Thursday, February 3, 2011
It's been far too long since the last "No Hank, No Cash, No Merle," but this is good news. The previous shows were prompted by my nauseous response to NYC's endless tributes to Hank and Cash. In the last year, however, the trite smooch-fests and yee-haw birthday parties have died down. The pendulum has swung back towards original songwriting.
It may be counterintuitive, but the country scene thrives once it's relegated to the back pages of Time Out Magazine. Nowhere is this more apparent than at http://www.brooklyncountry.com/, where show listings and CD reviews are always forthcoming. Even a casual perusal of artists featured there makes it clear that roots bands are increasingly embracing pop sounds and more ambitious arrangements.
I think this exchange can go both ways, which is why I feel free to cast my eyes towards pop artists such as those featured at this Monday's show. Joe Ungie and Alasatir Ottesen are the furthest thing from honky-tonk, yet their tasteful, lush approach to indie rock has just enough rootsy sensibility to force the Bluegrass Police to lower their slingshots. For now.
Uttering the words "Baroque pop" in the wrong bar will earn you a mouth full of chicklets. Luckily, this is Brooklyn, not Florida's panhandle, and music fans come to shows with open, hungry ears. Clearly, Alastair Ottesen is in the right place.
Ottesen's web presence is mercilessly free of long bios. There are no eleven-paragraph press releases, laundry lists of studiedly cool influences, or cute stories about piano lessons at age 2. Not even an interview with an online zine where he mentions Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Rather, his sites showcase stark collections of songs, each one heavy with shimmering vocals, tasteful, piano-driven arrangements and soaring choruses.
On Ottesen's eponymous debut, the influences hover at the surface, but never cloyingly so. Although instantly recognizable, none of his references obscure the bright originality of the songwriting. Think Elliot Smith but not depressing; Beach Boys without the Brian Wilson worship; the Beattles without your parents singing in the car.
A new album is in the works at Vanity Sound in Brooklyn. If the more recent track "Used to Be Somebody" is any indication, there's plenty of sonic joy on the way. Because sometimes music feels so good, everyone has to clap along.
For tour dates and info: Website
"Used to Be Somebody"
Our band first came to know Joe Ongie as a soundman at Hill Country in Manhattan. At every show, he listened patiently to our requests, tweaked everyone's monitor mixes, and performed his duties effortlessly without any seething hostility. For years we wondered what his problem was.
It turned out that Joe was a visual artist, producer, and musician with four albums under his belt. When I say "visual artist," I don't mean that drama queen you knew in undergrad who was always sobbing in the dorm. I mean this, a serious body of work which includes colorful portraiture.
Ongie sings while playing bass, immediately distinguishing himself from throngs of dumped strummers. When he isn't backing the likes of Aimee Mann and Minnie Driver, he fronts his own project, which showcases breezy, melodic pop and hooks reminiscent of Elvis Costello.
Unlike guitar pickers, bass players are not allowed to make mistakes. One bum note sends shivers of dread straight to everyone's knees. Luckily, Ongie has an easy confidence that puts bandmates at ease and allows the blue-eyed soul of his compositions to shine through.
For tour dates and info: Website
Nick Beaudoing (The Doc Marshalls)
A non-pro bass fisherman and member of two state bars, this copyright law nerd leads the Doc Marshalls (remotely, from Tennessee). Their recently completed album, "Look Out, Compadre," is slated for release soon.
For tour dates,info, and blog: Website
"Why I'm Leaving" (rough mix)