New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: willie nile

The Godfather of Powerpop Headlines an Iconic Brooklyn Dive This Saturday Night

Paul Collins is widely considered the godfather of powerpop. Ray Davies is one of his contemporaries, and a good comparison. Historically, what Collins was doing in the late 60s predates both Badfinger and Cheap Trick. And he’s never stopped touring or recording. This blog was in the house for a couple of twinbills the ageless cult favorite tunesmith played with peerlessly cinematic noir rock stylist Karla Rose several months back at Berlin, the first a full-band show and the second a rare solo electric gig. Collins’ next show is with his band at Hank’s this Saturday night, June 9 at around 11; ferocious, twin guitar-fueled, Radio Birdman-esque psychedelic punks the Electric Mess open the night at 10. Cover is $7.

Collins’ latest release – streaming at Spotify – is a long-awaited, standalone reissue of two rare cassette ep’s, Long Time Gone, from 1983, and To Beat or Not to Beat, from two years later. Both are a delicious blast from the past. It’s Collins at his catchy, anthemic best. What a trip it is to hear him playing with an icy chorus box guitar tone in Broken Hearted, the catchy anthem that opens the collection, building to a classic D-A-G chorus, spiced with a scrambling solo that’s almost bluegrass.

The second cut,  Long Time Gone is a vampy, punchy, distantly Motown-influenced number. Working on a Good Thing sounds like Buddy Holly at halfspeed, while Find Somebody Else brings to mind what the Church were doing at the time, Collins working the spare/lushly jangly contrast for all it’s worth.

Standing in the Rain – an original, not the ELO song – has a slow, majestic groove and tasty acoustic/electric textures. The reissue’s hardest-rocking track, Good Times, could be WIllie Nile, while the big European hit All Over the World – this guy liked to nick Jeff Lynne song titles, huh?  – has snappy bass and organ swooshing distantly behind the jangle and crunch, up to a unexpectedly shreddy guitar solo.

Dance Dance comes across as Nick Lowe covering the Stray Cats; the allusively Beatlesque Making You Mine foreshadows Liza & the WonderWheels, a dozen years before the cult favorite Brooklyn band’s heyday.

Burning Desire is a 19th Nervous Breakdown ripoff. “Have you heard about the Moral Majority, man is that a joke?” Coilins asks in the echoey Give Me the Drugs, unsurprisingly the most acidically psychedelic track here. The final track is the bitttersweet Always Got You on My Mind. If catchy, vampy verses that build to even catchier, singalong choruses are your jam, this is your guy.

A word about the venue, if you haven’t already heard: Hank’s is closing sometime this year, finally making room for that luxury condo building every real Brooklynite in the neighborhood has been dreading for more than a decade. If you’re thinking of paying your last respects to the place that was Brooklyn’s original home for honkytonk, and innumerable good rock shows for pretty much the past seventeen years or so, this is as good a chance as you’ll get before it’s gone forever.

Pete Kennedy Releases a Great, Genuine New York Rock Record

Pete Kennedy is best known as half of celebrated art-folk duo the Kennedys, and one of the world’s great guitarists. Much as he has Richard Thompson-class chops and taste, Kennedy is also a first-rate songwriter. His latest album, Heart of Gotham, is streaming at Spotify. Together with his wife Maura, the Kennedys are playing the album release show tonight at around 9 at Bowery Electric on a killer triplebill with cult favorite Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner opening the night at 7, then another brilliant husband-wife duo, Tracy Island playing the album release show for their new one War No More (see yesterday’s writeup). Cover is a ridiculously cheap $9.

Two things distinguish this album. First, it’s a true solo effort: Pete Kennedy plays all the instruments, drums included. Secondly, it’s a song cycle, sort of the rock equivalent of Russell Shorto‘s classic New York history, Island at the Center of the World. Much as the idea of celebrating the many ethnicities who’ve made this city such a gorgeous melting pot might seem daunting – and potentially mawkish, and painfully P.C. – Kennedy pulls it off. Lyrically, the album is rich with historical references: people, places and drama from across the centuries. Musically, the obvious influence is an iconic New Yorker, Lou Reed, although the songs also ring with the celtic-tinged flair of the king of the downtown New York anthem, Willie Nile. The album begins and ends in Union Square, “a soapbox where streets tell their story,” as Kennedy puts it.

