“A Tragic Treasury”
“People squawk ‘bout the way you walk, you’re a freak show. People stare at your scary hair, you’re a freak show.” I often wish I had the guts to write a song with words like that, or perhaps a dreary ballad with the chorus “die die die die die die die die.” The Gothic Archies’ Lemony Snicket (author of “A Series of Unfortunate Events”) and Stephen Merritt (Magnetic Fields) not only had the guts and humor to write it down, but to record this album with obvious joy at the horrors contained within. The two composers have created a work utterly free from the focus-group convention of what ought to entertain the nation’s children. Elmo and the Teletubbies would cower and tremble from the first notes of the opening track, “Scream and Run Away.” Babes will surely rejoice in “Waking my Gargoyle” or perhaps the peppy, “Smile! No one cares how you feel.” Via all the musical innovation of Magnetic Fields “69 Love Songs” and all the gore of a disembodied hand, The Gothic Archies will leave the bravest of us adults unable to sleep without the closet light left on.
I was first introduced to Brazilian singer/composer Caetano Veloso back in the ’90s, by an album produced by David Byrne, “Beleza Tropical.” Veloso makes several appearances on the compilation, including the charming “Leozinho” and the haunting “Terra.” Over the years, his presence in the US grew to a pinnacle of sorts with “Cucurrrucucù Paloma” from the soundtrack of Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her.” This is the Caetano Veloso I expected when I got a hold of a copy of his new realease, “Cê.” The signature sound is still there, especially on songs like the lilting “Homem” and the eerie “Wally Salamão.” Veloso takes the music someplace entirely different, though, in this album co-produced by his son, Moreno. It’s a schizophrenically brilliant recording, infused with the sound of loud rock guitars and the dissonance of the avant garde. Jobim, Tom Waits, Ella Fitzgerald the list goes on of echoes I hear in the music. Like his friend and sometime collaborator David Byrne, Veloso walks the edge of what is popular and makes sense, keeping the music intriguing and unfamiliar, while allowing it to be accessible and close to the heart.
“Slow New York”
Low on cheesy hooks and high on assonance and alliteration, Julian’s country- and jazz- tinged tunes channel the mood of Gram Parsons and the lyrical acrobatics of Gilbert and Sullivan. More often than not you’ll also hear a hefty helping of Randy Newman, who himself calls Julian “One of the best songwriters and record makers I’ve heard in a very long time.” Probably the aspect Julian shares most with Newman is that wicked and somewhat inappropriate sense of humor, which, despite the warm and woody tone of the album, is omnipresent. From the song “Damn”: “You still got some of your baby fat so where’d you learn to talk like that? Damn.” His band is populated with some of the best of NYC’s musical community. Norah Jones makes a subtle appearance as a background singer, Kenny Wollesen plays the hell out of the drums, and John Dryden makes magic on his Hammond organ. Live, even at a solo show, Julian is fiery and funny, so please be smart and don’t miss his him at the American Songbook series at Lincoln Center on February 22nd. Sasha Dobson and Jesse Harris fill out the bill.
ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL
“Reinventing the Wheel”
All of you who swear on the New York City Subway System that you do not like country music, I entreat you to sit through one rotation of Asleep at the Wheel’s new recording, “Reinventing the Wheel.” Clever lyrics, speed-demon picking, and lightness of spirit characterize great Western Swing, and Asleep at the Wheel a phenomenon since the ’70s is one of America’s most gifted purveyors of the genre. This disc contains a mix of classics from the likes of Bob Wills, as well as fun covers like the Copa Cobana-esque “This Old Cowboy” by Toy Caldwell. A sexy, swinging rendition of Johnny Mercer’s “I’m an Old Cowhand (from the Rio Grande)” is sung to perfection by band member Elizabeth McQueen. An appearance by the Blind Boys of Alabama and killer original tunes by Wheel’s Ray Benson and Jason Roberts complete this traditional, refreshing and sometime surprising CD that would leave the most hardened Brooklyn Boy bopping in the seat of his Escalade. Buy your tickets now to their show at Radio City Music Hall on March 22nd.
“Confessions of an Indiegirl”
When podcasting first came into existence a few years ago, it proved itself a very efficient way for indie artists to share their music, as podcasts are free from chronological and geographical restrictions. Even better, spins on a popular podcast translate directly into dollars via iTunes music store sales. Bari Koral was among the first wave of podcasting musicians, and her tune “Aspiring Angel” from her album “Confessions of an Indiegirl” became the podcasting equivalent of a top-ten hit. Koral has a sweet voice that oscillates somewhere between little-girl cooing and early Liz Phair grit tempered with Aimee Mann’s somber delivery. The record is full of catchy, solid, mostly original folk-pop tunes as well as a sweetly plaintive version of “Midnight Train to Georgia.” The disc shares a title with Koral’s first novel, a collection of stories about the unpredictable road life of this driven, hardworking, grassroots-oriented, technologically groundbreaking musician. See her live at The Living Room (154 Ludlow Street) Saturday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. $5 suggested cover.
“Hop the Fence”
BePop Records (www.Lipbone.com)
From the first note of his unique horn, Redding stands out from the sullen crew of singer/songwriters playing the small rooms of the East Village. His genuinely warm spirit infuses his soulful voice, spot-on falsetto and strangely legit “lipbone.” What’s a lipbone? As Redding explains on the back of “Hop the Fence,” it “Sounds like a Trombone, Looks like a Human Being, Doesn’t need to be checked on the plane.” See, Redding gets his nickname and his gimmick from the art of playing trombone not with a trombone, but with his mouth. While listening in fascination, I marvel at how something that seems so silly on paper can fit so seamlessly into an energetic and musically tight show. Redding’s new CD includes only one cover (a bluesy, rambling “16 tons”) and 11 originals. Honed in subway stations and city streets the world over, The Redding Orchestra’s likeable-hippy lyrics, funky bass and drums and itinerant preacher spirit will draw you in over bottles of red wine at his local haunt, Jules Bistro (65 St. Marks Place). See him live there: Fri, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m., Feb. 18 at noon, and Feb. 21 at 8:30 p.m.
Lee Ann Westover is the lead singer of The Lascivious Biddies, a cocktail pop quartet that performs regularly in New York. Their next show is at BAM Café on March 17. For more info, and to hear their music, visit www.biddies4ever.com.