It’s Spring Fever – Fresh Albums!

It’s that time of year again, springing forth into the biosphere are albums from some extraordinarily talented people who are associated in one way or another with the Long Island City music scene. I’m talking about Niall Connolly, Shelly Bhushan, Natalie Mishell and Anthony Mulcahy. Well that’s just some of the albums that are in the can, wrapped and ready to go, then there is music in the pipeline from Casey BlackMatt Sucich (already available), Little Embers and Jeneen Terrana.

But first my hearty congratulations to Gus Rodriguez and Anthony Rizzo for writing and performing the music for a new TV series, “Maron” featuring comedian Marc Maron.

Gus Rodriguez

Gus Rodriguez

Anthony Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo

Check out the title song here::
https://soundcloud.com/search?q=White%20Iris%20Records%2C%20Four%20on%20the%20Floor%20-%20Poisoned%20Well

And the trailer for the  IFC show:

http://www.ifc.com/maron/videos/maron-trailer

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Niall Connolly with Dennis Cronin and Brandon Wilde at Rockwood

Niall Connolly with Dennis Cronin and Brandon Wilde at Rockwood

Cork man, Big City Folk convenor and LIC Bar regular Niall Connolly has just returned from a European tour, playing music from his new album Sound. Check out his video for the single from the album, “Samurai”:

“Sound”  is Niall’s best album to date, it is  blessed with superb musical colaborators: Brandon Wilde (bass, piano, guitars and handclaps), Warren Malone (guitar and vocals), Dennis Cronin (trumpet, piano and Vibraphonette) and Len Montachello (drums)  plus guests Chris Foley, EW Harris and Christy McNamara, and great production from Brandon Wilde.

“Sound” shows off Niall Connolly’s wit, political acumen, romance and humanity in a selection of memorable songs that make you think, sing along and sometimes to simply shout out from the rooftops. Niall is clearly a popular man around town; the audience at his shows know his songs and sing along to such favorites as “Skin and Bones” (from the album “Brother the fight is Fixed”) and the newer anthems like (on this album) “Lily of the Mohawks” which moves along like a flaming house on a backyard trailer. “Come back to the table” is aimed at those who are with us , but not with us, as they message on their  devices instead of being present, a song that is brilliantly followed (on the physical album only, not the download) by a surprise track.

I’ve listened to this album many times now and it nevers tires on me; in fact it grows and grows and still sends shivers down my spine. The songs are so good.

Sound is an album that rocks in the ways that Dylan and Lennon rock, with biting rhythms and sharply articulated lyrics. It is pop of the best kind – organic and grown-from-the-roots, not plastic genetically modified pop. Niall Connolly clearly cares about people and the country that he now calls home.

Niall Connolly at the launch of "Sound" at Rockwood Music Hall, New York

Niall Connolly at the launch of “Sound” at Rockwood Music Hall, New York

You can buy “Sound” here:

http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/NiallConnolly

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/sound/id633535655

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Shelly Bhushan‘s new album “Something out of Nothing” is the fruit of much serious songwriting and performance. Her collaboration with bass player Harry Cordew, Ben Hoffstein on keyboard  and husband John Celantano on drums is well known around New York and Long Island City. They are a well rehearsed band who know each other well enough to produce tight performances that support but don’t dominate Shelly’s strong soulful voice.

Shelly Bhushan launches "Something out of Nothing"

Shelly Bhushan launches “Something out of Nothing”at Rockwood Music Hall

“Something out of Nothing” contains some songs that are new and others that have been sharpened in performance over the past few years and which are now recorded for the first time. At her album launch at Rockwood Music Hall (probably the best listening venue in New York) Shelly almost apologized for the number of ballads on the album. She has no need to apologize. Although well known for her powerful soulful voice (that can really rock) the slower songs offer variation and give her the chance to show herself as a sensitive singer who can pour a different kind of soul into her work. I especially like “Intoxication”, a moody track that uses a simple guitar, bass and drum backing to support Shelly’s smokier vocal style. The same goes for “Moon”, the simple piano accompaniment giving a sense that Shelly is performing just for you in a small club, or even your living room. In songs like this Shelly reminds me of India Arie; but she is no imitator and has a distinct style of her own that shines in recording and performance. “Digging in deep” is a bluesy song that resonates with Shelly’s earliest work as a singer with a swing band, drawing from a considerable pedigree of performance across many styles.

In a shift of genre Shelly shows her country music side with “Blinded”, a memorable song that, in its simplicity, makes its points directly and without fuss. In general this sums up my feel for this album. Although it has some sophsticated production elements (sound effects) the overall impression is of an honest album that shows off performance and talent rather than complex production. Shelly’s songs are strong and stand to be simply sung with guitar, piano or band, yet I can see that they also have potential in more elaborate arrangements, with perhaps strings and horns. In that way I believe that this album will help Shelly’s progress as a musician – singer AND songwriter. It’s good to have this new album on the shelves, joining her three other solo albums: Picking Daisies, The Shelly Show  and Beautiful Me as examples of her work as a singer of great talent and musical personality.You can buy all her albums, including “Something out of Nothing” here:

http://www.cdbaby.com/artist/ShellyBhushan

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/something-out-of-nothing/id646625866

SB_ALBUM_ART_10

Check out also my biographical “Artist Portrait” interview with Shelly on itunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/artist-portrait-shelly-bhushan/id523786622?i=118277415&mt=2

or:
Listen to this episode

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Anthony Mulcahy at the Big City Folk Festival at LIC Bar in July 2012

Anthony Mulcahy at the Big City Folk Festival at LIC Bar in July 2012

Another member of the Big City Folk Collective is Anthony Mulcahy. Originally from the small seaside village of Bonmahon in County Waterford, Ireland, he has the launch for his 2nd CD  coming up at Rockwood Music Hall on Saturday May 18th. “For My Sins” follows the successul “Lazy Days” album with the launch show this week featuring  his regular band of Jenny Dunne – Vocals, Taryn Lounsbury – Violin and Vocals and Barry Kornhauser – Cello; with the addition of the ubiquitous Brandon Wilde – Bass and Vocals, and Shawn Crowder – Drums.

Anthony is another regular performer at LIC bar, in the winter Sunday shows organized by Niall Connolly. Although quite the joker he is very serious about his music, with high standards in performance, writing and recording. He’s also a very generous man, recently raising funds for the Bonmahon lifeboat station, from which the lifeboat foundered in January 2012, with the loss of two crew and three seamen.

http://anthonymulcahy.bandcamp.com/track/tit-bonhomme-lifeboat-fundraiser

From what I have heard so far “For My Sins”  is a an album of melody and melancholy. Check out the track “Carry On”, featuring Niall Connolly.

Talking about the album Anthony says:

The ideas for the songs is kind of split in two: on the one hand I hear my New York friends telling me stories of crazy stuff that has happened in their lives and I built ideas from that, on the other hand as a way to deal with my never ending homesickness. I try to remember certain things from my childhood or from a night out during the hey day and try to bring those memories back to life.
I’m very pleased with how it turned out and I feel the same way about it as I did with my first record “Lazy Days”. It’s more to do with the personal achievement for me really, rather than looking for popular success.

I penned 9 of the 10 tracks. The only one which was co-written was “skipping stones” which was lyrically put together by Jenny Dunne and I and was drawn up from an original idea I had done with Welsh singer/songwriter Fflur Dafydd back in 2005. Niall Connolly features as a guest vocal on “Carry On” and is actually the only guest on the album. Nialls contribution to the original live music scene in New York is the backbone of a lot of these Big City Folk albums.