Tue to its title, The Bells Rang is a feast of jangly rock textures, a shout-out to resilience and triumph in hardscrabble Harlem. Williamsburg Bridge, counterintuitively and aptly salutes the Hispanic and Jewish communities that still cling to their turf on the south side of the neighborhood even as it’s overrun with yuppies, overpriced prefab condos and curated locavore tweetopia boites. And while the title of Never Stopped Believin’ might leave you with an “ew, Journey!” grimace, the optimism of its road-warrior narrative channels both Willie Nile and Woody Guthrie.

Likewise, with its web of mandolins and almost bagpipe-like waves of guitar, Unbreakable triumphantly reflects on the generations of Irish artisans who built so much of this city. Rise Above leaves the New York milieu behind for more pensive, personal ground, then People Like Me brings that idea around, a powerful reminder of how artistic communities aren’t just essential to a great city: that’s where people find their soulmates.

Harken, with its luscious layers of twelve-string guitar, is part Byrds, part Buddy Holly. The bittersweetly shuffling Asphodel references the latter of those artists as well as the mythological Greek purgatory. Riot in Bushwick refers not to police brutality but to a raid on a rockabilly shindig; it’s a launching pad for Kennedy’s bottomless bag of vintage 50s riffs.

New York reaches for art-rock majesty in the same vein as the Church, Kennedy’s guitar atmospherics evoking Peter Koppes at his stratospheric best. The album hits a peak with its most majestic anthem, Gotham Serenade – it’s not the only place where Kennedy quotes from Richard Thompson’s Wall of Death.

If all this seems like it romanticizes this city, consider that the songs on the album date from the previous decade and possibly before: the current era’s never-ending brain drain, and the devastation of all sorts of communities in a blitzkrieg of gentrification, aren’t addressed here. So consider this a fond look back at a past that’s just a few years behind us, even if it seems like a millenium away…and also a measure of hope for better days ahead after the real estate bubble bursts.

Ike Reilly Brings His Down-to-Earth, High-Energy Lyrical Rock to the Mercury

Ike Reilly is sort of the Midwestern Willie Nile. Their big four-on-the-floor rock anthems have a lot in common: catchy riffs, purist arrangements, first-class playing and heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics. Like Nile, Reilly looks back to Highway 61-era Dylan a lot, but also draws on the most dramatic side of Celtic balladry. He and his excellent band the Ike Reilly Assassination are in the midst of their summer tour, with a couple of Mercury Lounge gigs coming up. On July 16 they’re playing at 7 PM, and then at 10:30 PM on the 17th. General admission is $15.

Reilly’s latest album, Born on Fire, is streaming at Spotify. The opening, title track sets the stage with its meat-and-potatoes Irish rock tinges, hitting a jaunty, dancing 70s Springsteen groove fueled by Adam Krier’s piano and organ and the tersely intertwining, soul-infused guitars of Phil Karnats and Tommy O’Donnell. Job Like That (Lasalle and Grand) blends Blonde on Blonde sway with arena-soul bombast, a characteristic blend of sardonic humor and irrepressible blue-collar charm.

Underneath the Moon gives Reilly a ragtime-inflected launching pad for him to work a rakishly surrealist come-on with some unnamed girl. Do the Death Slide! is a goodnatured, riff-driven spoof of 60s soul dance numbers, infused with bluesy harmonica and sax. With its torrents of aphorisms and subtle political subtext, the folk-rock anthem Am I Still the One for You brings to mind Fred Gillen Jr. at his wordiest and most Dylanesque. Likewise, 2 Weeks of Work, 1 Night of Love builds a bleak teens New Depression milieu, with more of that honking blues harp:

Work clothes, party clothes, funeral suit
Got nowhere to, got nothing to wear them to
I think I’ll put on my father’s shirt
And think of the days I used to have work
I don’t need no mercy
From your heaven above…

Hanging Around is one of the album’s best tracks, making organ-driven garage-psych rock out of what’s essentially Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons, a snide tale of a rank-and-file guy trying to seduce a devil in disguise from human resources. Notes from Denver International Airport sets a harried, harrassed post-9/11, pre-flight narrative to bluesy Highway 61 rock, with a droll faux-gospel interlude.

