddle and electric guitar. Looking back, it’s impossible to remember exactly who the personnel onstage were, other than the frontwomen; previous lineups have featured bassist Peter Bitenc, drummer Stefan Amidon, fiddler Jesse Milnes and ferocious lead guitarist Ryan Hommel.

Bode again took centerstage on a defiantly jazz-tinged strut through It’s All Your Fault, with a simmering rockabilly solo from the lead player. Miller took over lead vocals on You’re Gonna Miss Me, an energetic, poignant, swinging 1950s-style C&W number: the Jingle Bell Rock quote from the lead player was pricelessly funny. Then they swung their way through a snarling take of Looking for a Fight, the title track to their 2012 cult favorite album.

Next on the bill was a slow, vengeful, blue-flame waltz, followed by a brisk Texas shuffle. It Won’t Hurt (When I Fall Down from This Barstool) was as irresistibly fun, and just as pissed-off, a salute to both the curative and destructive powers of whiskey. They swung a high-energy take of Hank Williams’ Lovesick Blues by the tail, then scampered through a lickety-split kiss-off anthem. Then they brought things down with the morosely echoey, clangingThe King of Killing Time, bringing to mind early Willie Nelson. The Sweetback Sisters’ take on honkytonk isn’t cry-in-your-beer music: it’s a middle finger smack in the face of bad times, bitter lemons distilled into spiked lemonade. It’ll be awfully cool to see what else the band has come up with since then.

Intense, Eclectic Hot Club of Cowtown Fiddler Elana James Puts Out a Great New Album

Elana James is best known as the fiery fiddler in Austin western swing/Romany jazz trio the Hot Club of Cowtown, who’re coming to Subculture on March 7 at 8 PM: $20 advance tix are still available and highly recommended. In addition to James’ work with that band, she’s also put out a couple of albums as a solo bandleader, which she finds time to do when she’s not touring with her main band…or with Bob Dylan or Willie Nelson. Her latest release, Black Beauty, is just out and streaming at her webpage: it’s a smart, vivid combination of just about every one of the many  styles she’s spun off her bow in the last couple of decades. And since her Hot Club bandmates, guitarist Whit Smith and bassist Jake Erwin, both play on the new record, there’s a good chance they’ll be airing out some of those songs on the current tour.

The opening number, Only You, is a backbeat-driven As Tears Go By soundalike, more Americana than Stones chamber pop. Although James gets all kinds of props for her work on the fingerboard, she’s also a fantastic singer, and she pulls out all the stops on the menacingly breathy noir cabaret number Who Loves You More, from its starkly orchestrated intro, to a spiraling Whit Smith solo. Then she completely switches gears with a lively, step-dancing take of the Ola Belle Reed bluegrass classic High Upon the Mountain – is that Dave Biller playing that tersely soulful dobro? Or maybe that’s Cindy Cashdollar – the download that came down the pipeline here didn’t say.

James brings back the haunting, gloomy intensity with the stark Azeri folk tune Ayniliq, then switches gears again with a poignant, calmly shuffling take of Woody Guthrie’s Hobo’s Lullaby. Reunion (Livin’ Your Dream) is a wryly allusive tale from the life of a touring musician, veering between wary Romany swing and blithe bluegrass.

Earl Poole Ball’s elegant slip-key piano flavors James’ misty version of the torch jazz standard All I Need Is You, slinking along with her bandmate Jake Erwin’s bass and Damien Llanes’ brushes on the drums. Then the band picks up the pace with Eva’s Dance, which is equal parts western swing and bluegrass, and the closest thing to the HCOC on the album.

James does the Grateful Dead classic Ripple as a straight-up oldschool C&W sway, lowlit by Biller’s steel guitar work. Her take of Dylan’s I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight  is probably the best anybody’s ever done with that one, including the guy who wrote it, part irresistible torch song, part ragtime, part vintage country. The funniest number here is Telephone Man, a mashup of oldtimey swing, hokum blues and Salt ‘N Pepa.

The album’s most intense, powerful song is Hey Beautiful, Last Letter From Iraq, where James recounts the final words written by the late Army Staff Sergeant Juan Campos to his wife, setting them to to a stark country shuffle groove: “It’s like every time we go out, any little bump or sound freaks me out…I can’t wait to get out of this place,” the doomed soldier relates. James chooses to end the album with the pensive, bucolic Waltz of the Animals, no doubt inspired by her considerable experience as a horse wrangler. What else is there to say: one of the best albums of the year from somebody so talented that a lot of us take her for granted.