 Check out Anthony’s single “Lovers of the night”, performed here live on his recent tour of Ireland.

you can buy the single (and the album, when released) from:

http://www.mulmusic.com/music.cfm

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/AnthonyMulcahy

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Natalie Mishell in performance at LIC Bar

Natalie Mishell in performance at LIC Bar

Last of the new albums for this edition is the latest from Natalie Mishell; another regular singer at LIC Bar, performer across New York and wider still. Her new album “Goodnight Stranger” will be launched at Rockwood on Thursday May 24th. This is her first full length album, following her earlier EP “In My Shoes”. I’ve heard three tracks from the album and am impressed by the range of style and authenticity of Natalie’s writing and performance. Goodnight Stranger is the result of a colaboration between Natalie and producer J.P.Bowerstock (ex. Ryan Adams),  with songs that originated from what she calls a “grey period” in her life, though they are not all miserable songs – just reflections on life and change.

As Natalie Mishell & Co. she’s joined on the album by long-time drummer Neil Nunziato, newcomer (and “Walking for Pennies” member) Neeley Bridges, guitarist Neil Cavanagh, Billy Grant on keyboard  and bass player Tony Oppenheimer. The basics of the album were recorded in a 10 hour stretch, with vocals added later, except for one track, “My Peace” which survived untouched from the original studio session.

Check out “Blue Moon” from the album:

https://soundcloud.com/natalie-mishell/02-blue-moon#play

Natalie Mishell

Natalie Mishell

Also check out my full length biographical interview with Natalie in the “Artist Portrait” series which includes two tracks from the album, including “My Peace”:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/artist-portrait-natalie-mishell/id523786622?i=153661157&mt=2

or:
Listen to this episode

goodnight strangerNatalie Mishell and Co. play at Rockwood Music Hall 2, Allen Street, just off E. Houston, at 7pm on Thursday May 23rd. Opening performer will be the very talented Julie Kathryn, in a solo set.

Julie Kathryn at Spike Hill in a Rockethub Showcase

Julie Kathryn at Spike Hill in a Rockethub Showcase

The Return of the Queens

Wednesday night, January 23rd, is a special night at LIC bar, (corner of Vernon Boulevard and 46th Avenue, www.licbar.com). Local stars Jeneen Terrana and Little Embers offer new and old favorites in a night of music which starts with Astoria resident, the very talented singer/songwriter Michael Zuko (http://www.myspace.com/michaelzuko) in a return visit to this iconic LIC venue.

Jeneen Terrana (http://www.jeneenterrana.com) is almost as well known as a TV cook as she is a singer, from her recent appearance in “Home Made in America”, the Food Network showcase for down-home American cooks. In this show she demonstrated her four layer chocolate cheesecake (absolutely delicious!), and describes how she used her abilities as a pastry chef to raise money for her last album. Parts of the show were filmed at LIC Bar. You can view it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-SxDY4Qx7M

Jeneen Terrana with Neil Nunziato (Drums), Anthony Lanni (Guitar), Gus Rodriguez (guitar and Voice), Michele Riganese (voice) and Dan Ke'enthaahal (Bass)

Jeneen Terrana recording for The Food Network at LIC Bar with Neil Nunziato (Drums), Anthony Lanni (Guitar), Gus Rodriguez (guitar and Voice), Michele Riganese (voice) and Dan Ke’enthaahal (Bass)

As a singer Jeneen has a pure, accurate voice and writes memorable and lyrical songs in a folk/country style with a tip of a hat to her Italian roots. She will be playing with a full band that includes talented guitarists Antony Lanni and Charlie Rauh, together with violinist Concetta Abbate this week in a session that starts at 9:00pm, with Michael at 8:00 and Little Embers at 10:00.

Little Embers and Anthony Rizzo at LIC Bar

Little Embers and Anthony Rizzo at LIC Bar

Little Embers (http://www.myspace.com/littleembers) last appeared at LIC bar in August, in her last show before the birth of a baby daughter, Lucianna in November. This week’s show, like the previous one, will be an intimate performance with her husband, Anthony Rizzo on electric guitar. She sings a mix of country/rock songs in an individual style that can sometimes evoke tears and sometimes rock the house down, especially when she plays with a full band.

Together with other local singers Shelly Bhushan (http://www.shellybhushan.com)and Michele Riganese (www.micheleriganese.com); Jeneen and Little Embers have collaborated as the “Queens of Queens” in performances in Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as a residency at LIC Bar last May. Don’t be surprised if there is more creative collaboration this Wednesday night.

The shows are free, with an expectation that you buy drinks and offer donations to the tip jar for each performer. If you haven’t been to LIC Bar you are in for a treat!

For more on Jeneen and Little Embers check out my podcasts on itunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sometime-in-long-island-city/id523786622?mt=2

Inspired in LIC

It’s been a while since I blogged. I’ve been overseas and also busy finishing my first series of “Artist Portrait” podcasts (see below). Meanwhile I’ve been listening to some impressive music making in the neighbourhood.

The Domaine Wine Bar had a Summer Jazz festival last week and I was very fortunate to catch my favourite trio (Broc Hempel, Sam Trapchak and Christian Coleman) in full swing with guest Greg Ward on sax on the first night. Greg Ward is an impressive player, a real star who travels widely around the world with his music. To be able to hear these talented artists so close to home is a real privilege.

On Wednesday we had the extra privilege of hearing jazz virtuoso Jean-Michel Pilc (http://www.jeanmichelpilc.com) perform two solo piano sets. This man is a genius of the piano. In what seemed to be a series of extemporisations, he drew from the history of western music (especially 20th century classical, jazz and popular music) in creating moving and exciting sounds from the bar’s small upright instrument. If you search for  Jean-Michel on the internet you will find video of him playing grand piano in grand spaces, solo or with small groups. Here we had him by himself, playing for  us in a little bar just by the subway entrance on Vernon Boulevard.

Jean-Michel Pilc playing at Domaine bar a vins

For me this was one of the most profound and enjoyable musical experiences of my 18 months in New York. In bar settings like this you can always expect a mixed audience, but the contrast between the sheer wonders of Jean-Michel’s playing and the loud bar crowd, who for the most part did not seem to want to listen, was a challenge to my ability to focus and just enjoy the music. Fortunately they did not get in the way of my enjoyment, I didn’t allow them to; but it’s a challenge for Domaine to attract a more appreciative audience (who might be tempted to pay a few dollars to hear an artist for whom they might have to pay up to $100 for a ticket in a big concert hall).

The previous weekend had seen the “First Annual Big City Folk Festival” at the LIC Bar (www.LICBar.com), all Sunday afternoon. This is LIC Bar at it’s best. A hot sunny day, sitting in the courtyard in the shade of huge willow trees and listening to a series of excellent musicians brought together under the Big City Folk Collective umbrella, by Niall Connolly (http://www.reverbnation.com/label/bigcityfolk).

I’ve often wondered how such large willows remain strong in this semi-industrial part of town, and quite a way from natural watercourses (the East River, and the Anable Basin). There are three trees, each of  which must be 30 feet tall at least, with heavy cascades of green that flow over the road and into the courtyard. The word on the street ( a phrase which, in New York, has extra relevance – as the streets are full of words) is that the tree roots tap into the public water supply, a worthy gift from the people of NYC.