The album’s garagiest number is Black Kat, springboarding a feral solo from one of the guitarists. Let’s Live Like We’re Dying kicks off with a darkly oldtimey New Orleans blues sway, then takes on a Thirteenth Floor Elevators slink and rises to a mighty gospel crescendo. Upper Mississippi River Valley Girl segues out of it, a vividly twisted Midwestern carnival tableau. The album’s most noir moment is another subtly political number, Good Looking Boy, bookended around a searing fuzztone guitar solo. The album winds up with wryly amusing character study Paradise Lane, with whiplash guitar from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. If a clever turn of phrase set to a catchy hook is your thing, go see this guy.

A Gorgeously Eclectic Solo Album From Tom Petty Keyboardist Benmont Tench

Who’s the best songwriter in Tom Petty’s band? Hint: it’s not the singer. Turns out that it’s keyboardist Benmont Tench, who’s been the Heartbreakers’ secret weapon for decades. Surprisingly, Tench’s new album You Should Be So Lucky takes a turn away from the driving, simple, spot-on piano and lush river of organ that characterizes his work in Petty’s band, substituting a wealth of eclectic styles from low-key, smoldering, Springsteen-ish anthems, to snarling garage rock, rockabilly and western swing along with tinges of ragtime and jazz. Tench’s tunesmithing is also a lot more diverse than Petty’s, and his lyrics can be excellent. So is the band: guitarists Ethan Johns and Blake Mills, along with Jeremy Stacey on drums and cameos by Petty, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and Ringo Starr. Yup, the Beatles’ drummer is on this somewhere: individual track credits weren’t available at presstime, so it’s a guess where he is on this.

Tench is close to sixty and sounds it, his wispy, weathered, low-key vocals set to tuneful keyboard-based rock that in its strongest moments echoes both Springsteen and Willie Nile. The opening track, Today I Took Your Picture Down, with its spare piano and Memphis soul guitar, bears some resemblance to Dylan’s If You See Her Say Hello, but with a backbeat. “The eyes that followed me around, daring me to stare them down,” just had to go, Tench explains – and follows that with an absolutely gorgeous, crescendoing piano solo. It sets the stage for most of what’s to come.

Veronica Said bounces along with a Tenth Avenue Freeze-out beat: likewise, Tench’s lushly swirling organ solo wouldn’t be out of place in the late, great Danny Federici’s playbook. Tench follows that with the distantly New Orleans-flavored Ecor Rouge, a wee-hours theme that methodically makes its way toward dark third-stream jazz.

The spare folk-rock tune Hannah is the closest thing here to something Tench’s boss might write. Blonde Girl, Blue Dress, a wistful tale about the one that just barely got away, would have been a big radio hit thirty years ago (that’s a compliment), building from a richly tuneful guitar intro to a catchy, cleverly allusive chorus. The genuine classic here is the searingly catchy garage-rock broadside You Should Be So Lucky, with its shapeshifting layers of vintage keyboards and guitars and vicious lyrics. Then Tench takes it down with a long, balmy version of the old folk song Corinna, Corinna.

Dogwood brings to mind Willie Nile in low-key acoustic mode, a pensive drifter’s tale with an unexpectedly animated bridge, like something the Larch would throw in to shake things up. Like the Sun (Michoacan) pairs off a couple of twelve-string guitars for a jangly evocation of the Byrds, while the bolero instrumental Wobbles brings to mind Nashville piano legend Floyd Cramer.

The slowly swaying grey-sky lament Why Don’t You Quit Leaving Me Alone is something that Warren Zevon would no doubt have been proud to have written. Then Tench picks up the pace with a jaunty western swing take of Dylan’s Duquesne Whistle, first delivering a scrambling piano solo that hands off to an even livelier, spiraling one from the guitar, then sinking to the murkiest depths of the piano before leaping back in with a whiplash slide up the keys. There are also two bonus tracks on the vinyl version of this release (yay!), the snidely Jerry Lee Lewis-influenced rockabilly romp She’s My Girl and the Booker T-esque instrumental After Everything I’ve Done for You, a feast of dynamics for the organ and the band. The only dud here is a Xmas carol. All this begs the question, why has Tench been hiding this stuff so long, and does he have more great tunes like this stashed away? Lucky fans in LA can catch Tench with this band as he plays a two-night stand to celebrate the album’s release at 8 PM at Largo at the Coronet, 366 N La Cienega Blvd; tix are $35.