Jennifer Niceley’s Birdlight Reveals a Unique, Captivating Southern Voice

Over the last few years, Tennessee songwriter Jennifer Niceley has distilled a distinctive blend of noir torch song, Americana, Nashville gothic, classic southern soul and blues. Her latest album, Birdlight, is streaming at Soundcloud. In recent years, the twang has dropped from Niceley’s voice, replaced by a smoky, artfully nuanced, jazzy delivery. The obvious comparison is Norah Jones, both vocally and songwise, although Niceley has more of an edge and a way with a lyrical turn of phrase. As with her previous releases, the new album features a first-class band: Jon Estes on guitars, keys and bass; Elizabeth Estes on violin; Evan Cobb on tenor sax; Steve Pardo on clarinet and Imer Santiago on trumpet, with Tommy Perkinsen and Dave Racine sharing the drum chair.

The album conjures a classy southern atmosphere: imagine yourself sipping a mint julep in the shade of a cottonwood, the sound of a muted trumpet wafting from across the creek, and you’re in the ballpark. The opening track, Nightbird, sets the stage, a nocturne with Niceley’s gently alluring delivery over a pillowy, hypnotic backdrop livened by samples of what sounds like somebody clumping around in the woods. The second number, Ghosts, is a balmy shuffle lit up by Estes’ deliciously slipsliding Memphis soul riffs, and picks up with a misty orchestral backdrop. .

Niceley sings New Orleans cult legend Bobby Charles’ Must Be in a Good Place Now with a hazy late-summer delivery over a nostalgic horn section and Estes’ keening steel guitar, and a little dixieland break over a verse. The Lynchian Julee Cruise atmospherics in Land I Love, from the swooshes and gentle booms from the drums and the lingering pedal steel, are absolutely gorgeous, Niceley brooding over her pastoral imagery and how that beauty “is never coming back.”

What Wild Is This switches gears for a lushly arranged, bossa-tinged groove; then Niceley switches up again with a gently swaying western swing cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ Hard Times. She keeps the jazzy-tinged atmosphere going with a restrained version of Tom Waits’ You Can Never Hold Back Spring.

But’s Niceley’s originals that are the real draw here, like Goodbye Kiss, a wistful lament that along with Land I Love is the most plaintive, affecting track here: “Unfinished visions keep hanging around like fog in the trees,” Niceley muses. The album’s title track is a brief inetrumental, Niceley’s elegant guitar fingerpicking against washes of violin and accordion. She winds it up with the hypnotic, surreal Strange Times, whose wary psychedelics wouldn’t be out of place on a Jenifer Jackson record. Lean back with a little bourbon and drift off to a place that time forgot with this one: what a great way to stay warm on a gloomy winter evening.

Brilliant, Sometimes Haunting Lapsteel Player Brings His Genre-Smashing Instrumentals to Freddy’s

To New York audiences, lapsteel virtuoso Raphael McGregor might be best known as a key ingredient in Brain Cloud, Dennis Lichtman’s western swing band. Before that, McGregor served as the source of the vintage country flavor in Nation Beat‘s driving mashup of Brazilian maracatu and Americana sounds. But he’s also a first-rate, eclectic composer and bandleader in his own right. In addiiton to his more-or-less weekly Monday 7 PM Barbes residency with Brain Cloud, he has a monthly residency at Freddy’s, where he’ll be on Nov 20 at 8 PM.

His most recent show at Barbes leading a band was a quartet gig with with Larry Eagle on drums, Jim Whitney on bass and Rob Hecht on violin. They opened with a moody oldschool noir soul vamp and quickly built it into a brooding rainy-day theme over Eagle’s tense shuffle beat. Hecht took his time and then went spiraling and sailing upwards. Why is it that blues riffs inevitably sound so cool when played by strings? McGregor had a hard act to follow so he walked the line between Lynchian atmosphere and an express-track scurry, then handed off to Whitney who picked up his bow and took the song all the way into the shadows.

