March 30, 2014
If you’ve lived in New York City anytime during the past 40 years or so, you’ve no doubt heard of and shopped in J&R. They started in a single store on Park Row with stereo equipment on the street level and records in the basement. Over the years they grew to include almost every storefront (with the single exception of a hardware store) on the block of Park Row between Ann Street and Beekman Place. And as they physically expanded, their range of merchandise expanded beyond records and audio to include computers, cameras, video, housewares, office equipment and other things I’m sure I’ve left out.
I hadn’t been to J&R for six months, maybe more. The last time I was there, I saw that they had closed the camera store and the close out store next to it. Since that time, they’ve closed every other store on the block and have moved everything into the stores that sit on the corner of Ann Street and the next building. According to an article in the New York Times from late October, this was just a planned modernization on the part of J&R.
But walking into J&R yesterday was a total shock. The music department is a mere shell of its former self. There’s not much stock left, and what is there is obscure stuff you’ve never heard of, much of it used. Signs declared that all music is now 50% off.
Leaving the music department, I looked around at a few areas. Where I did look seemed to have a limited selection of things. Then there’s this: the copyright notice on the J&R website shows the owner to be RNYK, LLC, doing business as J&R.
While I don’t know exactly what is going on at J&R, it seems very clear to me that the music department is shutting down shortly. Whatever happens with the rest of the business, I do know that whatever J&R was, it isn’t any more.
March 29, 2014
Each day during SXSW 2014, I provided a “box score” listing the bands I saw the preceding day. I’ve collected them all here, so that those who are interested can find all the bands I saw and my capsule opinion of them in one place and not have to scroll from post to post.
|East Cameron Folkcore
||This nine piece band includes trombone, cello and male and female backup singers, and really likes electric guitar solos. They started the show with a rant about The Machine. If Pink Floyd were an Americana band The Wall would have sounded like this show.
|Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison
||Perfect country perfectly played, with the bonus of Kelly’s unique voice that seems to be able to tap directly into my nervous system. A homer run, as always!
||Nakia was backed by a six piece band with percussion and keys. His songs are a mix of 60s pop and soul, with electric guitar solos thrown into the mix. Perhaps not the best show to evaluate, as they keyboards were almost totally lost in the mix.
|Caught A Ghost
||Soul tinged pop was the stock in trade for this LA band. They have an interesting instrumental mix with guitar, keys drums percussion and sax. The male and female lead singers kept everything upbeat and fun.
| Madi Diaz
|| I’ve wanted to catch Madi ever since I saw her join Harper Blynn for a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain two years ago (you can see that video here). I wish the wait had not been so long. Madi led a three piece band (keys, drums and electric guitar) with a very full sound and played upbeat atmospheric rock. A great close to the night and definitely a home run!
||Kelly played with a trio but one which provider her with a very full sound. She played alt country and Americana with strong vocals and very good songwriting. A hit!
||Played solo; an excellent guitarist
||An 81 year old Chicago bluesman who sounded just as you would imaging, but with some additional funk in his bag of tricks.
|The Howlin’ Brothers
||Old time country trio (guitar, bass and violin or banjo) who played with verve and passion.
||Bonnie has been around the scene, both in NYC and Austin for a while. Today she played with a trio and her set rocked, especially when she moved over to her brand new electric guitar. A hit!
|Blackie and The Rodeo Kings
||Instead of a band this time around, we got just the three frontmen. But Colin, Stephen and Tom, played guitars (and sometimes mandolin and dobro) like their lives depended on it and rocked the audience. A hit!
||This time out, Alejandro played with a classic four piece band and stuck with his most rocking songs. A hit!
||Dayna played solo, sticking to torchy and bluesy songs. Her powerful voice wowed the audience and won her a bunch of new fans. A hit!
||Benjamin played electric guitar and was accompanied by a drummer. Everything was cranked up so high that the music overwhelmed the sound system. What we got was sonic mush.
||Pop with twin female leads. Musically diverse and interesting. Striking attention has been paid to the visual elements of the band including matching clothes and hair styles.
||First time I’ve seen Lucinda in a dozen years. She played a mix of older stuff and songs from a forthcoming double album. The performance was classic Lucinda.
|A Great Big World
||Combine Ben Folds, Billy Joel, The Kinks, Simon and Garfunkle, The Bonzo Dog Band, and add freshness and enthusiasm and you can get an idea where this tremendously entertaining band is coming from.
|Parsons Red Head
||A classic four piece band playing psychedelic rock and 60s jangle pop including some guitar licks probably not played in the last 40 years. They’re from Oregon, but if they play NYC in the future I’d see them.
|The Split Squad
||This version of the band had a a couple of substitutions for regualr band members. They played straight ahead rock with a big debt to the 60s and 70s.
|The Baseball Project
||The Baseball Project this time around included Mike Mills and Fenway organist Josh Kantor but not Peter Buck. The set introduced songs from 3rd, the new BBP record due out in two weeks. Subjects of those new songs include the Oakland As, Cuban ball players, Bernie Williams, Dale Murphy (written by Mike Mills) and A-Rod. A hit for extra bases!
|Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3
||This time out, it was more like Steve and The Miracle 4 with Scott McCaughey playing base and Josh Kantor again on organ. If you are a regular reader here, you already know that I think that SW+M3 are the best rock band out there. This short but intense and cathartic set just proves that point. A home run!
||Louise played piano, uke and guitar. Her voice is similar to that of Jill Sobule. However her voice seemed to undercut her first two songs (on piano). Whatever the problem was, it did not reappear for the rest of the set, which was pleasant.
||This band is from South Africa, where, we were told, they are huge. But only 2 of the 4 band members showed so I’m not sure what ultimately they were supposed to sound like. This set was played with just an amplified acoustic guitar and percussion. Their songs have Dylan like lyrical complexity and some of them had some Beatle like melodies. But after a while the songs began sounding the same to me.
|Ruby the Rabbitfoot
||This guitar, bass and sometimes keyboard trio sounds like a more languid Victoria Williams. Ultimately they did not command my attention
||This set consisted solely of songs off of The Mastersons’ record due out June 17th, Good Luck Charm. Even if this was the fourth show they played on Thursday, they and their new material sounded great and the wonderful harmonies of Chris and Eleanor are there in the songs. A hit!
||Laura played with a full band and included songs from her new album and older material as well. Consistently enjoyable alt country.
You’ll find Friday and Saturday after the jump Read the rest of this entry »
March 28, 2014
Aaron Lee Tasjan released Crooked River Burning, a new EP, earlier this week, which yesterday went to #1 on the iTunes Singles/EP chart. The lead off song from that record is Don’t Walk Away. Here is a live version of that song recorded professionally at The Rockwood Music Hall a few months back.
March 27, 2014
Writing about music is like dancing about architecture, or at least that’s how the old saying goes. It’s only partially true: if a music writer does the job well, you’ll at least have an idea of what the music sounds like and be able to determine whether or not you be interested in following up what you read.
But at The Knitting Factory on Tuesday night, Alana Amram and The Rough Gems put me in the position of having to agree that sometimes, words just aren’t enough. I can tell you that Alana writes country inflected languid songs which she sings in a powerful yet velvety voice. I’m able to continue that Alana played rhythm guitar and The Rough Gems consisted of Philip Sterk on pedal steel guitar (which was also used as lead guitar), James Preston on bass and Taylor Floreth on drums. And it’s only challenging to note how long they played because I didn’t write it down, but it was someplace between 75 and 90 minutes.
But what is hard is trying to describe how emotional and how moving this performance was. Early on and throughout the show, Alana and the band hit that spot that music fans have. I’ve always described it as the place that a Neil Young guitar solo hits. But this time it wasn’t just a guitar, or a voice. It was just everything coming off that stage.
I saw James Preston Wednesday night and he said that the band thought that it was the best show that they had ever played. He was right of course; it had to be.
And so this morning I’m left search for words and dancing about architecture. What I can say is that I saw an amazing show on Tuesday night and if Alana Amram and The Rough Gems make to your neighborhood make sure you get out there and see them.
March 26, 2014
Aaron Lee Tasjan is back in town from East Nashville where he moved last year. Aaron will be playing the release show for Crooked River Burning, his album released yesterday by Rockwood Music Hall Recordings. Aaron has been on the road lately, playing with such guitar greats as Chuck Prophet and Steve Wynn. I’m sure tonight’s show, which Aaron will be playing with a band at Rockwood Stage 2, will be a barn burner.
Once Aaron is finished, just head through the curtain next to the stage and walk through the short hallway. You’ll then find yourself in Rockwood Stage 3. Once you’ve paid the person at the head of the stairs, head downstairs. There you’ll find singer-songwriter Misty Boyce, playing in trio formation. Misty had a wonderful EP last year, Tough Love, and is currently working on, and has a Pledge Music campaign going on for, a new full length record, The Life. Opening for Misty (as well as backing her up) will be fellow New Mexico musician Tiffany Christopher.
Aaron Lee Tasjan, Rockwood Stage 2, 196 Allen Street between Houston and Stanton Streets (F Train to 2nd Avenue, use the 1st Avenue exit), 8pm, No Cover (but a contribution for the band is highly recommended)
Misty Boyce, (Tiffany Christopher opens), Rockwood Stage 3, 185 Orchard Street between Houston and Stanton Streets (F Train to 2nd Avenue, use the 1st Avenue exit), 9:45pm, $10 with a $10 drink minimum.
March 25, 2014
When I first met her a few years back, Alana Amram was playing Union Hall and Union Pool and she joked that she would only play clubs with Union in their name. That was then.
Last year, Alana pulled up stakes and moved from NYC out to LA. But before she left she recorded a new record. That album, Spring River, is now out and tonight Alana Amram and The Rough Gems will play the record release show for it at The Knitting Factory, which. of course, does not have Union in its name.
Alana is a powerfully voiced singer who started out with country music but who has veered into music that combines elements of country with elements from other genres into a sound that is both wonderful and beyond just a simple description.
Alana Amram and The Rough Gems, The Knitting Factory, 361 Metropolitan Avenue at Havemeyer Street, Williamsburg (G Train to Metropolitan Avenue or L Train to Lorimer Street), $12, doors 8pm / show 8:30pm (Alana’s set probably after 10pm)