The Plastic Pals Put Their Edgy Spin on Classic New Wave Era Sounds

The Plastic Pals‘ name is a dead giveaway for their sound: ferocious, wickedly tuneful late 70s/early 80s-style new wave and garage-punk. If the Stockholm rockers had recorded their latest album Turn the Tide in 1979 and then had been forgottten, it would be regarded as a lost classic today. The whole thing is streaming at their Soundcloud page, along with their other excellent albums. Yet what they do isn’t purely retro: they add their own guitar-fueled edge and sardonic worldview to well-loved, edgy styles from the late 70s and early 80s. Frontman Håkan “Hawk” Soold sings in good English, with a dry sense of humor that often recalls a classic European band from the new wave era, Holland’s Gruppo Sportivo. Ex-Green on Red keyboardist Chris Cacavas’ production is purist and period-perfect: the growling guitars of Soold and Anders Sahlin in each channel, terse and catchy with no wasted notes, Bengt Alm’s bass and Olov Öqvist’s drums in back, vocals up front where they should be.

One thing that sets the Plastic Pals apart from most of the original new wave bands is that their songs are a lot longer. One of the album’s most spine-tingling tracks, A Couple of Minutes is a good example, a cruelly vengeful, wickedly catchy account of a battered wife. The album’s title track works a bouncy, soul-tinged vintage Elvis Costello vein, a cynical look at how the current global depression hits you between the eyes. Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea nicks the tune from the late 80s Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne hit Runinng Down a Dream and takes it to the next level, with some neat clean/dirty guitar contrasts and a wry Rolling Stones quote at the end. And they go into swaying 6/8 groove for the junkie blues ballad Caramel, She Said, with a hard-hitting, anthemic guitar solo midway through.

Cards sets a biting, bluesy lead over marching multitracked guitars: there are echoes of early Squeeze, the Larch and Radio Birdman in there. Leave It Til Tomorrow has a funky, Stonesy vibe: “Stuck in this tragic sitcom – hey, write me out of the script,” Soold asserts. Miracles follows a slowly ominous, jangly, psychedelic soul-tinged tangent that brings to mind Golden Earring at their most focused. The most memorable song here is the bittersweetly anthemic Providence: with its surreal, nocturnal storyline and blend of country and Memphis soul, it could be the great lost Wallflowers hit. Close behind it is the richly anthemic, soaringly triumphant yet apprehensive All the Way.

The Final Remedy works a late-70s powerpop radio vibe but with better production values. The Sweet Spot again brings to mind Gruppo Sportivo, with its tongue-in-cheek story of a clandestine hookup, half sarcastic, half dead-serious, with some seriously catchy major/minor changes. Traveling completely rips the Radio Birdman classic Man with Golden Helmet, but with its fiery, bluesy guitars and alienated lyrics, it’s a killer song anyway. And Wouldn’t Change a Thing brings to mind Willie Nile at his anthemic best, burning, blues-infused guitars fueling a creepy, phantasmagorical tale. It’s one of the best albums of the year and makes you wonder who else in Stockholm might be making music this good.

Earlier this fall, the Plastic Pals did a brief Dives of New York tour with their pals Band of Outsiders, so it’s not unrealistic to expect them back at some point: watch this space.

Yet Another Great Album and a Highline Show From the Unstoppable Willie Nile

If a powerpop band gets really lucky, once in awhile they’ll earn a comparison to Willie Nile. He’s been the gold standard for hard-hitting, anthemic, edgy, lyrical four-on-the-floor rock for literally decades. He and his band are playing the album release show for his new one.American Ride at Highline Ballroom at 8 PM on June 26: tickets are still available as of today.

