This week: three artists who sound just right for summer. Then some pontificating, followed by some gallivanting.
Jason Reischel, Brown Bridge & Green Bridge
Reviewers are imperfect creatures. How we hear and react to something can vary with circumstances. When I first listened to this CD a couple of weeks ago it barely registered on my consciousness. Then I listened to it while slogging through a smelly, 100-degree New York City heat wave, and it was positively refreshing even through crappy speakers. "A Lullaby" and "Roses" set the folky tone with Reischel's gentle Paul Simonlike vocals and dexterous acoustic guitar work. The feel is Elliot Smith meets Tim Buckley, but there is also an outsider quality to the loose, almost sloppy way in which the instrumental tracks are put together. Reischel's voice is so wrong for bluesy songs like "Down & Out," "Torn in Two" and "Acres of Diamonds" that he casts a skewed little spell, while gloomier tracks like the haunting "Locked Door" and the spare "Where Are You Tonight?" are heirs to Townes Van Zandt's sad songs. Reischel's pretty melodies do not aim for hookiness, but the CD works as irony-free parlor music.
The Weary Boys, Jumpin' Jolie
The Weary Boys' fifth CD, in as many years, shows the hardworking guitar-and-fiddle roots band in fine form. Though based in Austin TX, they sound much more like backwoods stompers than Austin-Americana scenesters. Thirteen mostly jolly two-and-three chord folk songs, some written by the band members, driven by full-on harmonies, fiddle, and Telecaster, should be enough to bring anyone out of a funk. There's a variety of styles on display, from love songs ("Your the One I Care For") and country-bluegrass dances, "Hoot Owl". From Chuck Berry rock and roll ("Baby's Got a Hold On Me") to Hank Williams-style Western soul ("California Sunset"). Plus local color via straightforward versions of "Jambalaya" and "Vaya Con Dios" – but every song sounds like the Weary Boys, and that's fine by me. They know how to write 'em and they know how to pick 'em. The energy is a wee bit more laid-back than you might expect from a band with two guitars, bass, drums and violin, but they are called weary after all. Just remember your bug spray, and you'll like cooling off with the Weary Boys' latest.
Available at the Weary Boys website.
Andrew Vladeck, self-titled
New York City banjo icon, Andrew Vladeck's vivid story-songs are made of the best elements of rock, soul and American roots music. In his shaky but cutting vocals and graphically descriptive lyrics you can hear a little Dylan, a little Springsteen, and some blue-eyed soul a la Leon Russell ("3,000 Miles," "What We Gonna Do!"). "Ringaleevio," named after a run-and-hide game I haven't thought about since third grade, sounds like Lou Reed (and he's even got a song called "Coney Island Baby.") One could go on picking out specific influences in other songs too, but that wouldn't do Vladeck justice because they stand on their own. His "Coney Island Baby" is an intense paean to the ancient beach and amusement strip that never ceases to inspire songwriters, novelists and other romantics. Vladeck is a musical citizen of the world with an original voice, crafting appealing songs that twist and turn in surprising ways, both musically and storywise. Imagine if Dylan's "Hurricane" had a happy ending, and you might get Vladeck's "Justice Is Served." These lyrics from "Chinatown" encapsulate both his New York-centric sense of place and the universality of his stories and images: "You can go to China/or wherever you think will do/But you're not gonna find happiness unless you bring it with you/You got a long way to China and I got Chinatown."
OUT AND ABOUT: Heard a story the other day about an indie artist, who shall remain unnamed, being shopped to a major label A&R person (who shall remain unnamed) by an artist rep (who shall remain, etc.) The first question the A&R person asked was not "How old is he?" or "What does he look like?" – which, sadly, are what we'd expect – but rather, "How many Myspace friends does he have?" Now, we all know that people at major record labels don't have a clue about music, and are concerned instead with looks and with whether a band has gotten a good-sized fan base on its own. But this particular A&R lackey didn't seem to have a clue about promotion and popularity either. It should be common knowledge among those in the business of popular culture that anyone who has a litle persistence and a bunch of time to sit in front of a computer can amass tens of thousands of Myspace "friends" faster than you can say "Love Potion Number Nine." No wonder signed artists are fleeing the labels just as fast as their contracts end, while up-and-coming bands are avoiding them like the plague… Speaking of indies, last night folk-blues master Pat Wictor brought a group from his Manhattan Songwriters' Circle to my local Brooklyn haunt, Night and Day. And while Pat's and Meg Braun's sweet music was no surprise, the discovery of the night was the solo performance by singer/songwriter and Dobro player Abbie Gardner, known to me previously only as part of Red Molly. Gardner has an arch bluesiness, and a voice that's warm as ice and cool as a New York summer, but she can sure write a song too. (Note: her dad is jazz trombonist Herb Gardner who is affiliated with the Smith Street Society Jazz Band. When I was a kid my own dad used to take us to Nathan's in Oceanside, NY – the huge old Nathan's with the separate counters for each item of food – to see that very band on Dixieland Night. How 'bout that!)… The Animators rocked up the Living Room last week. A band to seriously watch… Katell Keineg, whose praises I've been singing, mostly unheard, for years, has suddenly leapt from playing the aforementioned Living Room to the much bigger Bowery Ballroom, all because of this New York Times Magazine profile (unfortunately it's "Times Select" so you have to pay for it if you don't subscribe to that service). I'd be there on August 18 to see Katell if I didn't have a gig the same night with my band, Whisperado, at the legendary Hank's Saloon. 9 PM, by the way.
Until next time… happy listening!