I didn’t catch all the artists that afternoon, 7 hours in the sun at a bar is a long session, but I did  catch many I knew, plus two who were new to me, Jo Kroger and Chris Mills. Big City Folk is an active collective, with members swapping roles as members of each other’s bands and joing in to offer backup vocals. Whilst Chris Mills offered solo singer songwriter material Jo Kroger was supported by Jasper Lewis, a young and talented guitarist and singer in his own right. Jasper also played in the Sky Captains of Industry, one of whom, singer and guitarist Eric W Harris, managed the sound for the afternoon and also played in the band that accompanied Casey Black. Also often seen was Brandon Wilde; bass player, guitarist and singer, who appeared with his own band – The All-Night Chemists, played bass for Niall Connolly and offered backup vocals for Warren Malone.

I’ve written about Casey Black before. He’s a strong singer and songwriter who hails from Nashville, and it’s to his home town that New York is losing this talented man, who has graced our clubs and bars for the last couple of years. At LIC Bar he played with Don Paris Schlotman (bass), Peter Lanctot (violin), Eric W. Harris (guitar) and Neal Nunziato on drums, with some vocal support from Michele Riganese.  He has just played his last shows as a New York resident and is flying south to his homeland. Let’s hope we see and hear him again  soon.

Casey Black and the Big City Folk Festival band

Jo Kroger is an experienced singer songwriter who knows how to relate to her audience. She was quick to point out that she was the only woman headline performer that afternoon, and one of only three who would appear on stage. The others were Michele Riganese, who supported Casey Black and Matt Sucich on back-up vocals and Matt’s old friend and musical collaborator Jessica, who also provided vocal support to two of his songs.

Jo Kroger and Jasper Lewis

I enjoyed Jo’s music, she has a strong accurate voice and writes good songs in a classic American folk/country style with interesting lyrics. Check her out on:

(http://jokroger.com/wordpress/)

I also enjoyed Chris Mills’ style and energy (http://www.reverbnation.com/chrismillsmusic) . He’s clearly been around a while and sings from his experience of life with great craft as a songwriter. He’s quite different to Jo Kroger in that he has more of a straight line kind of style. By that I mean he sings very much on the beat rather than that kind of bluesy style that rides the beat like a jockey rides a horse, rarely resting on the saddle and flowing with the movement of the song. There’s nothing wrong with his kind of style, it’s an approach that brings focus more on the  words of the song rather than the melody and rhythms that the words inspire. He has a strong voice and brings his words home with a power that makes you listen and take notice.

Chris Mills tells it straight

It’s hard to single out any particular artist from that afternoon – Anthony Mulcahy (http://www.mulmusic.com/) writes such beautiful songs; Matt Sucich was great, renewing his partnership with his old  singing partner  Jessica; Warren Malone played a $50 Telecaster that he had rescued from oblivion; Niall Connolly was as energetic as I’ve seen him, and even more powerful as he belted out his insightful and intelligent lyrics with his all-star band of Warren Malone, Len Monachello (drums), Brandon Wilde (bass), and Dennis Cronin 0n trumpet ; Brandon Wilde’s collaboration with Len Monachello on guitar and Brad Gunyon on drums- the All Night Chemists – were a delight, Brandon writes and sings such melodic songs. (http://www.brandonwildemusic.com/)

I was sorry not to catch Kevin Goldhahn’s “Gantry” – This is an exciting band that I’ve yet to hear properly.

I usually enjoy the Sky Captains of Industry, I like their ironic Sci-Fi style, with skilful lyrics and performance. On this occasion I must say that I found them to be too loud, and distorted. The crew had a reasonable quality PA for the afternoon and Eric W. Harris had managed the sound mix and volume well for everyone else. Then suddenly the volume rose, the sound was distorted and I couldn’t hear the words; we had to go inside the bar, but even then the  distortion in the sound spoiled what I believe to be a good band. I know that this sounds rather curmudgeonly, maybe it is – I do like to hear lyrics though, and also love purity of sound. Deliberate distortion can be an art with intruments, but overloading voices into a small PA is something else.

However, everyhing else was superb. So congratulations to Niall and the BCF crew for putting together the first of what could become an annual event.

Niall Connolly belting it out

ARTIST PORTRAITS

I’ve just finished uploading the last of the first group of six “Artist Portraits” podcasts onto the web. In these interviews with local musicians we talk about their lives, their musical experiences and their development as musicians. The interviews include excerpts of the music they talk about and some full length recordings of their own music.

The podcasts can be downloaded from www.earthsounz.podbean.com or from http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sometime-in-long-island-city/id523786622?mt=2

You can also hear them directly in this Blog (click on the link beneath the photo):

Michele Riganese

Artist Portrait – Michele Riganese

Jeneen Terrana

Artist Portrait – Jeneen Terrana

Little Embers

Artist Portrait – Little Embers

Matt Sucich

Artist Portrait_ Matt Sucich

Warren Malone

Artist Portrait – Warren Malone

Shelly Bhushan

Artist Portrait- Shelly Bhushan

FOOD AND DRINK CORNER

I’ve made some return visits to a couple of lower-priced restaurants in the Hunter’s Point are over the last few weeks. Casa Enrique is proving to be a popular eating place locally, judging by the numbers in there as I’ve walked past. I took some friends there a few days ago and we were worried that we might not get seats, so we reserved our table for 7pm. As it happened this was not necessary as there were only four other tables occupied when we arrived. However, when we left there was a line at the door of people waiting for vacant tables! There were 5 of us that night and we enjoyed a range of dishes, starting with two servings of freshly prepared Guacamole ($8 each), mild and medium spiced at our request and with offers of more chips if we needed them (a nice touch – it’s so frustrating to run out of  chips). The restaurant makes a point of letting you know that the dishes are prepared to order, so it’s important to have some kind of starter. Between us we had the Lamb Shank (“Delicious, and so good to have the meat  falling off the bone”) – which no doubt was not prepared to order, it needs long slow cooking to get it to taste that good ($20); I had the Cochinito Chiapaneco, Pork Ribs with chilli, rice and beans ($16), very tasty and interestingly spiced beans; The Market fish (Striped Bass) was very nicely prepared and presented, clearly cooked to order ($22).

As always the service at Casa Enrique was pleasant and unhurried. The surroundings are plain white, with little decoration. We sat at the rear of the restaurant, where the ceiling is low. With plain wooded tables and chairs the acoustics are quite “lively”, which makes loud diners with high pitched voices  intrusive at times, as well as the clash of cutlery on plates. This could be remedied  with some softer furnishings in the space; maybe plain, lightly-decorated rugs on the wall, or painted acoustic tiles on the ceiling.

We had to resist desserts as we were returning to our friend’s for those, but we would definitely have had their most delicious flan. At present Casa  Enrique only have a restricted liquor licence, which meant we took our own wine; not really a problem, and also cheaper (they don’t charge corkage).

At a  lower price level, the  local Filipino restaurant Ihawan2 (http://www.ihawan2.com) beckoned us again as a prelude to a late night social event in the city. This time there were just three of us, choosing the oxtail in peanut sauce (Kare Kare), the Combo Barbeque and the Bicol Express (spicy belly pork in liver sauce). Filipino cuisine is new to me, I found the mixture of ingredients, flavours and textures interesting and tasty. Belly pork can be quite fatty and I prefer it crispy (as in their grilled version), rather than soft in this dish: but that’s  just my preference. Two of us had drinks and the check for three came to just over $45 – a good, reasonably cheap meal to start the evening. This is a restaurant which will grow in popularity as it becomes more well known in the neighbourhood.

