New York Music Daily

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Tag: will graefe

Another Great Retro Americana Album from Miss Tess

Over the past few years, guitarist/bandleader/chanteuse Miss Tess has made a name for herself as a connoisseur of retro sounds. Her unaffectely bright, nuanced vocals immediately set her apart from the rest of the retro crowd; she isn’t trying to ape Billie Holiday, or Loretta Lynn, or any other icon from decades past. When Miss Tess is at the top of her game, which is pretty much always, her songs sound like country, soul or blues hits from whatever era she’s gone back in time to capture. Her latest album, The Love I Have for You, with her killer band the Talkbacks – Will Graefe (also of the brilliant dub reggae band Super Hi-Fi) on lead guitar, Larry Cook on upright bass, and Matt Meyer on drums –  has a characteristically diverse mix of originals and at least one cover. They’re playing the album release show at Joe’s Pub at 7 PM on Dec 11; cover is $15. As of today this album isn’t streaming yet at her Bandcamp page, but the rest of her excellent back catalog is.

The opening track, Sorry You’re Sick, is hilarious. “What do you want from the liquor store?” Miss Tess chirps as the band bounces along behind her with a vintage 60s soul vibe.  After a few shots of whatever’s in Miss Tess’ brown bag, “You can be sure you won’t suffer no more.”

The album’s title track is basically Your Cheating Heart redone as a soul song with a triplet rhythm, propelled by Meyer’s artful cymbal work. Likewise, the Alabama Waltz is pretty much the one from a few states north (you know, the beautiful…), with a tasty blend of electric and acoustic guitars. Then Graefe uses a tasteful, jazzy cover of Willlie Nelson’s Night Life as a lauching pad for an expansive solo that finally catches fire at the very end.

With its pinpoint, shuffling beat, Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad sounds like a classic soul song from the Lakeside Lounge jukebox, capped off by a biting Graefe slide guitar solo.  Give It Up or Let Me Go, a bluesy rockabilly number, has some deliciously dueling guitars from the lead player and the bandleader.  The catchiest song here is the Hank Williams-ish country ballad Hold Back the Tears, which is packed with neat back-and-forth dynamic shifts. Not a single bad song on this album: Miss Tess does it again.

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Alluringly Torchy Retro Sounds from Miss Tess and the Talkbacks

So many singers in retro music mimic their influences, but Miss Tess has her own nonchalantly warm voice. She’s got a little grit and she bends the blue notes, but not too hard. You can tell she’s listened to Billie Holiday, but she’s not trying to be anyone other than herself. Miss Tess doesn’t sound like anybody else; in fact, maybe someday other singers will be imitating her. And she’s an excellent guitarist, too. Likewise, she writes songs that sound like classics from the 1930s through the 1950s. Her latest album, Sweet Talk, with her killer backing band, the Talkbacks – Will Graefe (also of the brilliant dub reggae band Super Hi-Fi) on lead guitar, Larry Cook on upright bass (with Danny Weller on the album tracks), and Matt Meyer on drums – also might be her darkest yet. She’s gone on record as saying that she wanted to record the album “slow and strange” and a lot of that comes through.

To her further credit, all but one of the songs – other than the Ink Spots’ Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire, redone as a fetching ballad that reminds of Daria Grace – are originals. Don’t Tell Mama starts out on a sultry tone with just guitar and vocals: “I see your glass is empty, hows about another round, what a sentimental feeling we have found,” Miss Tess cajoles, Graefe following with a searing bent-note solo, taking the song forty years forward into 1970 or so. The band follows that with the pedal steel-driven honkytonk of Never Thought I’d Be Lonely and then the haunting suicide bolero shuffle Adeline, Graefe once again taking the spotlight with his creepily surreal solos over blippy funeral organ.

If You Wanna Be My Man, a midtempo swing blues, brings back the low-key, sultry, jazzy vibe. It could could be Rachelle Garniez at her most nonchalantly upbeat: hokum blues humor, urban sophistication. People Come Here for Gold swings along on a brisk backbeat swamp rock groove – it might be a subtle anti-gentrification polemic couched in an oldtime vernacular. This Affair kicks off with a long bass solo and then morphs into a noir bossa nova tune with yet another brilliant, spiraling, Jerry Miller-esque guitar solo.