Nile’s music reflects his career. On one hand, he defines oldschool New York: a cynical surrealism pervades his lyrics. On the other hand, he never gave up: dumped on the trash heap by the major label machine, he rose from the ashes of a once-promising career to become one of the world’s most successful independent artists, and his indomitable worldview reflects that. Although he pretty much steers clear of specific political references, there’s an anthemic revolutionary sensibility anchoring much of his work. He’s closer to the Clash than the Who, both bands his music resembles and has drawn on deeply over the years.

The new album’s opening track, This Is Our Time, alludes to that spirit right off the bat. “Can you feel the power, can you feel the drive, can you feel the feeling that it’s good to be alive?” Nile asks, guitars slamming out catchy chords over a bubbling Johnny Pisano bassline. It’s a defining, classic Willie Nile moment.

Life on Bleecker Street motors along sarcastically, a basement apartment dweller contemplating the hordes of tourists drawn to the neighborhood’s cheesy bars: it’s possibly the only song to ever rhyme “Nikon” with “icon.” The jangly title track, a band-on-the-road scenario captures one of the few ways a musician can make money these days, bringing the music to the people instead of vice versa.

If I Ever See the Light, a clenched-teeth, intense, pulsing number, is a dead ringer for Nile’s buddy Springsteen, except better: it could pass for one of the great lost tracks from The River. And as much as She’s Got My Heart doesn’t have anything going on lyrically, the hook is irresistible.

The funniest song on the album is God Laughs, a big riff-rocker. As it turns out, the big G is a lot like us, with one major exception – and an ending that comes as a complete surprise. But deities don’t get off so easy on Holy War, a venomous Blue Oyster Cult-influenced smack upside the head of murderous zealots of every persuasion: Nile doesn’t let anybody off the hook. Jim Carroll’s People Who Died sticks close to the original except for a recurrent riff (another BOC reference), and the fact that the lyrics are easier to understand.

Say Hey reminds of the Stray Cats with its growling noir strut, and builds to a big Balkan horn raveup. The bouncy, Beatlesque Sunrise in New York City is a surprisingly unambiguous shout-out to Nile’s hometown, with a jaunty baritone guitar solo from lead player Matt Hogan, who slays throughout this album. The Crossing makes an elegant, metaphorically-charged art-rock ballad out of an Irish immigrant ballad. The final cut is There’s No Place Like Home, one of Nile’s signature litanies of strange imagery set to a Carl Perkins-style shuffle. There literally isn’t a weak track here: to say that it stands up alongside Nile’s other albums testifies both to the strength of this one and the rest of his formidable catalog.

The Del-Lords’ First Album in 23 Years Picks Up Like They Never Stopped

In the case where a band releases their first album in 23 years, it’s typically either a reissue, a grab-bag of rarities or a half-baked attempt to revisit the group’s glory years, assuming they had any.  In the case of the Del-Lords, had they never made their new album Elvis Club- their first since 1990’s Lovers Who Wander- their place in rock history would be secure. They came up as a fiery highway rock band with deep roots in Americana, in an era when theose roots were being rediscovered and a four-star review in Rolling Stone actually helped a band sell records. If it’s possible to say that a band had a huge cult following, the Del-Lords had one. Their live performances are legendary, including a series of 1987 New York shows where they opened for Lou Reed and his band and blew them off the stage. The new album  – as well as two albums’ worth of rarities and esoterica – is streaming at the Del-Lords Bandcamp page. Much as it might sound extreme to declare it the ballsiest Del-Lords album ever, it just might be. The band is playing the album release show on June 27 at 9 PM at Bowery Electric with excellent female-fronted Americana punk rockers Spanking Charlene opening the night at 8; advance tickets are still available as of today but won’t last much longer.

The irony is that this probably wouldn’t have happened had a promoter not contacted them in 2010 and persuaded them into doing a brief Spanish tour. The quartet – guitarists Scott Kempner and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, bassist Manny Caiati and drummer Frank Funaro – reunited, played a handful of reunion gigs at the now-shuttered Lakeside Lounge to warm up for the tour (under the pseudonym the Elvis Club, which explains the album title), and decided, what the hell, let’s pull some new songs together. It’s a good thing they did. Kempner’s tunesmithing is as strong as ever and as it turns out both he and Ambel have never sung better. The songs run the gamut from anthemic Willie Nile-ish janglerock to fiery riff-rock to various rootsy styles, with a choice Neil Young cover to cap it off.