Just up the East River from us is a little riverside bar at Anable Basin. It’s hard to find places in New York where you can sit at a table right next to the water drinking a cool beer and eating a tasty barbecue snack. The Anable Basin bar and Grill (http://anablebasin.com/) is just that, a bar and a grill in a kind of makeshift building with classic all-in-one bench tables that sit next to what is a mini marina, where you can park your yacht or dinghy. You can also walk or drive there, to the end of 44th Drive, next door to the Waters Edge restaurant (white tablecloths, and which looks like it suits large groups of well-off diners). It has a beach/island feel – casual with a small, but interesting selection of beers and wines and a short menu of international barbecue specialities – Brazilian Steak (Pikanya), Bosnian sausages (Chevapi – with a delicious ajvar relish), Bratwurst, Bison Burgers, salads, corn and vegeburger. This is a peaceful venue, a place to sit and watch the fish jump, the geese beg for scraps and the occasional boat passing by. It’s as close as you’re going to get to a beach bar in New York, and then you also get the impressive Manhattan skyline, especially when the sun is going down. It may not be the Pacific but it sure is peaceful. I note that they advertise “speciality cocktails”, well I might just have to go down there again.

The mooring at Anable Basin Bar and Grill

Some news from Cranky’s (http://www.crankyscafe.com/). It’s sad to see that Lindsay and Cranky’s have parted company. She’ll be missed. Meanwhile I’ve tried a few more of their lunchtime dishes and can throughly recommend their flank steak salads – either straight (with warm corn, tomato etc) or as a steak caesar. The chef Alan has created an exquisite marinade for the steak that makes it melt in your mouth. He’s also created an excellent caesar sauce for the salad – straight caesar, chicken or steak. It’s good to see that the “Eating Theater” evenings are continuing and proving very popular.

I note that there are a couple of new eating places appearing in the Hunters Point area. “Cyclo”, a new Vietnamese Noodle and Sandwich cafe is just about to open, on 46th and Vernon next to Petey’s Burger, and “Spice”, one of a chain of successful Thai restuarants on the site of the, often empty, previous Thai cafe on Vernon Boulevard.

That’s it from me for another week – watch out for new “Artist Portrait” blogcasts over the next few weeks.

More and Even More Music

The last few weeks have offered great musical fare in LIC, some old favourites and some new discoveries. I’ve also had the chance to check out some new recordings. This will be my last blog for a while as I’m off overseas for a  few weeks, so it’s longer………….. .

Blogcast

Check out the first ever podcast of “Sometime in Long Island City” .:- http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sometime-in-long-island-city/id523786622 or

Listen to this episode

Download this episode (right click and save)

PHOTO EXHIBITION

If you’re n New York check out an exhibition (until mid-June) of my photos of local and international musicians: “EarthSouNZ – A World of Diversity in Music” at Cranky’s French Creole Restaurant (http://www.crankyscafe.com/) on the corner of Vernon Boulevard and 49th Avenue in Hunters Point.

Salif Keita – Great Malian musician and advocate for the rights of alibino poeple.

 

(http://www.salifkeita.us/)

(http://www.myspace.com/music/player?song=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.myspace.com%2Fsalifkeitamusic%2Fmusic%2Fsongs%2Ffolon-69436465)

Jazz

It’s been good to catch up with Anthony Cekay‘s saxophone playing at LIC bar (www.LICbar.com ) for a couple of sessions recently. I’ve heard two late night improvisation sessions with Christian Coleman (drums) and Broc Hempel (keyboard) that I’ve really enjoyed. Readers of this blog will know that I am no expert on Jazz. I’m beginning to appreciate different types of improvisations having heard some that are very “free” to others which slightly free within modes and others which are around established melodies and/or chord progressions. I would put Anthony’s between the last two categories, but am open to contradiction (and education!). These two sessions (one just saxes and drums and the other saxes, drums and keyboard) were interesting and enjoyable. It’s was a pleasure to hear two talented musicians listening intently to each other and producing engrossing music that expressed a range of emotions, especially when you know that it is all improvised.

Anthony Cekay – Improvised jazz at LIC Bar

I’ve also caught Broc Hempel and Christian Coleman playing at Domaine Wine Bar (http://www.domainewinebar.com/), with Peter Brendler on bass and Dave Scott on trumpet. This is a really good venue for this understated kind of jazz. Dave Scott came across as a thoughtful player of intricate music that matched well the playing styles of the other musicians. For those of you who do not know the Domaine Wine Bar (my University of Wine and Jazz) it is a small space that, at most, would house around 45 people (check out my “Jazz in Small Spaces” blog (http://wp.me/p1ZFJu-12). It is not somewhere where you would want to be blown to the back of the room by a pounding bass and tough brass section. As such it suits interesting and well played music in a range of styles,with vinicular accompaniments.

Dave Scott at Domaine Wine Bar

Christian Coleman, Broc Hempel and Peter Brendler

I’ve appreciated the Avalon Jazz Band (http://www.avalonjazzband.com) playing at Domaine. They are a French-style Jazz group who I would hesitate to call a “Band”, which to me sounds like a “Big Band”, which is certainly not the case. They are  Violin (Adrien Chevalier), Guitar (Koran Agan), Bass (Eduardo Belo) and Voice (Tatiana Eva-Marie) a group who offer themselves as a nostalgic look at Paris in the 1940s, playing in a mix of styles that they describe as ” … a bridge between the old world and the new, between French charm and American glam, with just a pinch of burlesque and a spoonfull of swing”.  I liked the Django/Grappelli-style Gypsy swing Jazz, but not so much so much some of the sweetly sung romantic French songs. Fortunately there wasn’t too much of the latter and I enjoyed Tatiana’s singing of standards, with a little bit of scat that showed  off her vocal ability. The guitar and violin playing was very stylish and showed great skill. Bass players rarely come forward but I appreciated the solos that Edourdo offered in the sets that I heard whilst I gave in to the temptation of freshly shucked oysters and a glass of chilled Jurançon, a wine that matched perfectly the Blue Neck Oysters on offer that night from sommelier Chip behind the bar.

Avalon Jazz Band at Domaine Wine Bar


Occasionally in New York you meet people in unexpected places. As a follower of musicians around town I get to know those that have a really distinctive sound. One of these is the combination of Charlie Rauh (guitar) and Concetta Abbate (violin). I first heard them accompanying Ali Silva’s reconstruction of 1940s radio plays at the LIC bar winter “Fireside Ghost Stories” series (check out my blog “Live Radio in LIC” – http://wp.me/p1ZFJu-4X ), where they produced improvised mood music (check Anthony Cekay’s Podcast of this on http://page4music.com/2012/03/18/podcast-ghost-stories-by-lucille-fletcher/) . Then I came across Charlie playing with Mossa Bildner in her musical adaption of T.S.Eliot’s “Four Quartets” (see my “Now and again in Manhattan” post (http://wp.me/p1ZFJu-bL). A couple of weeks ago I went down to LowerEast Side to catch Leah Gough-Cooper’s Human Equivalent (http://www.myspace.com/humanequivalent) in an early evening set at a hideaway little bar (the “Recoup”) and who should I hear playing in the Delauncey Street subway station – Charlie and Concetta.

Charlie Rauh and Concetta Abbate

A few days later I went on to hear them play at LIC bar. I think when I listen to improvised Jazz I’m listening for fragments to which I can relate, whether fragments of melody or mood. If the latter I think I those fragments have to fall on fertile ground. If they dont quite fit my mood of the moment then they fall on stony ground. Not they have to match, it’s great when music can lift me out of the moment. If they jar, though, whether in mood or tonalities or just in the sound the instruments make, then I might be distanced. The latter is not the case  with the music I have heard from Charlie and Concetta. It is interesting and does not jar. even  when the tonalities wander. The styles of the players, and the timbres of the two instruments match well; with Charlie playing with a muted amplified guitar that supports the flight of the fiddle as it winds around melodies, scales and arpeggios.

