New York’s country and roots music community on one CD for the first time
A review of the new Brooklyncountry.com CD sampler by Neville Elder
When I was kid stuck out in a small farming town in Somerset (that’s England y’all ). I discovered country music’s new wave watching ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ on the BBC. It was my own compilation record. I remember watching ‘Lone Justice’, ‘The Long Ryders’ and ‘Jason and The Scorchers’ – when they called it ‘cow punk’, remember? And I managed to find the L.P.’s in the skinny country section of my local record store. It was these bands (and my neighbor’s copy of Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’) that took me backwards to discover the roots of country and folk. For me, it was like striking gold.. Later on, living in London, I discovered compilations of what was called ‘Americana’ by then. I found new sounds from the likes of ‘Son Volt’, ‘Slobberbone’ and ‘Blue Moutain’. It was the humble compilation that exposed me to some of my favorite bands.
‘This is Brooklyn Country Vol. 1’ should do exactly that for you. It’s a regional showcase of the current crop of roots music and country bands making a noise in New York today. It is irreverent, rude and funny. It is sometimes rough and ready, it is sometimes polished. This CD is a smart little set of songs that give a real taste of where the New York’s fledgling country and roots music scene is headed. You’ll hear commercial country pop, lots of bluegrass and a even a little rap on this disc. It’s a collection strong on humor and wit, without being smug. It owes as much to the first wave of alt-country bands as it does to Merle, Wille, Waylon and the boys. And there’s a few more that twist the legacy handed down to us by ‘The Carter Family’and ‘Chuck Wagon Gang’ too. This collection of music is unpredictable and refreshing. Most of the tracks are up tempo, which makes for a foot tapping 40 minutes of music but one or two solo voices over a mournful ballad might have been a nice change of pace. But that’s why it’s called ‘volume 1.’
Look closely at the credits and you’ll see talents of many of the musicians were harvested to bring this record to life. Scott Dennis (The Dirt Floor Revue) mastered it, JD Duarte (Newton Gang) and Matt Chase (Frankenpine) compiled it. It should be noted that this is not a record label’s release. As far as I know none of the artists on this disc have contracts. Every track was self recorded and self produced which makes this an extraordinary effort and says much about the enthusiasm and determination of the members of this community.
Bergen County Baby (Scott Dennis) – Dirt Floor Revue
Is it deliberate that the opener to a New York compilation of bands is a New Jersey themed song? That alone should give you an idea of the sense of humor sitting just below the surface on this little silver disc. ‘Bergen County Baby’ is a snappy Mellencampy sort of affair. A steady guitar riff washed over with a suitable amount of pedal steel. The vocal sounds more than a little like one of my first loves – the St. Louis band ‘Nadine’.
Mine (J Gambrell) – I’ll Be John Brown
A really catchy, cute little country song played a breakneck speed with some whistling organ and a nice sweep of back up vocals. Bursting with energy, these guys need to lay off the expresso!
Southbound Train (JD Duarte) – The Newton Gang
Belting vocals from co-curator JD Duarte set the tone for this raucous outlaw rocker. It doesn’t stray far from the foot stomping honky tonkin’ of the Newton Gang’s live show and that’s very good thing.
‘ Well I’m Ten feet tall/I tear down walls/I won’t stop for nobody at all.’
Ain’t No Stopping (Rench and Dolio Durant) – Gangstagrass (Featuring Delio The Sleuth)
I don’t know what to make of this, to be honest. Musically it really works, the sampling and sequencing is imaginative and Delio The Sleuth puts in a good turn rapping over the song. I’m not totally convinced that it’s anymore than a curiosity but it does leaving me wanting to hear more, which I suppose is the point.
In The West (Barbara Ann) – The Weal And Woe
Clocking in at two minutes, it’s the is the shortest track on the CD. It’s A simple little bluegrass ditty, with good close harmonies and nice instrumentals. More please.
Convict Grade (Kim Chase) – Frankenpine (pictured left)
And the award for best band name goes to….‘Frankenpine’! A nice irreverent opening leads into a beautifully executed traditional blue grass tune that would be at home on any Gillian Welch or Dolly Parton record. The lead singer here is worthy of a mention too. Kim Chase delivers a breathy melancholic vocal and is backed up with superb fiddle and banjo playing. Convict Grade is, I’m told, a Montana Town drenched in suitably supernatural flavor.
In The Shade Of The Magnolia (Meg Reichardt) – The Roulette Sisters
A sultry and seemingly effortless old time pop song that could have been in the repertoire of any ragtime orchestra circa 1930. I don’t know who is singing on this one but she sounds gorgeous! Relaxed and understated, this charming all-girl group’s cut is a standout for me.
The Grass Is Always Bluer (Sean Kershaw) – Sean Kershaw & The New Jack Ramblers
The self-proclaimed ‘Coney Island Cowboy’ darkens the sky with a doomy, outlaw offering that owes a nod to ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’. Having heard his album ‘Coney Island Cowboy’, you don’t hear his superb clipped rockabilly yodel here, but it’s got some great lines:
‘The gospel of the living dead/ is bursting with the things I said.’
A Little Too Old (And A Lot Too Ugly) (David Weiss and Joel Shelton) – Trailer Radio
A perfect introduction to Trailer Radio’s flawless country pop, Shannon Brown’s powerful and confident voice tells a story of aging country hopefuls getting some hard truths with a twist. I haven’t laughed as hard at a punch line since I first heard ‘Fuck This Town’ by Robbie Fulks. Really strong.
Shady Grove (Trad.) – Spuyten Duyvil
Shady Grove is a spirited little R’n’B tune with some pretty deadly harp playing. Turn it up and hand jive! ‘Spuyten Duyvil’ means ‘Devil’s Whirlpool’ in Dutch. It’s a creek in the Bronx, connecting the two New York waterways of the Harlem and Hudson rivers. It’s taken from their album ‘New Amsterdam’ taking in themes from the last 100 years of American Music.
Big Idea (Leon Chase) – Uncle Leon And The Alibis
This is one of my favorites. Standing somewhere between Hank Williams Jr. and the Handsome Family this sturdy live recording breaks no new ground but serves up a faithful helping of country misery with some excellent mournful guitar playing and the immortal line:
‘But I let my heart run wild/ like a brain damaged child.’
Burnt Valley (Ramblin’ Andy Miller) – Ramblin’ Andy And The See Ya Laters
Kazoos, whistling and flutes bring this eclectic compilation to a close. This reminds me a little of Neil Innes’ classic British surreal roots group: ‘The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’ a sort of home made skiffle blues that turns it’s back on the store bought roots music served up elsewhere these days. Ragged and punky, this has a fresh appeal that makes me look forward to hearing what else he’s got.
You can buy This is Brooklyn Country Vol. 1’ (There will be a Paypal link working soon I’m told) or at any of the featured band’s shows or via their websites. For more information contact JD@brooklyncountry.com
British born, Neville Elder is a writer, musician and photographer and the leader the folk rock band Thee Shambels. He lives in New York City.
Neville Elder 2011