The music is a rich blend of jangle, twang, clang and roar. Layers of guitar get tweaked artfully for just the right tinge of reverb or distortion or tremolo; the playing is terse and powerful. This time around, Ambel handles all the leads except one; almost all of them go on for no more than a couple of bars. He always leaves you wanting more. He also produced the album with his usual purist touch (the inside cd cover shot is an early morning view of the East River from inside Ambel’s Cowbow Technical Services studio, home to scores of great albums in the years since the Del-Lords first disbanded). That has a lot to do with why it sounds as good as it does: strong as the band’s albums from the 80s were, there’s a distinct 80s feel to them, while this one sounds timeless. The rest of the band is as strong as they were 23 years ago, in the case of Kempner maybe stronger. This time out, Caiaiti wasn’t available, so a rotating cast of bassists including Ambel’s Yayhoos bandmate Keith Christopher, Jason Mercer, Steve Almaas and new fulltime member Michael DuClos share the four-string chair.

The opening track, When the Drugs Kick In sets the stage for what’s to come with its wickedly catchy four-chord hook and beefed-up janglerock vibe. The second track, Princess might be the strongest one: the beat is deceptively funky, the reverb-fueled minor-key riffage burns and slashes, with a couple of searing Ambel solos fueled by resonant chords and nonchalantly savage tremolo-picking. The sardonic Chicks, Man is one of those classic one-chord songs (give it a listen, it’s true), while Flying works some vintage Memphis licks into a gorgeous, midtempo anthem in the same vein as Kempner’s classic Forever Came Today (from the 1986 Roscoe’s Gang album), with a sudden, explosive crescendo midway through.

Fueled by more of that soul guitar, All of My Life is a casually celebratory ballad from the point of view of a survivor who never expected to get as far as he has, Rob Arthur’s lush Hammond organ picking it up out of a thoughtful Ambel solo. Everyday – co-written with early rock legend Dion DiMucci – is the closest thing to  Willie Nile here. Ambel takes over the vocals on Me & the Lord Blues, an evil, slinky, slow-burning tune that builds to a sunbaked Ron Asheton-like wah guitar solo.

The low-key but catchy Letter (Unmailed) sways along with a hint of Tex-Mex and a subtle reference to the Church, followed by You Can Make a Mistake One Time, which has the feel of an oldtime chain gang song set to raw, electric rock, Ambel getting a rare opportunty to cut loose for more than a couple of bars and making the most of it, Funaro’s snare drum like a sniper in the dark.

Silverlake evokes Steve Wynn with Kempner’s  brooding lyric – “It’s just a matter of trying, it’s just a matter of crying, it’s just a matter of lying to yourself” – and forceful, jangly tune. The album winds up with a take of Neil Young’s Southern Pacific – the best song from the 1981 Reactor album – which turns out to be a lot more sonically diverse than the original while maintaining an angry mood all the way through. Considering that it’s told from the point of view of a guy who worked his whole life only to get laid off, it’s an apt way to wind up an album released in these new depression days. It’s inspiring to see a bunch of guys who’ve been going as long as these guys have continuing to put out music that’s as vital and entertaining as what they were doing almost three decades ago.

Saint Maybe’s Debut Album: A Southwestern Gothic Rock Classic

Things As They Are, the debut album by Tucson supergroup Saint Maybe, sounds like the great lost sequel to the Dream Syndicate’s 1983 classic Medicine Show. That’s not to say that Saint Maybe are a ripoff: in their most anthemic moments, they evoke Willie Nile; at their jangliest, they remind of the Wallflowers, or Neil Young, or even Dylan, which makes sense since this project features Bob Dylan drummer Winston Watson. What they play is retro 80s psychedelia with some great tunes and deliciously unhinged, off-kilter lead guitar from the Patti Smith Group’s Oliver Ray. Guitarist Chris Sauer – who a few years back put out the intriguingly dark Desert Whale Ghosts – is also part of this project, as is southwestern gothic guru Craig Schumacher. If this album had come out in 1985, it would have a cult following today; without question, it’s one of 2012’s best.