Queens of Queens

Readers of this blog will know that I have been enthusiastic about the Queens of Queens residency at LIC Bar Wednesday nights during May. So far we’ve had two sessions from Michele Riganese, Shelly Bhushan, Little Embers and Jeneen Terrana; the first where they sang all their own material and the second where they mixed their own songs with songs by other writers. The first was dogged by some technical hitches but the four women showed how much their good humour and obvious cameraderie would get them through. The second show presented them more as a cohesive unit, helped by their agreement to each wear black and not to overcomplicate their instruments by expecting too much from the small PA system: handling four vocal mics on top of guitars proved tricky in session one. In session two they only ever had one guitar, plus keyboard and mic-based instruments like the Melodica and harmonica. The more I hear these women the more I appreciate their individual talents and the chemistry of this combination. It was good to hear old favourites from the singers – including Michele’s “Learn to Love” – as well as classics like Dolly Parton‘s “Jolene” (this must be one of the most played American Country songs ever) and “You’re no Good”, written by Clint Ballard Jnr and associated in the US with Linda Rondstadt and as a hit in the UK for 1960’s Merseybeat band The Swinging Blue Jeans ( I’m slightly embarassed to say that I might still have a 45 of that back in NZ).

Check out Little Embers song from the first show:

Before your name  ( an audio file that should play in your default audio player)

And this video

Julie Kathryn

Regular LIC Bar singer/songwriter Julie Kathryn has just released a new EP of her music, “Broken Love” (http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/julie-kathryn/id366405519   or http://juliekathryn.bandcamp.com). She showcased this at the Rockwood Music Hall on 22 April in a superbly professional show which started an evening of LIC Bar- related musicians, with Brian and Silbin and friends and Toronto-based Freeman Dre and the Kitchen Party ending the night with their mix of European style rock.

Freeman Dre and the Kitchen Party. An exciting band from Toronto who rock the night with their blend of klezmer/circus rock and good time rolling.

On stage Julie shows great skill in relating to her audience and performing finely crafted songs in ways that  show an almost visceral sense of rhythm as she supports herself on guitar or piano and links with the group of fine musicians with which she surrounds herself. So we had cello and violin as well as the usual bass, guitar and drums. Check out this video from Carly Massey.

The EP “Broken Love” has just four songs, each of which is emotionally direct and disarmingly personal. Listen to all four at one sitting and you’ll need to sit back and process for a while. Julie sings with an understated intimate style and an exquisite sense of timing that makes you feel that only you and she are in the room.  “I don’t want you back”  is a  lovely subtle production and arrangement for a nicely crafted and performed song. “Not the Same” – presents a nice change of tempo and mood,  I like the lilting simple child-like rhythms and chorus. “Broken Love“, is a  gently rocking song  with spotlit  bass and sweet downward-flowing guitar arpeggios – a song that anyone who has had a broken first love will relate to, a song of lost, but not forgotten innocence that Julie’s singing so beautifully puts across. The last song, “Let this be” is my favourite, (being an incurable romantic and of a generally melancholic disposition). I challenge anyone to listen to this and not reach for the Kleenex! This EP is a gem that I hope will do a great job of taking Julie a long way in her career.

Julie Kathryn at Rockwood Music Hall, Lower East Side

Rachel Wolf

Now, Rachel (http://rachelwolf.bandcamp.com/)is a performer who will take you by surprise, especially if you have no idea what to expect. I saw her play at the LIC Bar in what, I believe, was her first perfomance there. She stands on stage and plays an Indian portable harmonium that has its origins in instruments carried by Christian missionaries and which were used to accompany those Victorian hymns that were a gift from the Queen to an Empire of cheap labour and raw materials. Not that Rachel sings anything like those often turgid and predictable tunes (not all, I should say). As soon as she opens her mouth you know that this is a young woman of great talent. She has a bluesy soulful sound which reminded me of Adele and Pink, with rich texture and accuracy that knocks you back. You just don’t expect this. It’s not just bluesy though, there’s a Joanna Newsom quality too, not just in the way she sings some of her songs but also in the ways she has crafted her music, a  story-telling aspect that also reminded me of 1960s UK folk group “The Incredible String Band”  especially when they incorporated the girl singers Licorice and Rose (not they had anything like Rachel’s quality of voice. At times I would  have appreciated a little more variety in the accompaniment – the portable harmonium isn’t exactly a Hammond and I think some of her songs could have used that  kind of sound. She sings quirky, original songs, check out “Murder Ballad” –

“I’d have been your lovin’ wife, right ‘til the day you died
But cross me and you’ll cross the river Styx.
I’m young and I’m sweet and I’m ripe as a peach,
But bite too hard you’ll get the bitter pit”

Watch out for this young woman, she has a great future!

Rachel Wolf

Kat Spina

Another bluesy voice comes from Kat Spina (www.katspina.com), a who played a set at LIC bar recently. There she played guitar with a  partner Brian Forbes on nicely wrought and understated Fender Strat. Kat has a good accurate voice and takes care to carry the meaning of the words she sings, whether her own or “covers” such as Dylan’s “It’s all over now baby blue”. (When does a cover become a “standard”?). LIC Bar is not an easy venue at the start of an evening. There might just be a dozen in the audience, and some of those might be the supporters you’ve brought along. Some artists just get on with it and others, who look for affirmation from the audience might feel constrained in their delivery. I sense that Kat was a little restrained in this way. I dont think she’s naturally extravert and the sensitivity of her singing requires a steady confidence that for some is inner driven and for others is a product of audience response. Most singers like to get energy from the crowd, making early evening shows a hard road to take.

I enjoyed hearing Kat and have since appreciated her 2009 album “Engaging the Muse“. This is not an album that makes you go “wow!” It’s more of a sit down and listen, or put-in-the-background work. Kat’s easy singing style comes across as more bluesy than in her LIC Bar set and she has the advantage of a backing band that supports her in a range of songs, all of which (except for a Beatles song – “I’ve just seen a face”) she has had a role in writing. What comes across most with Kat is the quality of her voice, soulful yet not strongly so; accurate, yet not sterile; pleasant to listen to, yet not boring. The album has a rather old-fashioned feel, older than 2009 yet not really dateable in the styles and types of music put across by Kat and her band. The heritage is clearly 60s soul, with bluesy shifts; late night music when you need to relax, not get hyped for a night on the town. The track “Constant” is a nice example of Kat’s songwriting, and more in the style that I heard at LIC bar. It’s mainly guitar and voice, with a touch of sensitive violin from Gwen Laster and background keyboard bass; my favourite on the album. I also enjoyed Kat’s take on the Lennon/McCartney song – “I’ve just seen a face, I can’t forget, the time or place, where we just met” a superb example of their talent for lyrics – cleverly adapted slightly by Kat in a  way that reflects the way a pop song can wedge itself in your own life where the universal meets the personal. I also like the way she takes a new look at the rhythm of what was originally a relentlessly fast moving song from the movie “Help”.