McGregor began the night’s second number with a mournful solo lapsteel intro that moved slowly toward C&W and then shifted uneasily into moody swing. It was like a more animated take on the Friends of Dean Martinez doing oldtime string band music. After that, they put a swinging southwestern gothic spin on a Django Reinhardt tune.

They also did a couple of straight-up western swing numbers, a brisk trainwhistle romp and a fetching version of Waltz Across Texas With You: much as they were a lot of fun, McGregor was pleasantly surprised to find that the crowd was more interested in hearing his originals. They opened their second set with a piece that began as an Indian-inflected one-chord jam that morphed into a bluesy duel between violin and bass, followed by a Frisellian pastoral interlude and then back to trip-hop Indian funk – all that in under ten minutes. All this is just a small sampling of what McGregor could pull off at Freddy’s.

Dale Watson Brings His Crusade for Real Country Music to Midtown

Dale Watson‘s Tuesday night show at Slake, in the old Downtime/Albion space a couple of blocks south of Madison Square Garden, did not begin well. Much as the honkytonk outlaw has a great band, the Lone Stars – Don Pawlak on pedal steel, Chris Crepps on upright bass and Mike Bernal on drums – watching those guys without hardly any of Watson’s vocals in the mix was akin to watching George Jones lipsync. And Watson has an axe to grind. Later in the set, when at last the vocals had been brought up to audible level after repeated complaints from the crowd, he recalled being backstage at the Country Music Awards a few years back and overhearing Merle Haggard and George Jones talking. A guy in a CMA shirt walked by, and one said to the other (Watson couldn’t remember which), “CMA, that stands for Country, My Ass.”

So Watson wrote a song about it, and the rest is history. His contempt for the lightly Americana-flavored corporate pop coming out of Nashville is well known – he played that one, and bookended the set with I’d Rather Be an Old Fart Than a New Country Turd, his kiss-off to Blake Shelton. That virtriol resonated with the crowd, and Watson – a guy who knows which side his bread is buttered on – fed off it, taking requests in between sharing rounds of shots for the band furnished by liquored-up customers. He calls his music Ameripolitan rather than country since that term has been hijacked and misused in the same way that irony has been by the matching-manpurse-and-socks crowd. And when he wasn’t shilling for Lone Star Beer – his Telecaster has a Lone Star sticker on the pickguard – he was shilling for the Ameripolitan Awards, a celebration of genuine, original Americana sounds that you can participate in and vote for your favorite artists in honkytonk, rockabilly and other styles.

In between requests – a pretty thundering version of the cheating song Exit 109, the scampering cry-in-your-beer anthem Fox on the Run and others – Watson mixed up the hits with new material from a forthcoming album, which he’ll be touring with Rev. Horton Heat next year. The biggest crowd-pleaser was I Lie When I Drink – the best track on Watson’s 2013 album El Rancho Azul – inspired by a comment from a heckler responding to one of Watson’s shout-outs to Lone Star Beer.

Much as Watson’s songs can be buffoonish, he’s actually a very sophisticated, nuanced singer, pulling on and off the mic with the subtlety of a jazz singer – which, when you think about it, Watson actually is, since he plays western swing. And much as that souful baritone is what he’s best known for, he’s also an excellent guitarist, flatpicking through a Gentle on My Mind soundalike with a nonchalant expertise. He traded riffs animated with Pawlak, and gave the rhythm section plenty of space to flex their chops as well.

The rest of the set was an eclectic mix of styles: the western swing shuffle South of Round Rock; a handful of hypercaffeinated Jerry Reed-style numbers from Watson’s latest album The Truckin’ Sessions Trilogy; an “obligatory” Merle cover, Silver Wings, and an unexpectedly moody new ballad before the final boisterous outro. It made sense in a city whose default music is, as Watson calls it, Ameripolitan. Who would have thought that ever would have happened, twenty years ago?

Yet Another Good Album From L’il Mo & the Monicats

As a songwriter and bandleader, L’il Mo A.K.A Monica Passin has been a major player in the New York Americana roots music scene since the 90s. Her music is traditionalist yet completely in the moment, a mashup of early 50s pre-rockabilly, western swing and straight-up country that actually could have existed back then, considering how much cross-pollination there was going on between all of those styles of music. Yet as much as the instrumentation is oldschool, her songwriting is in the here and now, and uniquely her own. For example, on her latest album, Whole Lotta Lovin, one of the tracks is a Tex-Mex ballad, but with a balmy feel that captures a Coney Island setting. Not something that probably existed fifty years ago, but something that could have been if there’d been more traffic between Brooklyn and Nashville.

