CARS HOMES JOBS

Jukebox: Road trip provides chance to dig new albums

Thursday, September 20, 2012
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While I’ve been urging many musical road trips on you, my own latest highway run was to see my daughter last Saturday near Bard, while she visited her pianist/drummer boyfriend (who’s still at Bard — and, yes, that WAS Leonard Nimoy at Bard graduation) from her new home in Boston.

So, my road trip wasn’t necessarily for music; it was for dinner at Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck. But it was perfect for listening, for catching up on CDs from record companies, artists or Amazon.

•  First up: “Bloom” by Beach House, one of those “cute indie bands,” as she puts it, that my daughter favors. Smoother and more unified than its three (equally highly praised) predecessors, the newest by the Baltimore dream pop duo lacks a head-and-shoulders standout single, but that feels like a strength here. So do its engaging melodies and distinctive keyboard-generated sound.

•  Next: “Black Dub.” As jagged as “Bloom” is smooth, this bluesy four-piece revolves around big-name producer/guitarist Daniel Lanois (U2), but its voice is Trixie Whitley. When I met her late, great father, Chris Whitley, backstage at the Bearsville Theater years ago, I noted the childish ballpoint scrawls on his guitar. He smiled and said, “Trixie did it,” and she did this, too. The band is hot and capable, but her vocals — I hear Janis Joplin, Nina Simone and Tina Turner in there — give it a distinctive signature.

•   “Another Country” by Cassandra Wilson. My physics professor friend John Michael put Wilson’s voice through an oscilloscope — he does this with lots of singers — and found her voice graphs out as a perfect sine wave, the only singer like that; and Time magazine has proclaimed her “America’s best singer.”

But this collaboration with guitarist-producer Fabrizio Sotti didn’t hit me with the “two-geniuses in tune” force of her albums with Craig Street. Still, a Cassandra Wilson creative detour is worth most other singers’ masterpieces.

•   “Mozart” by Richard Goode. Any classical fan knows the sonatas and shorter pieces here, and some might say we don’t need more Mozart recordings after a century of masterworks by great performers. But Goode’s precise touch, carefully modulated feeling and sensitivity would likely win over even the hardest-to-please aficionado of Horowitz, Rubinstein, Ashkenazy or Serkin.

Mozart demands, and rewards, velocity; and Goode has that — but also a delicious delicacy in slow passages.

•   “Alone at the Vanguard” by Fred Hersch. The first pianist to play the Village Vanguard for a week solo (in 2005), Hersch chose to release the last set of a weeklong 2010 return engagement. In between, he disappeared into an AIDS-related coma and had to relearn how to walk, talk and play.

As with John Prine, who bounced back after cancer, this near-death experience gave Hersch greater depth, but also a jaunty humor. Like Goode, he gets around the notes really, really well; and you can feel that he really means them.

I Amazon’ed this one and would consider it a bargain just for the opener, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” — a nightcap like an old single-malt scotch.

•   “Strawberry” by Wussy. Robert Christgau has proclaimed: “Wussy have been the best band in America since they released the first of their five superb albums in 2005, only nobody knows it except me and my friends.” He’s bragging on his taste, of course; but he’s not wrong. The same bone-deep conviction that powers Hersch’s playing goes loud here: It’s rock ’n’ roll, by four Cincinnatians who work day jobs, and not easy ones, either.

Main songwriter Chuck Cleaver (also of the Ass Ponys) is a stonemason, and singer Lisa Walker — think Joni Mitchell with stronger rock chops, a siren of soul — waits on tables, for example. So, it’s blue-collar, dirty-fingernails rock ’n’ roll, and it’s wonderful in a way that few things are.

The songs and sounds aren’t quite as varied as on “Black Dub,” but that’s a restless record shaped by the recognition the band might be too volatile to continue long, so Lanois crams in everything.

“Strawberry” impresses because of how astoundingly beautiful it is, while also sounding completely conventional. This music feels like that memory you get with old friends remembering what was on the jukebox in that bar, way back there, remember?

Driving back up the Hudson Valley on Saturday night, I let my CD player restart “Strawberry” automatically as soon as it ended. And as its last songs came around again, flashes lit the sky. Couldn’t be lightning, I thought. Then, as I passed below Olana, I spotted fireworks across the river, somewhere in Catskill; and they flashed, neon’ed and tore the sky in spidery bright glows as I crossed the river. I turned up “Strawberry.” Perfect.

SHORT CUTS

Pianist Arturo O’Farrill led a huge (and great!) band at Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival in June, and he returns in a quartet on Saturday to play the Wedgewood Inn (267 Main St.) in Schoharie. O’Farrill plays a 4 p.m. gig with trumpeter Jim Seeley, percussionist Joe Gonzalez and local hero Gregg August playing bass. Admission is $25. Phone 295-7663.

You’ve seen ’em 100 times, but probably never in person. Bassist Will Lee and drummer Anton Figg play nightly in Paul Shaffer’s CBS Orchestra on “The Late Show With David Letterman.” On Saturday, they’ll be at The Egg backing guitarist Eric Johnson, the Austin Stratocaster strangler who won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Cliffs of Dover” in 1991. Lee and Figg normally play with guitarists Sid McGinnis and (Albany born) Felicia Collins on “The Late Show,” often backing guest musicians on the show. So they’re as versatile as Johnson, a play-anything powerhouse. Show time is 7:30 p.m. Phone 473-1845 or visit www.theegg.org.

Keller Williams uses loops to accompany himself, a one-man band when he’s not collaborating with the String Cheese Incident, the Traveling McCourys and others. Williams hits the Upstate Concert Hall Stage on Friday at 9 p.m. (doors 8 p.m.) in one-man-band mode. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 on Friday. Phone 371-0022 or visit www.upstateconcerthall.com.

Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at hochanadel@dailygazette.net.

 
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