Kat Spina and Brian Forbes @ LIC Bar

Quick Mentions:

Really appreciated Chris Michael at LIC Bar – looks as if he’s going from one bar to another if he passes his final exams!! (http://eatthatguitarchrismichael.wordpress.com/)

Chris Michael in the Open at LIC Bar

And last but not least some photos from Brian and Silbin‘s gig at Rockwood Music Hall:

Silbin Sandovar, Brian Meece and Jeneen Terrana

Brian Reece, Jeneen Terrana and Jens Kramer, violin

Anthony Cekay on Sax

Jeneen Terrana, Danny Mackane and Jens Kramer

Rachel Swaner

COMING UP

 LIC Bar

Wednesday, May 16th
8pm ZOE SUNDRA
9pm MIEKA PAULEY
10pm QUEENS OF QUEENS MAY RESIDENCY

Thursday, May 17th
9pm BRAIN FART COMEDY AND TRIVIA SHOW
w/Stephanie Holmes

Saturday, May 19th
11pm
Fiends and Fools

Sunday, May 20th
5-8pm
Big City Folk Sunday Social
Emily Mure, Kevin Goldhahn, and more

Monday, May 21st
8pm LEIGHANNE SALTZMAN
9pm EMILY WOLF
10pm AYAL TSU BERRY

Wednesday, May 23rd
8pm MEGAN KERPER
9pm FIFE AND DROM
10pm QUEENS OF QUEENS MAY RESIDENCY

Thursday, May 24th
9pm BRAIN FART COMEDY AND TRIVIA SHOW
w/Stephanie Holmes

Saturday, May 26th
11pm
Magic Bones

Sunday, May 27th
LIC BAR’s MEMORIAL DAY FEST!
Live music outdoors in the garden (weather permitting)
from 2-8pm

Monday, May 28th
8pm ROKI SOFI
9pm KAT CALVOSA
10pm BECKY MIMIAGA

Wednesday, May 30th
7pm LAUREN ELDER
8pm MELODY KILLS
9pm SWEET SOUBRETTE
10pm QUEENS OF QUEENS MAY RESIDENCY

Thursday, May 31st
9pm BRAIN FART COMEDY AND TRIVIA SHOW
w/Stephanie Holmes

LIC Bar and the Queens of Queens

This is unashamedly an LIC Bar edition. There are lots of audio files and video clips – so check them out.

The boundaries of “Long Island City” are indistinct. Originally an actual city, covering much of Queens, the area is bureaucratically unclear, and colloquially variable. If you look on the New York City district map LIC is labelled as separate from Hunters Point and Ravenswood yet local businesses, aware that LIC is becoming “the place to be” are labelling their Astoria cafes and galleries as in LIC!

Roosevelt Island is not, nor has ever been, Long Island City. It is a longish island, but only in shape not real length. It used to be called “Welfare Island” and was the depository of New York’s sick, destitute, and mentally infirm. These days it’s the home of  two hospital complexes (complices?) and apartment blocks that are the homes for a wide range of families, a few community facilities, churches (some quite characterful) and a general windswept, almost eastern bloc feel. You can walk over the bridge from Ravenswood, or take the cable car from 59th Street on Manhattan, or the F line. I run around it and, the other day  took the cable car for the first time (not an easy thing for me to do, but I have to “feel the fear….” etc etc).

Here’s the view:

A view from the Roosevelt Island Cable Car

May is going to be a busy month at LIC Bar. Each Wednesday at 10 pm the Royal Standard will fly and the Queens of Queens will be in residence. For those of you who haven’t read my previous posts the Queens of Queens are Shelly Bhushan, Michele Riganese, Jeneen Terrana and Little Embers –  individual voices who meld together to create great harmonies and special interpretations of their own, and others’, songs.

Music at LIC bar (www.licbar.com) has developed over the past four years under the wise and energetic counsel of Gus Rodriguez.

Silbin Sandovar

Gus is a good musician in his own right, supporting others on stage and playing with a band (“Brian and Silbin” – catch them at Rockwood on April 22nd) as Silbin Sandovar. He’s a left hander who can play  his guitar both ways up (or down, whichever way you look at it). He seems to know every song that’s been written since 1950, and perhaps even earlier than that. He’s also a self-effacing promoter and encourager of local musicians. Listen to my interview with him, recorded in the carriage house, as he talks about the LIC bar music scene and the Queens of Queens.

AUDIO FILE       Gustavo Rodriguez – Interview at LIC Bar

Rory Sullivan

The other night I checked in at LIC Bar and heard four sets from local musicians, three of which involved Queens of Queens in other guises. The only non-Queen was Rory Sullivan, an intuitive singer who is a good guitar player and has a great feel for music. I’d heard him perform at the Van Morrison tribute, his renditon of  “Sweet Thing” showing a great sense of timeing, and a soulful voice. He played some interesting songs, mainly his with some covers. Like a lot of singer songwriters he sang with his eyes shut most of the time (caution: old fogey moment coming up) and I felt that this constrained his connection with the audience. It’s as if there has been too much practising in the bedroom at home and not enough singing to people and wanting them to sit up and listen to what you have to say. To connect you have to look at people.

This was quite different approach to that from Jeneen Terrana, who offered an early evening solo acoustic set, using the occasion to introduce some new material. You’ll often find that here, artists will use the venue as a test-bed for performing new songs as well as an opportunity  for increasing their performance hours – as they move towards the classic 10,ooo hours that seem to be one of the keys to success.

Jeneen Terrana

Jeneen is a competent and confident artist who connects with the audience from the very start. She looks around, smiles and catches eyes.  Her classically trained, voice rings out as clear as a bell, whether she’s singing her own songs or classics like “O Sole Mio”. Some of her songs betray her Sicilian heritage, and you can hear an Italian influence in some of her compositions. Watch her performance of “Time” a new song in its first airing at LIC bar.

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2GU2Tolz8Y&context=C435fabeADvjVQa1PpcFMezaDO8tw95GDrZqtYjfH6QNdjIrt7YAA=)

Of course this is a rough, home produced video that doesn’t really do Jeneen justice. Check also an audio clip of a  song from her latest album “See the Light”:

Raise your voice

(http://www.jeneenterrana.com/ and also on itunes)

Little Embers is an interesting and complex singer. Unclear whether she is a band or a singer she carries a tradition that varies from honest American country/folk, through punk rock to her own personal styles that carry all that background plus a kind of raw physicality that comes across the more she gets into a performance. I suspect that she prefers to perform collectively, whether with her husband Anthony Rizzo as a duo; as a band with him and others; with the Queens of Queens or, as she was at LIC Bar the other night, as one of the duo “Darlin’ Clementines“, (http://www.myspace.com/darlin39clementines) with Danel Verdugo. This is a quirky outfit; spoof country? yes, but often with some serious thought, and classy music making. Check out their song “Boobs all up in your face” on their myspace site. (http://www.myspace.com/darlin39clementines/music/songs/boobs-all-up-in-your-face-75237350) and you’ll get a sense of what they’re about.

Danel Verdugo and Little Embers: The Darlin' Clementines

The evening rounded off with a top class performance from Shelly Bhushan. It’s amazing that just three musicians can offer such a strong musical experience. Backed by John Celantano on drums and Harry Cordew on bass Shelly delivered a diverse range of soulful and rocking songs to a very apprecative audience. Shelly plays piano and guitar, but doesn’t hide behind these when she really wants to belt it, leaving the guys to play the music whilst she just out-and-out performs. Keyboard man Benjamin Hoffstein joined the band for a couple of numbers and Shelly was able to let go of the wood and metal and just sing her heart out. It’s this kind of talent that makes LIC bar a very special little venue.

Shelly Bhushan and her Band - letting it rip

A special mention here for bassman Harry Cordew, who provided more than just a bass line. His playing used all the potential of his 5 string electric bass, from slap to intricate counter melodies that made for a very full musical experience.