This is Passin’s most intimate album. It’s just her on guitar and vocals, along with Drina Seay – an equally sophisticated and eclectic songwriter in her own right – serving as a one-woman choir of David Lynch girls, plus producer Hank Bones on a guitar store’s worth of instruments including guitars, bass, lapsteel, drums and cornet. The production matches the sparse but spirited arrangements of the era that the songs hark back to. The albums opens with the title track, taking a tune straight out of Buddy Holly (it modulates), adds glisteningly scary harmonies by Seay and a pinpoint, period-perfect guitar solo from Bones to complete the picture – all that in two minutes and four seconds.

The second track, Little Heart Attacks, evokes Patsy Cline, although Passin’s voice is higher and more plaintive: she’s got a wide open, round, rustic delivery full of blue notes that often evokes a young Dolly Parton, equal parts sassiness and vulnerability. Bones adds poignancy on the low end with tantalizingly brief baritone guitar and steel parts. The album’s best song, When Girls Sing has Passin and Seay doing a female Orbison thing over shuffling Nashville gothic pop and a ringing, terse twelve-string solo from Bones.

In addition to Passin’s originals, there are a handful of intriguing covers here. Three Cool Cats gets reinvented as total noir, similar to Elvis’ version of The Fever except lit up with lurid, ringing reverb guitar incisions from Bones. Real Gone Jive gets a rousing hillbilly boogie treatment with more spiky Bones reverb guitar, while Passin’s vocals give Teri Joyce’s I Can’t Help Myself an unexpectedly cool, jazzy Chris Connor/Bliss Blood ambience. The album goes out on a high note with a Passin original, Too Much Time with Your Tears, a jaunty blend of 60s soul and C&W, full-bodied vocals and boomy bass alongside Bones’ artful R&B guitar that eventually builds to a biting solo. Along with her vocals, Passin’s guitar work also deserves a mention – she doesn’t confine herself to strictly playing chords, roaming all over the fretboard as she airs out her collection of oldschool country, rockabilly and blues licks. Anybody with a thing for vintage Americana sounds – like the Sweetback Sisters, featured on this page recently – is in for a treat with this one.

The Sweetback Sisters’ Kick-Ass Oldschool C&W

How do you describe a country record? If it’s good, it’s usually got a backbeat, and twangy vocals, and tasty instrumentation. Check out that sweet pedal steel! Oooh, here’s a funny song about getting drunk…and a sad one about getting dumped. Then there’s the dark side of country. As Stephen King will tell you, rural areas are scary, and some country music is terrifying. The Sweetback Sisters’ album Looking for a Fight isn’t one of those albums: it’s a fun one, with the exception of a couple of real haunters. What makes it different from the rest?

For one, this band knows their roots. The songs start out sounding about 1953 and go about as far as ten years later, beginning around the time country bands started using electric guitars and taking it up to the Bakersfield era, which employed electric bass and drums along with the Telecasters. They romp through vintage honkytonk, western swing and Tex-Mex with equal expertise. They get their signature sound from the badass vocals of Emily Miller and Zara Bode, who blend voices like the long lost twin granddaughters of Rose Maddox. The obvious comparison, New York-wise, is Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. with their period-perfect instrumentation and arrangements, but the Sweetback Sisters aren’t satirical, even if they sometimes get in your face. And yet they’re not totally retro either: the bad-girl personas aren’t just a cliche out of the rockabilly fakebook. The songs here are some of the most enjoyable ones to come out of this town in a long time.

As much fun as this band is, the two best songs here are slow, dark 6/8 ballads. Home, with its hushed vocals and Ross Bellenoit’s echoey, opiated tremolo guitar, paints a shadowy picture of clinical depression: “The voids start to fill…a wilted spread on the bed, and the thoughts fill your head, a little corpse on a hook.” Don’t Put Her Down, You Helped Put Here There quietly but ferociously takes down a guy who’s cruel enough to rip a girl’s confidence to shreds and then turns on her for being insecure. The only other sad song here is The Heart of My Mind, a poignant, heartbroken waltz.