These songs are long, typically unfolding slowly over seven or eight minutes, intricately arranged with layers of guitars and keyboards. The opening track, Everything At Once (And More) is a psychedelic tour de force. Ray’s surreal lyrics can be deliberately off-the-cuff and inscrutable, but he can really nail a phrase when he wants: this one’s a study in paradoxes. “We wanna live forever before we die,” he intones over a catchy, simple blues riff that eventually decays to a fluorescently hypnotic Brian Jonestown Massacre-style interlude layering ethereal mellotron against crashing fuzztone guitar.

With its bristling layers of acoustic and electric guitars, Houses for Ghosts reminds of paisley underground legends True West as the band mingles aphoristic, apocalyptic Steve Wynn-style imagery over a backbeat with pulsing keys: “Is that a dust storm approaching, the highway’s disappeared, they’re building houses for ghosts.” With its oscillating Rhodes piano, fuzz bass and staccato reverb guitar, the funky Delicate Prey owes a debt to Wynn’s desert rock classic Here Come the Miracles. By contrast, She’s Alright works a brisk but casually nocturnal country groove, a launching pad for another series of surrreal lyrics and smartly terse Americana guitar solos. It’s Dylanesque in the best possible way.

The Dream Syndicate influence really starts to show itself on the broodingly swaying Way with Words: the way they work a slow, steady crescendo, riding a sunbaked slide guitar lead (is that Schumacher? Sounds like him) is artful to the extreme. The centerpiece here is the epic Everything That Rises, driven by a venomously twisting Ray guitar riff. Rising from the ashes slowly with a wry Grateful Dead reference, it coalesces into a roaring, jangling, hallucinatory swirl, a wickedly catchy chorus and then a long bridge that builds to a devastating crescendo over wild layers of chord-chopping:

What’s that coming down the line
The question? Fires answered in your eyes
Are we to be reduced to ash
Or will we choose to be free at last?

They keep the Medicine Show menace going full throttle with the even longer Take It Easy (But Take It), a jaggedly catchy 6/8 anthem echoing with reverb guitar, pulsing drones and more of that offhandedly vicious slide guitar, the organ finally taking over to drive the hauntingly surreal narrative home. If that song is the album’s John Coltrane Stereo Blues, the title track is its Merrittville, a low-key but murderous Americana rock dirge with some deliciously terse, bluesy wailing by Ray. As much crazed improvisation as there is here, the orchestration is meticulous: an enormous amount of creativity went into this album. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we hear from Saint Maybe.

Ian Hunter Never Gets Old

Ian Hunter’s new album When I’m President is the good rock record that the Stones should have made this year (or around 1986, for that matter) but didn’t. It’s hard to believe that the former Mott the Hoople frontman, somebody who’s collaborated with everyone from John Cale to Mick Ronson to the Clash’s Mick Jones, is now past seventy. But Hunter is absolutely undiminished as both a frontman and a songwriter. On the mic, his rasp is as relentless as ever, and his poison pen still kills: as a stinging, surrealist wordsmith, Hunter still has few rivals. As usual, he plays acoustic guitar and piano here, backed by the Rant Band: Mark Bosch and James Mastro on guitars, Paul Page on bass and Steve Holley on drums, with Andy Burton on keys and Andy York (of John Mellencamp’s band and Mary Lee’s Corvette) adding subtle shades of guitar, some keys, and instruments like baritone guitar and dulcitar.

The music here chugs along with a familiar, Stonesy growl: if Keith Richards could be cloned, he’d sound like them. Mastro plays in the left channel, Bosch in the right, firing off the occasional solo with expert command of five decades worth of rock styles. The catchiest song on the album is the title track (available from Hunter as a free download). With its familiar janglerock melody and an irresistibly funny allusion to a certain “classic” rock riff, Hunter defiantly takes a stand with the 99% against the fat cats: “Still whining about your bonus? Man up, you’re ridiculous…” But as much as trying to buck the system may be like “the pit and the pendulum,” it ends optimistically.