Harry Cordew

Check out an audio clip of Shelly performing “Picking Daisies” from her 2008 album of the same name:

Picking Daisies

(http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/bhushan2)

Queens of Queens

I’ve already mentioned Shelly, Little Embers and Jeneen. Michele Riganese has been wowing audiences on the West Coast (California that is) before returning East for her more local commitments, including the May residency at LICBar. Before talking about the four as a whole  I’d just like to point you in the direction of Michele’s latest EP, “Kaleidoscope”

(http://micheleriganese1.bandcamp.com/)

Here’s a song from it:

Back To You

Michele Riganese

I had the pleasure of attending a Queens of Queens rehearsal in a tiny practice space on 8th Avenue in Manhattan. These are strange places, rusty old elevators, dark paint-worn doorways behind which mixtures of music beat out a concurrent mix of styles that Charles Ives would have loved. It was like a time capsule: rock and roll, Beatles covers, strange electronics – all billowing around the dimly lit hallways. “So this is where the magic happens?”

Here’s a recording of our interview, in which they talk about themselves as a collective, about LIC bar, Gus and their plans for the residency – all against the background of a rehearsal of Shelly’s song ” I’ll never let you go”.

AUDIO CLIP   Queens of Queens Interview   

And here’s a perfomance video the four singing Michele Riganese’s  song ” Learn to Love”, at Spike Hill last year.

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62tCYcbWY1Y&feature=youtu.be)

The Queens of Queens will be performing at LIC Bar every Wednesday throughout the month of May, 10pm.

Put that in your diary, they won’t be playing the same set each week so if you want it all, you have to attend them all!!

UPDATE:!!!

First ever Sometime in Long Island City Blogcast available on:

Listen to this episode

Download this episode (right click and save)

A Spirit of Musical Community

There are a many singer songwriters in LIC, folk who perform solo or with a band. It’s not unusual to find them doing a solo gig at one place and then being joined by others later in the night at a bar or club in the next district. There are some, though, who have regular collaborations with other singer songwriters and where you see a great chemistry develop between the artists. One of these collaborations is that between Michele Riganese (www.micheleriganese.com), Shelly Bhushan (www.shellybhushan.com), Jeneen Terrana (http://www.jeneenterrana.com/) and Little Embers (http://www.myspace.com/littleembers). These four women are talented artists who all live in the Queens area and who play regularly at venues like the LIC Bar, Spike Hill in Brooklyn and Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan. They each have their own bands, but you’ll frequently see one or other of them supporting each other on vocals.

The Queens of Queens at the Living Room Dec 2011

This group have played together as the “Queens of Queens” for gigs at the Living Room in Manhattan (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWxi-r7oRKI) and Spike Hill in Brooklyn. For these appearances they built on their experience of supporting each other to perform “in the round” and perform each others’ songs, providing mainly vocal support to the writer of the song.

Jeneen Terrana and Michele Riganese

Jeneen Terrana

Little Embers

Shelly Bhushan

…………………………The Queens of Queens are coming together for the third time to present a series of five “residency” shows at the LIC Bar during May, every Wednesday at 10pm. I have had the pleasure of interviewing these women; to produce both a series of “Artists Portraits”to be available in a few weeks time, and in the production of a brief promotional item. This is a group of four individuals whose characters differ in ways that prompt lively creative cooperation. Watch out for future blogs featuring audio interviews, and perhaps even podcasts!

Good luck to Michele Riganese on her trip to the West Coast, where amongst other gigs she is playing at the Viper Room in Los Angeles on April 1oth.

Little Embers are appearing at Arlene’s Grocery on Friday April 13th and Jeneen Terrana is currently recording.

Congratulations to Shelly Bhushan in doing so well to get into the final group of 5 in the competition to represent Queens in the “Battle of the Boroughs”. You can still catch her performance in on http://vimeo.com/37955065.

Shelly and her band will be appearing at LIC Bar on Wednesday 11th April, don’t be surprised if there are other singersongwriters in support.

Another great combination of singer songwriters is Warren Malone and Niall Connolly. Both hail from the other side of the Atlantic; Warren from the North of England and Niall from Ireland. You can catch more of the Irish in Niall than the Lancashire in Warren, who has more of a North American feel to his songs. Both Warren and Niall have distinctive voices and clear guitar picking styles that lend themselves to collaboration. I caught them both, in duet, at the LIC Bar’s first venture into the open air the Sunday before last. Two out three of the acts were able to perform outdoors before the drop in temperature caused the declining audience to clutch their beer glasses for warmth and we went indoors for the final act of the day. I’ll write more about Warren on another occasion, and review his album (“The Ants ate the Bee“). Suffice it to say that he has great talent and an attention to detail in his guitar playing which makes for beautiful music.

Niall Connolly and Warren Malone in the open at the LIC Bar

Niall and Warren are part of the musician collective “Big City Folk“, who run sessions at LIC Bar on Sunday evenings in the winter months and at Ceol (http://www.ceolpub.com/) in Brooklyn – as well as appearing at various other venues around New York, including, famously, Niall playing a very early Wednesday morning spot at the Red Lion on Bleecker Street (http://www.redlionnyc.com/) at which the artist formerly (and now formally) known as Prince is rumoured to have been seen. Niall sings a range of finely crafted songs with intelligent lyrics that demand attention – whether for their sharp political comment, philosophical musings or their stories of relationships, won and lost. His voice is instantly recognisable, a real advantage in this world of copycat, almost karaoke performers, and his stage manner direct; self assured yet unassertive. He lets his songs speak for themselves.

Recently members of the Big City Folk collective released an album of  Niall’s songs as a birthday tribute; such is the respect he has earned on the local music scene. The album aNiallated” features artists like Warren, Casey Black, E.W.Harris and Don Paris Schlotman (Sky Captains of Industry), and Magic Bones (who are Brandon Wilde and Len Monachello). Bones”. Check it out (and buy) on http://niallconnolly.bandcamp.com/album/aniallated-a-big-city-folk-tribute-to-niall-connolly.

This is a good introduction to Niall’s music as well as being a tribute to the collective musicianship that surrounds him. It shows that his songs stand tall in others’ interpretations. This is not a collection of bland re-interpretations, each musician embeds their own talent and style on the song they have chosen to present to Niall on this album.

Brandon Wilde

Brandon Wilde (http://www.brandonwildemusic.com/) and Len Monachello are freelancers on the local music scene. Brandon plays Bass in Niall’s band, has a recording studio and plays frequent late Saturday night gigs at the LIC Bar (www.licbar.com)with Len as the Magic Bones, a “cover band” that is a duo with an in depth knowledge of the  songs they perform to the late night crowd. You’ll catch Len as a drummer in Niall’s band, or as a guitarist – in Magic Bones he alternates guitar and bass with Brandon. On “aNiallated” they offer a classic cover of Niall’s song “Skin and Bones“, a anthem that has developed into a crowdpleaser and crowd involver in bars everywhere that he plays. Being superb musicians enables Brandon and Len to present a cover that is a true to the original, not just in its notes and lyrics but also in its public bar appeal to simple philosophising that “We are just skin and bones and blood, without love, without love”.

Don Paris Schlotman, E.W.Harris and Casey Black as a trio comprise most of the band “The Sky Captains of Industry” (http://www.reverbnation.com/theskycaptainsofindustry); regulars on the Big City Folk scene. They’re a skilled band who sing sometimes cutting, sometimes offbeat, and occasionally highly comedic songs. On this album they each get a chance to give individual tribute to Niall.

At the end of Sky Captains gigs Don offers a brilliant spoof of early rock songs that is reminiscent of 60s group “The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band” , known best for their “Death Cab for Cutie” on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour movie,  but see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hcZ4s9cvpw . Usually Don is the bass player, but in this final act of craziness Don hands his bass to Casey, usually the drummer and takes the stage in virtual drainpipes and a relationship with the microphone that is acrobatic, yet verges on pornographic. On “aNiallated” he offers “Summer Dress“a song which is easy to think of as a sideways look at adolescent male fantasies, especially hearing Don singing it, with memories of his teen idol antics still fresh in my mind. This is Don in a Lou Reed meets Johnny Cash mode, with the banjo and reverberating whistling adding to a sense of understated, yet mysteriously present, anarchism. It’s a kind of mix of Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Perfect Day”, with a bluegrass ketchup. But, it might be completely straight and I’ve just coloured it with my own trickster mixer.