The slow, pretty country waltz Save Me, St. Peter has fun with Biblical metaphors, a dark song with playful imagery. Likewise, Everybody’s Darling contrasts Meyer’s vaudeville rimshots and Graefe’s lively, Matt Munisteri-ish solo with a brooding, bittersweet lyric and vocals. And New Orleans, upbeat as it is, keeps the bittersweet saloon jazz feel going. Miss Tess and the Talkbacks are at the big room at the Rockwood this Tuesday, July 16 at 8 PM; the similarly torchy but more pop-oriented Sophie Auster (Paul’s kid) plays afterward.

Super Hi-Fi Puts Out the Best Reggae Album of the Year

Meet the best reggae album of the year – and it doesn’t have any lyrics. Brooklyn band Super Hi-Fi’s new album Dub to the Bone is all instrumental. Essentially, it’s live dub – to an extent, they’re doing live what Scratch Perry would do in the studio. But this album keeps the studio wizardry to a minimum and focuses on the songs. Theyv’e got an oldschool echoplex, which they use judiciously and absolutely psychedelically, but it’s the tunes and the playing that make this psychedelic. Since this was recorded as a vinyl record for Brooklyn’s excellent, eclectic Electric Cowbell label, there’s an A-side and a B-side.

The band keeps it simple and catchy as they make their way methodically from one hook to another. A lot of reggae is verse/chorus/verse/etc. and this isn’t, which keeps it interesting while maintaining a fat groove. And while a lot of dub is an endless series of textures echoing and fading in and out of the mix, the band does this live without missing a beat. Bassist Ezra Gale’s songs lean toward the dark and menacing side: some of this is absolutely creepy, as the best reggae and ska can be.

The opening track, Washingtonian works trippy variations on a dark reggae vamp, the occasional vintage newsreel sample adding snide commentary on the military-industrial complex (is that Eisenhower?) The tightness of the twin trombones of Alex Asher and Ryan Snow reminds of classic Skatalites, or Burning Spear’s peak-era band with the Burning Brass.

There are two versions of Tri Tro Tro here and they couldn’t be any more different: they’re basically two separate songs. Which is the coolest thing about dub – the first builds to a carefree Will Graefe guitar hook over the equally catchy bassline, the second begins as a new wave guitar song before the reggae riddim kicks in and morphs into a soukous tune. The third track, Neolithic, runs from a twin trombone hook to a wickedly catchy turnaround, wailing guitar giving way to the swoosh of the echoplex and then an unexpectedly balmy, jazzy interlude.

The best track here is the absolutely Lynchian We Will Begin Again with its noir trombones, creepy, lingering guitar and shapeshifting melody. Q Street drops the individual instruments in and out over an Ethiopian-flavored groove, while Public Option – another political reference  – centers its echoey orchestration around a moody minor groove and Madhu Siddappa’s hypnotically boomy snare drum. The final track, mixed expertly by Victor Rice, somebody who knows a thing or two about classic dub, is Single Payer, the most psychedelic, Black Ark-style plate here, the veteran ska and reggae producer having fun matching the bass and drums against the guitar and trombones and vice versa. The album release show is at Nublu at around midnight – you know how that place is – on Dec 13, and it’s free.

Slinky Dub from Super Hi-Fi

Brooklyn Afrobeat dub outfit Super Hi-Fi have a great new single, the sardonically titled Single Payer, just out on high-grade vinyl on Electric Cowbell Records, “probably the only dub track you will hear that works in samples of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Lieberman alongside a fiery trombone solo,” as the band puts it. The A-side is a seven-minute roots reggae instrumental with Alex Asher and Ryan Snow doing ominous harmonies on their trombones over the slinky groove of bassist Ezra Gale (formerly of the excellent Bay Area group Afrodesia) and Madhu Siddappa on drums, with Will Graefe skanking on guitar, oldschool stylee. The B-side is a version by Victor Rice, who also knows a thing or two about dub. They’re both streaming at Soundcloud, along with a bunch of other equally mind-melting mixes. Enjoy!