With another amusing allusion to a well-known song (this one from the new wave era), What For is a rant worthy of any other in Hunter’s vast back catalog, a slap upside the head of a clueless conformist, suggesting a break from the cellphone in exchange for “a little recreational skulldiving.” Likewise, the big, dramatic 6/8 anthem I Don’t Know What You Want takes a jaundiced look at generational dissonance.

Other tracks work a psychopathological vein over a roaring backdrop. Bosch channels David Gilmour with an searing, angst-fueled solo in Black Tears, a kiss-off to a psychic vampire, that faux melancholy being “just another weapon in your arsenal of fear.” There’s also a Pink Floyd influence in the suspensefully percussive Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse), the Indian warrior out for revenge anthem against those “paid by the rich to steal from the poor.” The down-and-out junkie in Saint, a pretty standard-issue garage rock number, rails that “I ain’t no saint but I could never be you.” And Fatally Flawed gets a crushing crescendo on the first verse and an all-too-brief, screaming Bosch solo: “Lookit that trainwreck, purring like a Cadillac,” Hunter snarls.

The other tracks include Just the Way You Look Tonight, a casually majestic anthem that’s a dead ringer for Willie Nile, lit up by Mastro’s mandolin ; The Wild Bunch, a bankrobber ballad with saloon piano by Burton and an unexpected gospel choir; the rakishly seductive Comfortable (Flyin’ Scotsman), with some cool syncopation to fit the lyrics at the end as the chorus stretches out; and the surprisingly upbeat, amusing closing track: “Did you blow it on Myspace, did you twitter when you was clean outta your face?” Hunter wants to know. At this point in his career, his greatest shining moment is still Rant, his savage 2001 response to creeping fascism in the wake of 9/11. But this is a clinic in good tunesmithing and good playing from a bunch of guys who’ve been there and done that, and are still there and still doing it as well or even better than before. One of the best albums of 2012: long live Ian Hunter.

Band of Outsiders’ New Mini-Album Could Be Their Best Yet

Formed in 1980, Band of Outsiders became a popular CBGB act and recorded with Ivan Kral of the Patti Smith Group. They called it quits at the end of 1988, seemingly at the peak of their career, after touring Europe and releasing a tantalizingly small output of incandescent guitar-fueled songs. Their swirling, intricate yet powerful twin-guitar sound foreshadowed the dreampop explosion of the late 80s; their post-Velvets songwriting drew apt comparisons to another legendary CB’s band, Television. Band of Outsiders influenced an entire generation of dark psychedelic and garage bands, from the Jesus & Mary Chain to Brian Jonestown Massacre. Reuniting sporadically, and then for good in 2008, they’ve been playing around New York and have a new ep, Sound Beach Quartet that’s arguably the best thing they’ve ever done. They’re at Local 269 tomorrow night, June 5 at 9 PM on a great bill with Lakeside all-stars Los Dudes opening at 8, then their longtime pals Certain General at 10 and legendary John Cale collaborator and Floor Kiss frontwoman Deerfrance  headlining afterward.

As usual, the twin guitars of Marc Jeffrey and Jim McCarthy are the drawing card here with their edgy blend of jangle and clang. The opening track, As It’s Written has a surprisingly airy early 80s Feelies vibe, working its way up to an irresistibly catchy chorus on the new wave pulse of Dave Lee’s bass and Richard Maurer’s drums, with some deliciously circling tradeoffs between the guitars as it picks up steam. Likewise, One Life is Not Enough opens with spacious acoustic guitar interplay and then turns into a backbeat anthem with bright Tex-Mex guitar that wouldn’t be out of place in the Willie Nile catalog. The strongest track is the absolutely gorgeous, bittersweet Gods of Happenstance: it’s the missing link between Television and the Grateful Dead (there’s a very clever quote in there) as REM would have done it if Peter Buck had been a world-class lead player. The epic concluding track, Trickle of Love first builds slowly and gently, then hypnotically, then majestically as layer up on layer of acoustic and then electric guitar enters the mix. After a Beatlesque bridge and a slide guitar solo that finally sails up with a wailing intensity, it winds out on a surprisingly gentle, ornate note with a handful of piano flourishes. Short and sweet as this is, it’s a fair approximation of Band of Outsiders’ intense, crescendoing live show – and one of the best rock albums of 2012.