Casey Black

Casey Black (make sure you get http://www.reverbnation.com/caseyblack) is well established locally as a powerful singer and songwriter. I have written about him previously and you will know how much I respect his professionalism. On this album he offers his interpretation of  ‘You’ve got to look in to look out for yourself’, a highly personal  song from Niall’s book of most-well-crafted songs. This is taken down to its heart by Casey, his strong deep voice giving the lyrics an intensity that squeezes every bit of meaning from the lyrics.

E.W.Harris

E.W.Harris is the third member of “Sky Captains”. In many ways he comes across as the leader on their gigs, although I hesitate to talk about bands having a leader in this collective context. He is the singer most of the time and plays  a beautiful retro guitar. If not leader he is certainly the man up front. On this album his version of “99 cent dream” is inbued with his liking for scifi effects, ironic statement and the generally offbeat (check out his album “a waste of water and time”  http://www.amazon.com/Waste-Water-Time/dp/B003XE6OTG). This song suits him, in its ironic turns and goes well with the sound effects produced by Harris for this tribute to Niall.

Warren Malone’s contribution to this album is “Inland to Mercy”, a travelling-to-love song  that is actually typically of Warren’s own style and thus suits him well. The line “Oh little bird without a footprint, a measure of the strength of your tiny wings” exemplifies the poetry in Niall’s lyrics.

Other artists on his tribute are Diana Jones, Chris Mills, Chris Michael, Colin Campbell, Justin Storer, Ryan Morgan and David Rynhart. All contribute well in their own ways, only one, Justin Storer, managing to sound a lot like Niall himself when he sings “America”. This is what used to be called a “protest song” :

“In the name of all the chapters, Torn from your history books. America, I love you,won’t you tell me the truth.”

Niall Connolly contemplates driving the Snakes out of America

Honoring Lennon in LIC plus……………..

Tribute at LIC Bar

I was fortunate to visit John Lennon’s childhood home in Liverpool a couple of years ago. It left a lasting impression on me as I felt the similarity with the London suburban home of my grandparents, a house which must have had the same design – shared around Britain in the 1930s as part of massive investment in housing that was the Keynesian solution to the great depression. I knew where the small bedroom would be, and the bathroom ; and also the downstairs kitchen where my grandmother found her husband, dead having collapsed whilst shaving at the kitchen sink. Of course it was not Lennon’s parent’s home it was his mother’s sister’s, his auntie Mimi had given him a home away from his mother’s troubled life and eventually her death in a road accident. His father was absent. These experiences and the the way he made sense of them, found expression in his music. You don’t have to have had the exact experiences to be touched by songs like “Mother”, it speaks to the experience of all who have been parented, and who may be parents themselves. This is the gift of the artist, to speak for all of us. Younger artists who interpret his songs and make them their own are passing on his art in ways that connect with our familiarity with the music, and yet offer the opportunity to hear something new.
So, when a group of diverse musicians get together to pay tribute to a man who died 31 years ago you can expect something special. It doesn’t matter that most, if not all, of the musicians would never have seen Lennon play. But the power of his, and the Beatles music still survives enough to inspire committed performance and, in the case of 14 year old girl in the audience, a kind of fan worship that would not have been out of place in 1964.
The John Lennon tribute at LIC bar on Wednesday 7th Dec went on late into the night, fittingly moving from a tribute on the eve of the anniversary of Lennon’s death, just a couple of miles away, to a jam session of his music that gathered an energy that reached high into the cosmos as it moved from one day into the next. It certainly left me with a sense of the energy of live performance in clubs that Lennon will have known and that I have appreciated since being a teenager in London in the mid sixties.

LIC bar isn’t a club it’s a pub, with, a small performing area. Curator/impresario Gustavo Rodriguez had organised a collection of musicians to perform a selection of songs from Lennon’s time as a Beatle in Liverpool, Hamburg and the world to his time in New York City; the city that was a witness to his death and which still carries a sense of being Lennon’s home. The mix was diverse, from local singer Audrey Leopard’s first public appearance ( top marks for her confidence and interpretation) to Kathy Zimmer’s vocal trio and Gus himself (under his performer identity of Silbin Sandovar, singing and playing a Lennon-style retro  guitar loaned by Gibson NYC) both as part of the programme and eventually leading the jam session – his responsibility as a curator finished for the night.

Gustavo Rodriguez

I don’t want to talk about the individual performances one by one. There were some that were under-rehearsed but beautifully done, others that were perhaps over ambitious. There was real talent there last night and some gems of performance that remain in my memory. I’m thinking of Pauline Pisano’s “Come Together” and “She Said, She Said” – which she made entirely her own,and Alicia Lemke’s “Real Love” and “Imagine”.

The “formal” part of the evening ended with “All you need is love”– when the musicians all got up on stage and were joined by the audience in song – and then there was the ‘Apple Jam” – in which Gus, Neil Nunziato on drums, Anthony Cekay on tenor, Antony Rizzo on guitar and sundry other artists from the floor let their hair down well into the next day. Yes, there was a lot of love here, not just for Lennon and the Beatles but also around the venue and the undaunted efforts of Gus Rodriguez in bringing these people together.

Another kind of Tribute

Gus was fêted the weekend before at what could only be described as a celebration of his talents as an impresario and as a singer/songwriter. There’s a small venue in Brooklyn called “Pete’s Candy Store”, which I guess used to be one before it became a bar and venue. At the back is what can only be described as a railway carriage with a small stage at one end. Here Gus sang 12 songs, each in duet with one of his female proteges. Such was the size of the place that Gus, supported by Dan Ke’entaahal on Bass and Neil Annunzio on drums, plus the 12 women, nearly filled the place on their own!  Some I knew and others were new to me – it was a great pleasure to be there that evening and to hear a range of talent in such a co-operative venture. Highlights for me were Shelly Bhushan – what an amazing soulful voice she has, Julie Kathryn and her little xylophone, Alicia Lemke and Rachel Swaner (normally an accordian/piano player) with her melodiya.

Rachel Swaner and Gus

A different kind of girl band

Another spin-off of this grouping was the appearance, later that evening, of four of the women – Michele Riganese, Little Embers, Jeneen Terrana and Shelley Bushan in another cooperative venture, billed as the “Queens of Queens” at “The Living Room” in Lower East Side. This is a nice venue, with good sound and lighting, plenty of space for audience, including tables and chairs. There’s a band every hour and  the Queens were on early, at 7pm.

(One of the risks of these venues is that the people who come to hear the band before you start to leave as you begin your set, but then you do get the advantage of the crowd for the next band arriving half way through your set – so it’s a bit of moving audience.)

Jeneen Terrana and Michele Riganese

This is a group of four very different voices and characters. This is what makes a great band, the interplay between them providing a tension that gives an occasional positive edge to the performance. Basically this is a group that is in its early days – they provide harmonies for each others’ songs, many of which will be familiar to fans in the audience, but in doing this they are offering new arrangements. I’d like to see them moving on from this to joining each other instrumentally as well as vocally – this takes time but will be well rewarded as their group identity becomes another vehicle for their talents. I’d particularly like to see some lap steel guitar, Michele rested her guitar in that way but it remained silent.

"Queens of Queens"

Little Embers

Shelly Bhushan