The rest of the album is irrepressibly upbeat. The opening track, Love Me Honey, Do is a bouncy Tex-Mex tune that goes up, and up, and up some more. A Bill Monroe style western swing song, Texas Bluebonnets takes a wistful theme and builds it to a chorus that just won’t quit. The first of the honkytonk numbers, It Won’t Hurt When I Fall Down from This Barstool is one of those songs that needed to be written, and it’s a good thing that this band did it instead of somebody else. The band blends a little vintage 60s soul into the mix on the title track, then goes for the jugular on Run Home and Cry, about a whiny guy who has the nerve to cheat (memo to the Sisters: whiny guys always cheat, because they’re self-centered).

The only straight-up love song here, The Mystery of You sets dreamy pedal steel over a skipping, staccato groove; then they go back to the honkytonk with a mid-50s style kissoff song, Thank You, lit up by Jesse Milnes’ fiddle, and twinkling piano way back in the mix. Rattled reaches for a coy but sultry Rosie Flores-style guitar-fueled rockabilly vibe, while Too Many Experts, a lickety-split bluegrass tune, is just plain hilarious, making fun of belligerent macho yahoos with its torrents of lyrics. “If a policeman should appear, ‘I only served them beer, yeah, one or two apiece I’m pretty sure,'” grins the bartender as he watches the melee unfold. The album winds up with a brief, early 50s style cowboy harmony number featuring drummer Stefan Amidon’s deadpan bass vocals. The band is currently on tour with Eilen Jewell, with several appearances at South by Southwest and then a Brooklyn show at the Jalopy on April 8.

Red Molly’s Light in the Sky – Their Best Album?

The three women of Red MollyAbbie Gardner, Laurie McAllister and Molly Venter – blend their voices magically throughout a mix of seemingly every style of of Americana roots music from the past century and before then. To call their latest album Light in the Sky their best does an injustice to their others: they’re all good. The first question that springs to mind about this band is, why aren’t they playing Madison Square Garden? While it’s not like they usually play small rooms – the big room at Rockwood Music Hall, where they are this Thursday the 17th at 7:30, is as small as they get, and that’s probably only because it’s a hometown show in the midst of a big tour – Red Molly would resonate with a worldwide audience. Sure, Light in the Sky was the #1 most added album by radio “folk dj’s” during the past month – but how many of those are there? A few hundred? A thousand? The Dixie Chicks had their run; it’s Red Molly’s turn.

As with their previous release, they’ve got a band behind them here – which doesn’t come in until after the dreamy, gorgeous, three part oldtimey harmonies of their version of Dear Someone. They follow that with the determined pulse of Walk Beside Me, a gospel/bluegrass blend with Gardner’s stinging dobro and McAllister’s bracing Appalachian violin. Come On In My Kitchen gets freshly and cleverly reinvented, with funky organ. If you’re convinced that Robert Johnson’s version is a classic that can’t be beat, you have to hear the way they play up Gardner’s “oh the wind howls” bridge into an organ solo – it might not exactly be delta blues, but it’s awfully fun.

A banjo tune, Do I Ever Cross Your Mind has a vintage Carter Family vibe with better production values and more of that sweet violin. They follow that with Oh My Michael, a stark, Celtic-flavored fisherman’s widow’s lament. The best song on the album is a darkly bristling, bluesy version of Buddy and Julie Miller’s Does My Ring Burn Your Finger. “Just wait here in the dark, my dearly departed,” McAllister sings with a wounded menace at the end.

Hello Goodbye isn’t the Beatles tune: it’s a jaunty, ragtime-flavored original, Gardner’s soaring dobro trading off with her dad Herb Gardner’s pre-Prohibition piano. With balmy muted trumpet, It’s Too Late to Call It a Night is an irresistibly charming, lushly slinky bourdoir swing tune; by contrast, Why Should I Cry has a resolute western swing edge. There’s also a couple of casual, swaying Americana-pop songs, Ghost and Hold It All; a couple of country gospel tunes, Your Long Journey and a brisk remake of Gillian Welch’s By the Mark; and a similarly upbeat version of Fever that’s closer to Elvis irrepressibility than Peggy Lee mist, just the trio harmonizing over fingersnaps and Craig Akin’s bass. As usual, Red Molly cover all the bases: there’s something for fans of pretty much every Americana style ever invented here.